Inside the Archive: English Electric Canberra

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.

12 Comments

  • ROBERT S FRANCIS

    says:

    The Canberra was a jet bomber not a “fighter jet” and the ones that I worked on (which was all of them) did not have a wooden vertical stabiliser, great aeroplane, bugger of a thing to work on.

  • David McKeand

    says:

    I would amend “fighter jet” to “jet bomber”.

  • One of my favourite aeroplanes. I sat in one at Amberley and in the UK. The UK one was an extremely high altitude recce version with longer wings. They were also used for ‘Sniffing and Sampling’ (a book title) after the nuclear bomb tests. We were also trying to find out how the USSR bombs were made.

  • David WW Olley

    says:

    I remember The Canberra well, as child in Cairns in the early 50s and used to ride my bike furiously out to the Cairne Aerodrome whenever a Canberra came in. Very nice and your article brought back lots of happy memories of my childhood when life was a lot more enjoyable and we were not harnessed to so many regulations.’

  • Richard Owen

    says:

    Point of correction: Number 2 SQN became the only RAAF operator of the type after the F-E Phantom was introduced into interim service with Numbers 1 and 6 Squadrons in September 1970.

  • Bryan

    says:

    ‘The English Electric Canberra was a British-designed fighter jet’

    Quality.

    I haven’t read the Winjeel entry yet; is it a supersonic bomber?!

    • PETER

      says:

      Winjeels are hypersonic bombers …DUH !!!

  • Barry Kemp

    says:

    it was never a “fighter bomber”, but England’s first Jet bomber. The Australian built version (B20) had a crew of 2, the nav serving as bomb aimer. RAAF designation was A84
    I was apprenticed at GAF from 1955, working on number 14 to 48, and I’m pretty sure the fin was metal, not wood.
    As the Fisherman’s Bend airstrip was unsuitable for Canberras, the government built Avalon airfield to fly them out after final assembly.

    best wishes

  • peter webster

    says:

    I was with 2 sqn in vietnam this was a great plane to work with all of love them sad to see them go to us it was a bomber.

  • Bob Saunders

    says:

    I worked on the 2SQN aircraft in Malaysia during 1972-1972. The Canberra’s were flown down from Vietnam to have their major services carried out and I can honestly say changing the oxygen bottles in the tropical heat was almost unbearable. I often look back on those years with genuine affection for those aircraft as I remember the torturous positions I had to place my body to carry out the required work.

  • peter webster

    says:

    I would like to see more photos of the canberra from the vietnam era there where some good ones including one of the last bomb dropped by a canberra.

  • Pete Wilson

    says:

    My father, Wing Commander Geoff Wilson, brought the first one to Australia and broke the speed record doing it. He was the navigator, and yes to the above was also the bomb aimer when in active duty. He loved that plane and flew pretty much everyone the RAAF had in service. He told us many stories about it and before his passing we had 3 generations of Wilson’s at Temora for a flight of a Canberra, and Dad did the commentary as a surprise. Now his Grandson is in his final year at ADFA as a pilot officer ready to continue the tradition in F35’s hopefully!

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