The English Electric Canberra was a British-designed fighter jet, first introduced to the RAAF in 1953. Australia ordered 48, built at the Government Aircraft Factory in Melbourne, and operated by No 1, No 2 and No 6 squadrons. In honour of Australia being the English Electric aircraft’s first export customer, then Prime Minister Robert Menzies named the plane ‘Canberra’.
The aircraft itself is an all-metal, semi-monocoque construction with a canti-levered wing and a wooden vertical stabiliser. The Canberra could fly at a higher altitude than any other bomber throughout the 1950s, and its range rivalled the best. The aircraft set a world altitude record of 70,310ft in 1957. Its ability to evade the early jet interceptors, and its significant performance advancement over contemporary piston-engined bombers, made the Canberra a famous export.
The Canberra served in Vietnam with 2 Sqn RAAF under US Air Force 35th Tactical Fighter Wing Command. While US Commanders viewed the Canberra as obsolete, RAAF 2 Sqn Canberras achieved around 16 per cent of total bomb damage recorded by the 35th wing, despite making up just 6 per cent of the bomber fleet. As such, RAAF Canberra were among the most effective strike aircraft in South Vietnam.
After the arrival of the F-111 in 1973, No 2 Squadron became the only RAAF operators of the type in the mapping and reconnaissance role until 1982 when newly discovered metal fatigue caused their retirement. English Electric Canberra Wj680 is now a part of the Royal Australian Air Force’s Temora Historic Flight.