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English Electric Canberra PR.7

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Max Speed (sea level): 525 knots (970km/h)
Cruising speed: Approx 450 knots (833 km/h)
Service ceiling: 48,000ft (14,545 m)
All-up weight: 43,200 lb (19,630 kg)
Weapons: Cameras only
Range: 1020 nautical miles (1,890 km)


The prototype Canberra (VN799) first flew on Friday the 13th of May 1949, piloted by Wg Cdr Roland “Bee” Beamont. The first production B2. aircraft flew on the 8th of October 1950.

Canberras entered service in January 1953 with No. 101 Squadron and by May of that year 101 squadron had been fully equipped with the new aircraft. Canberras began to be phased out of service in the 1960’s but the last variant was still in service in the late 1990’s.

A total of 1,352 Canberras were built, 901 in the UK, 403 by Martin in the US, (as B57’s) and 48 in Australia. Canberras were sold to over a dozen overseas countries.

It’s excellent design and good handling abilities made this very versatile aircraft a good development platform. The Canberra was used in both the UK and by other countries as an airborne test facility for everything from new avionics to engines and weapons system.

The one of the largest operator of the Canberra outside the UK was India with over 90 Canberra’s on their strength.

WH773 in service

Many variants of Canberra were produced to fulfil a variety of roles. One of the first variants not built as a bomber was the photo reconnaissance version, the first mark being the PR3. In common with all Canberras, the PR version was modified and updated through a series from PR3 to PR7 and finally to PR9.

The original engine selected to power the Canberra was the Rolls Royce Avon. As this was a new engine there was some doubt as to the availability of this unit due to production problems and as a consequence the second prototype was fitted with Rolls Royce Nene engines. Initial problems with the Avon were resolved and this engine, in many variants, became the standard fit into the Canberra.


The Canberra was designed as a light jet bomber. The original design specification included the fitting of a radar bombing system but this bombing system never materialised and instead a visual system was fitted with provision for a bomb aimer being made.

With the introduction of the B6 Canberra another facet of the Canberra’s role was added - that of nuclear bomber. At almost the same time as the bomber version was entering service so was the photo reconnaissance type in it’s mark PR3 form.

During it’s life the Canberra fulfilled many roles, bomber, PR, ECM, meteorological, development platform and target towing being just some of it’s common tasks.

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Information from Ian Currie regarding the first period of service from his fathers logbook:-

I am not sure if you are aware, but this aircraft’s first tasking was as part of the specially formed New Zealand Air Race Flight attached to 540 Sqn at RAF Wyton. The flight was headed up by Wg Cdr Lewis Hodges, and my father (Then Sqn Ldr Bob Currie) was the senior navigator for the RAF Canberra crews.


According to my father’s log book, WH773 was collected by Wg Cdr Hodges and my father from the English Electric Factory at Salmesbury on 11 Sep 1953 and taken to Wyton, after few shake down and familiarisation sorties. Hodges, my father and 773 arrived at London Airport on 3 Oct 1953 for the build up to the air race. WH773 was to be Canberra Number 1 of 5 (others being RAF PR3’s & RAAF B2s).

Hodges, my father and 773, set off on the air race at 1735 on 8 Oct 1953 heading for their first fuel stop at Shaiba, and then on to Negombo. They set an official speed record for the London to Colombo leg of 10hrs 25 mins (836.004 kmh/520 mph/452 kts).

They then pressed on to Perth and were well in the lead, but sadly a double generator failure cost them precious time. They eventually reached Christchurch New Zealand in the early hours of 10 Oct 1953 and were placed fourth, though they had the fastest flying time of 22 hrs 22mins from London to Christchurch New Zealand. The winning Canberra PR3 was crewed by Flt Lt Burton and Flt Lt Gannon – that aircraft - WE139 is in the Hendon Museum.

My Father’s last connection with WH 773 was on 27 Oct 1953 when they flew it from Pearce to Changi, thereafter he switched to a PR3 for the final legs back home.

(Thanks to Les Bywater for the following)

PR.7 - WH773

WH773 was the first production PR.7 Canberra. Its first flight was on 16th August 1953 and soon after was delivered to RAF charge.

This PR.7 had many owners while in service with the RAF starting with 540 Sqd at RAF Wyton. It was soon transferred to 80 Sqd though, on the same airfield and stayed with them until around 1954 when once again, it was transferred on the same airfield to 82 Sqd charge.

Again on the move, WH773 was flown out to Germany to join 31 Sqd at RAFG Laarbruch. In Germany, WH773 would have been flying low-level tactical recce missions. But not for long with 31 Sqd. It was transferred yet again to the charge of 80 Sqd who flew the PR game from Laarbruch until 1957 and then moved to RAFG Bruggen. Its probable that WH773 moved to Bruggen with them.

With 80 Sqdn in the 1950s
Not one to hang around, WH773 next joined 58 Sqd back in the UK at RAF Wyton where it stayed until around 1970 or so, when it was transferred yet again.

This time to the Malta to join 13 Sqd who had recently moved to RAF Luqa from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. WH773 came back to the UK with 13 Sqd when they left RAF Luqa and returned to RAF Wyton. This much-owned and much-travelled PR.7 stayed with 13 Sqd until it was struck off RAF charge in June 1981.

It wasn't finished with its travels however. WH773 was allocated the Ground Instructional Airframe No of 8696M and loaned to 2331 ATC Sqd for a while. However,in the late 80s it was taken back by the RAF and posted as one of three Canberra Gate Guards at RAF Wyton. [One of its companion Guards was XH170 a PR.9 which remains, today, the sole Gate Guard at RAF Wyton.]

WH773 still had some travelling to do though. At the time that the RAF decided that one Gate Guard would be enough per station (1990), this much-travelled PR.7 was dismantled and delivered by road to its final resting place at Vallance Byways,Charlwood.

Wh733 at Gatwick