English Electric Canberra High-Altitude Medium Bomber / Reconnaissance Aircraft
The record-setting English Electra Canberra progressed much as a medium-to-high altitude bomber - so much so that the U.S. ordered it as the B-57.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The English Electric Canberra was a strike-minded, jet-powered medium bomber platform that made up Britain's critical bomber/reconnaissance squadrons of the 1950s and 1960s. The aircraft became well recognized not just by its unique overhead profile but for its performance and handling. It was widely exported to various UK-aligned forces around the world and saw considerable operational service into the 2000s. Largely out of service today (2014), some flyable forms still exist and others make up indoor museum exhibits or outdoor showpieces. The Canberra impressed American officials enough to order it as the locally-produced Martin B-57 (detailed elsewhere on this site).
In the latter war years of World War 2 (1939-1944), the British Air Ministry was already on the lookout for the eventual replacement for its classic, two-man, twin-engined de Havilland "Mosquito". The Mosquito was an outright success - known as the "Wooden Wonder" for its heavy use of wood in its construction - and served in the fast bomber role with distinction since its introduction in 1941. It became a classic British participant of World War 2 and saw production reach 7,781 units from 1940 to 1950. Such was the success of the line that it was further expanded to include dedicated night-fighter, photo-reconnaissance, and maritime strike types in short order. A requirement for a new high-speed bomber was arranged during 1944.
The English Electric concern held a long-running history in industry prior to aircraft building. It participated in the grand manufacturing phase of the Allies in World War 2 when it built Handley Page Hampden and Halifax bombers for the war effort. The company evolved its internal abilities by arranging an engineering team in 1945 to which the company's new design -attributed to William E.W. Petter - interested the Air Ministry for their outstanding B.3/45 requirement.
English Electric engineers devised a conventional and clean aircraft. Its crew would number three to spread the workload about and the cockpit was mounted well forward in the design. A largely tubular fuselage was used with mid-mounted mainplanes at the fuselage sides. The fuselage tapered at rear in the usual way and was capped by a single vertical tail fin. The horizontal planes were low-set along the tail section sides. The wheeled undercarriage was fully retractable and of a tricycle arrangement using two main legs and a nose leg. Engines were held away from the fuselage in streamlined cylindrical nacelles integrated into the design lines of the wing units, aspirating at the leading edge and exhausting at the trailing edge. The main wing assemblies were straight in their general design and not swept back. They also tapered while nearing the clipped tip edges to give the aircraft a very noticeable and defined planform.
Physical work on bringing the new large aircraft to life began in 1946 - well after World War 2 has ended in September of 1945. The massive military drawdown that followed the conflict meant that progress on the English Electric design would be slow and a first flight was therefore not recorded until May 13th, 1949 and, from this, the product proved itself a very sound aircraft with little in the way of changes required to finalize the design. Engines were upgraded for more power, fuel tanks added under the wingtips for improved range, and a glazed over nosecone introduced to replace the delayed H2S Mk.9 bombing system originally intended. The aircraft received the name of "Canberra" in 1950 to honor the Australian capital - the Australians having committed to purchase of the aircraft still in development.
Such was the success of the test and evaluation phase that the Canberra was placed into serial production quickly. First units were formed with No. 101 Squadron in May of 1951, beginning the long and illustrious career of this fine British bomber development. It eventually stocked no fewer than 61 RAF squadrons with procurement reaching 782 units. Australia operated 58 Canberras through six squadrons of its own. Other operators became Chile, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, India, New Zealand, Peru, Rhodesia, South Africa, Sweden, Venezuela, West Germany, and Zimbabwe. The United States took on two forms for its development of the locally-produced, though largely similar, Martin B-57 Canberra variant. By the numbers alone, and coupled with excellent performance, the Canberra became a Cold War success story.
In practice, the Canberra proved a fast mount for its size, able to clock a maximum speed of 580 miles per hour. This quality allowed it to outrun the early jets that would be charged with intercepting her. With such speed, no defensive armament was required in the way of complicated rear-facing turrets or cannon. Combat radius measured 810 miles with a ferry range of 3,380 miles giving the aircraft a sound reach. Rate-of-climb was 3,400 feet per second. Power was from the Rolls-Royce Avon family of turbojet engines and developed upwards of 7,400lsb of thrust each depending on variant.
As a bomber design, the Canberra originally supported ordnance through an internal bomb bay. Only later marks introduced underwing hardpoints, a 4 x cannon ventral gunpack, and support for rocket pods. Missiles were eventually added to the capabilities as technology allowed. Special Canberra marks were also cleared for the carrying and dropping of nuclear payloads. When carrying the gunpack, the Canberra featured 4 x 20mm Hispano Mk.V cannons and each gun afforded 500 rounds of ammunition. Some forms included 2 x 7.62mm machine gun pods in place of the cannons. With its internal and external hauling capabilities, the Canberra eventually featured an ordnance-carrying load possibility of 8,000lbs.