English Electric Canberra B.5: The Record Breaking Canberra

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Introduction: The Canberra is a well loved aircraft that is known globally as a reliable workhorse for numerous air forces, and is regarded as a classic by many aviation enthusiasts. Today’s post will cover a little-known variant, that was a one-off, yet set a Transatlantic record, and paved the way for the future development of the Canberra.


Description: The B.5 has a bit of a convoluted history. Initially, VX185 (the serial for the B.5), was meant to be one of two PR.3 prototypes that were intended to be built. However, the aircraft was converted into a bomber, into the B.5 standard. This is where some confusion begins, as it is not known for certain whether the aircraft had the 14 inch (36 centimeter) extension that the PR.3 had was ever used, or whether it kept the B.2’s original fuselage. Information about this variant is hard to come by online, and I do not have access to primary sources. The history of the Canberra prototypes is quite hard to follow, with certain documents even stating that the aircraft was meant to be a T.4 prototype. I have asked people who have viewed the documents, and they said that irrespective of whether it was intended to be a PR.3 or T.4 prototype, it is most likely the length of the standard B.2 fuselage was kept, as the camera bay of the PR.3 was done away with, and the fuselage was most likely kept the same length. The conversion of the aircraft on the production line happened in 1951, and the aircraft took to the skies in August of that year. The aircraft was a hybrid of sorts, essentially a link between the B.2 and B.6, and acted as the prototype for the latter. It was meant to be used as a pathfinder (or target marker), and was meant to carry flares or incendiaries, but it could also be used as a bomber if necessary. By the time it was built, this role had been made effectively redundant, so it was used for other purposes; record breaking purposes.


The Record: The Canberra had already set multiple speed and altitude records by this point, and on the 26th of August, 1952, it added more to that list. The aircraft was flown from RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland to Gander and back in 10 hours, 3 minutes and 29.28 seconds, by Roland P. Beamont at the controls, with Peter Hillwood and Dennis Watson as navigators. Thus, the Canberra earned another record under its belt.

After the Record: VX185 was converted into the prototype for the B.(I).8 low-altitude intruder variant. The nose section was removed in order to make way for the new nose, which featured a fighter-style teardrop canopy, offset to the left, a design trend that was making its rounds in the drawing offices of the various manufacturing companies in the Fifties. The original nose section was removed, and was put on display at the Science Museum, before being moved to the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune in Scotland. Sadly, the now B.(I).8 prototype VX185 was not so lucky. After working as the prototype, the aircraft was transferred to the A&AEE in 1955, before being transferred to Ferranti as a “target” for radar tests. The aircraft was transferred yet again to Short’s at Belfast to support their work on the PR.9. This was shortlived, however, and it was quickly sent to RAF St. Athan, where it was used as a ground instructional airframe, before being cut up for scrap in 1964.


Conclusion: This aircraft would be a unique testament to a very sound, beautiful and popular design, that is well-loved by many. It would make for a good premium or bundle purchase, due to its uniqueness. I am slightly disappointed by the fact that there is little concrete information online, but I guess that’s just part of what makes researching these topics fun.



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