Air Weapons

Light Bomber (1951)

English Electric



Few combat aircraft can claim such a long and distinguished service career as the English Electric Canberra, first flown as early as 1949 and still found in service today in its many guises by various countries. It was designed by W. E. Petter as a traditional level bomber with a visual bomb sight and reflected a simplicity in design which was inspired by the Gloster Meteor, it also happened to be English Electric's first aircraft design: the company's only previous experience had been the production of other manufacturer's designs during World War II (notably the Halifax). It was this simplicty which made it highly attractive in the global export market, particularly to countries which could otherwise not afford more complex aircraft. Most of these were third-world countries but other notable users included France, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, Australia (where it was built locally by GAF) and the United States by Martin as the B-57 (and which performed a number of clandestine overflights over the USSR and China in the 1950s). Canberras have seen extensive action in the Suez Crisis, the Malayan Emergency, Vietnam, the Indo-Pakistani Wars, and most recently in the Falklands while photo-reconnaissance versions were only retired by the RAF as late as 2006, well over half a century after first being introduced.

Maiden flight of the first prototype Canberra was on 13 May 1949, entering service two years later as the Canberra B.2. This version was followed by the nuclear-capable B.5 which never reached past the initial prototype stage, inheriting its mechanical improvements to the B.6 instead (units modified for service in the Near and Far East were designated B.15 and B.16). An interdictor development with 4 20-mm cannon was known as the B(I).6 and this concept was further improved in the B(I).8 which had a fighter style canopy with tandem seats. Export versions included the B.20 for Australia, and the B(I).12 for South Africa which were based on the B.2 and B(I).6 respectively. The other major role of the Canberra was as a photo-reconnaissance aircraft, the first variant was the PR.3 (based on the B.2) which substituted bombs for optical cameras. This was followed by the PR.7 (based on the B.6). and later by the definitive PR.9 with more powerful engines which gave it a boost in altitude. These were the final versions used by the RAF until recently although a number of bomber variants are still in service with other countries. US-built Canberras were known as the B-57 with high-altitude reconnaissance units known as the RB-57 and ECM units as the EB-57. These are described in separate entries.

Preceded by:

Mosquito (1941)

Succeeded by:

Buccaneer (1962)


DesignCanberra B.2Canberra B(I).8Canberra PR.9
TypeLight BomberLight BomberPhoto Recon
Length19.96 m19.96 m20.32 m
Height4.750 m4.750 m4.775 m
Wing Span19.46 m19.46 m20.68 m
Wing Arean/an/an/a
Empty10,099 kg12,678 kg11,794 kg
Maximum20,865 kg24,925 kg25,515 kg
Wing Loading234.0 kg/m²279.5 kg/m²262.8 kg/m²
Speed917 km/h871 km/h1,046 km/h
Ceiling14,630 m14,630 m18,288 m
Range4,281 km5,842 km5,874 km
Engine2 x Avon Mk. 101
2,948 kgf
2 x Avon Mk. 109
3,402 kgf
2 x Avon Mk. 206
4,763 kgf
Guns-4 x 20-mm
Hispano Mk. V
Payload2,722 kg3,629 kg-
AA Weapons-AS30