Fin Crest Patch
The Winged Bomb

Aircraft : Five PR.9s and two T.4s

Although the Canberra holds the prize for the longest serving aircraft in current RAF operational service, it still provides a unique strategic reconnaissance capability unmatched by any other platform. Currently the IPT is managing a number of programmes that are aimed at enhancing the operational capability of the Canberra fleet whilst ensuring that the RAF achieves value for money.
  • The Canberra PR.9s have been modified with the EOLORoP sensor.
  • The sensor has also been combined with a trial datalink on 2 aircraft to provide 39(1 PRU) Sqn with an outstanding operational capability.
  • The relocation and upgrading of the Radar Warning Receivers.
  • The installation of a new Chaff and Flare Suite.
  • Improvements to aircraft communications systems.
  • Updates to sensors.
  • Upgrades to aircraft instrumentation to ensure CAA compliance

XH131 : PR.9 - (Photo : Les Bywaters)

Awaiting collection in March 1959, the first five years for this PR.9 were spent shuttling back and forth between English Electric at Warton and Shorts Brothers in Belfast on various flight checking duties and engineering trials. Tropical trials were carried out in December/January 1959 in Bahrein. Delivered for acceptance checks to 15 MU in February 1964, XH131 went onto Ministry of Aircraft charge with Air Headquarters, Malta in June of that year. After a brief loan to Air Headquarters, Akrotiri (Cyprus) in November of 1964, XH131 returned to AHQ Malta where it remained until transferring to 13 Sqn's charge (probably when 13 Sqn moved from Akrotiri to Malta in September 1965). Transferring again to 39 Sqn, XH131 ended up at RAF Wyton. It is currently at RAF Marham.
XH131 in grey colour scheme at Marham, 2005
Click for larger image
XH134 : PR.9 - (Photo : Les Bywaters)

Built in October 1959, this PR.9 spent its first month or so with the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment and Shorts of Belfast. It was then transferred to RAF charge and joined 58 Sqn at RAF Wyton when they converted to PR.9s in January 1960. In 1962 XH134 would have been transferred to the charge of 39 Sqn who were in Malta (RAF Luqa) and were working up with PR.9s to replace their PR.3s. A trials installations stay with A&AEE lasted from December 1971 until August 1973 when XH134 returned to RAF service with 39 Sqn.

This PR.9 is currently active and flying with 39 Sqn at RAF Marham.
The T.4 in the foreground of the photo is WH849 (see below).

XH134 in 39's hangar at Marham in 1999
XH135 : PR.9 - (Photo : Les Bywaters)

Another PR.9 built in 1959, XH135 went immediately onto RAF charge with Handling Squadron at RAF Manby and transfered a year later to Shorts of Belfast (March 1960). A further year on, XH135 was delivered to 15 MU (for overhaul?) before joining squadron service with 58 Sqn at RAF Wyton. Transferring briefly to 13 Sqn in Malta, this PR.9 ended up on 39 Sqn, again at RAF Wyton and remained with them until February 1982 when it was put in store at RAF St Athan. It was re-activated to join 1 PRU when that was formed out of the half-strength 39 Sqn. XH135 is currently active at RAF Marham with 39 Sqn (again).


XH135 at RAF Marham in Nov 2004
XH168 : PR.9
(Top Photo : Garry Lakin | Lower photo : Les Bywaters)

Waiting collection on 29 April 1960, this PR.9 initially went to 15 MU for acceptance checks before being issued to 59 Sqn at RAF Wyton. For the next 16 years, XH168 was transferred around the PR Sqns joining 39 Sqn, 13 Sqn and back to 39 Sqn. A brief stay with the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment in May of 1976 provided a change, but it was soon back with 39 Sqn. In November 1981, XH168 was put into store at RAF St Athan where it languished until re-activated for service with the new 1 PRU. 1 PRU is now the resurected 39 Sqn at RAF Marham where XH168 is still flying in active service.

The following from Simon Roberts - 39Sqn
During September 2003, this aircraft suffered a landing accident, bursting both mainwheel tyres on touchdown here at Marham. The starboard undercarriage leg parted company with the wing and the aircraft departed the right-hand side of the runway, eventually stopping some 800-1000 yards from the approach end piano keys. The crew both climbed out and walked away, no more than shaken. The aircraft has remained in the hangar at Marham where work has been carried to ascertain the cause of the accident and to possibly recover the airframe to a flying condition. The cause has never been determined officially. However, it has now been decided that it is not financially viable to recover the aircraft in the time left for the squadron, so we are just awaiting the official nod from Command that it is to be scrapped. It has obviously been a regular source of spares for the other aircraft!

XH168 letting down for a landing.
XH168, tail-less, in 39Sqn's hangar, Nov 2004
XH169 : PR.9 - (Photo : Nick Challoner)

At 40 years old, this is the youngest of the remaining current PR.9s. XH169 was delivered to 15 MU on 4 August 1960 for acceptance checks. Apart from a brief sojurn with the MoD Procurement Executive, this PR.9 has spent its career on the PR Sqns. Initially issued to 58 Sqn at RAF Wyton, it moved to 39 Sqn, then to 13 Sqn and finally back with 39 Sqn. It was with the squadron when 1 PRU was formed and remains active with the unit (now 39 Sqn again) at RAF Marham.
XH169 on finals at RAF Fairford
WH849 : T.4 - (Photo : Les Bywaters)

At 50 years in service (in 2004), this T.4 is the oldest Canberra currently flying with the RAF. It was ready for collection from English Electric on 24 May 1954 and was delivered initially to the charge of RAF Marham's Station Flight on that day. From there WH849 has a long history of users. In order they are Station Flight RAF Conningsby, Station Flight RAF Binbrook, the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Thurleigh, 76 Sqn, 231 OCU, 85 Sqn, 360 Sqn, 100 Sqn, 231 OCU, 7 Sqn, 231 OCU, and finally 39 Sqn at RAF Marham.

The following from Simon Roberts - 39Sqn
This aircraft was transported to RAF Shawbury in 2002, where it was originally supposed to enter long-term storage. However, it has now become a vital source of spares for the remainder of the fleet and is unlikely to be recovered before the squadron closes.

WH849 in 39 Sqn's hanger, September 1999.
WJ874 : T.4 - (Photo : Top, Nick Challoner. Bottom, Les Bywaters)

The second oldest Canberra in the RAF. Ready for issue on 24 December 1954, this T.4 spent its early service life with various Station Flights - Gaydon, Binbrook, Conningsby. It was next transferred to 231 OCU for a while before going to the RAF's Handling Squadron at RAF Manby. Then a total change. In November 1969, after 25 years of RAF service, WJ874 was transferred to the charge of the Royal Navy's Fleet Requirements Unit to train the TT.18 (Target Tug) pilots in the art of Canberra flying. Seventeen years later, in 1986, WJ874 was returned to RAF charge and issued to 231 OCU at RAF Wyton. Put into open store at RAF Wyton in February 1988, this T.4 languished for a few years until it was re-activated and issued to the charge of the newly formed 1 PRU. It moved to RAF Marham when 1 PRU was re-designated as 39 Sqn and is currently active.
The top photo shows WJ874, in the now common "camo" scheme, landing at RAF Fairford. WJ874 gained fame in 1999 when it was repainted in overall blue and given the identity of the prototype Canberra, VN799. This was in commemoration of the Canberra's 50th Anniversery and WJ874 (as VN799) took part in many airshows that year. My photo shows it on the pan at RAF Cottesmore in May 2002.

The following from Simon Roberts - 39Sqn
Currently (Nov 2004) on Minor Star maintenance at FRA at Hurn, Bournemouth. WJ874 is due to return to 39 Sqn in January 2005 for crew training and currency, and is now the sole remaining T.4 in RAF service (see next entry). It will remain in it's prototype blue livery (the Blue Bomber a.k.a. VN799).

WJ866 : T.4 - (Photo : Damien Burke)

Another T.4 with 46 years in service. Awaiting collection in October 1954 WJ866 was first issued to Station Flight at RAF Wyton.From there it was transferred to Royal Air Force Flying College, then on to 231 OCU. In November 1969, WJ855 was transferred to the charge of the Royal Navy and flew with FRADU for 17 years until it was returned to RAF charge in April 1986. During its time with FRADU however, WJ866 was loaned back to 231 OCU for a while during 1983. On its return to the RAF, this T.4 again joined 231 OCU and eventually ended up with 1 PRU. With 39 Sqn moving from RAF Wyton to RAF Marham, WJ866 was put into long term storage as a "spare". It was restored to flying service and will replace, it is thought, WH849 for a while.

The following from Simon Roberts - 39Sqn
This aircraft was involved in the tragic crash on 2 September 2004. Sadly two of the three crew were lost in the accident. The accident investigation is still underway, so the findings of the Board of Inquiry are not yet known. Suffice to say that it was an extremely sad event for all on 39 Sqn. The aircraft will never be recovered and is currently languishing in a secure hangar at Marham.

WJ866 on 39 Sqn's line at RAF Marham in May 2000

Details of the deceased crew can be found here.
A Memorial Page is shown here.

From the early 1950's to the early 1960's 773 Canberras were built for the RAF/MoD.
Of these only 5 are left with the RAF.
In 2006, after 57 years, the reign of the Queen of the Skies ends.

WH779 : PR.7 - (Photo : Damien Burke)

This PR.7 was ready for collection in March 1954, taken on to RAF charge and delivered brand new to 542 Sqn at RAF Wyton. Next it was transferred to 13 Sqn, then 80 Sqn and finally 31 Sqn before being allocated a Ground Instructional number (8129M) at RAFG Bruggen for G/I at RAFG Wildenrath in March 1971. Moved to storage at St Athan, it was later given an overhaul at 19 MU, and reinstated with its old number of WH779. Issued again to 13 Sqn it soon moved onto Holding Flight before being transferred to 100 Sqn in 1991 where it was given the squadron code of "CK". It was transferred again to 1 PRU in 1992 and moved with them when they took their PR.9s to RAF Marham. I don't think it flew again but was used for ready spares.
A friend of mine, ex-Crew Chief Tony Reagan, was the Engine man for WH779 when it first joined 542 Sqn in 1954. He tells me the Airframe man was Joe Chamberlin, pilot was Andy Heyns (a South African) and navigator was Jock McFarlane.
Damien's photo shows WH799 in the hangar at RAF Marham in May 2000.
WH779 WH779 has left Marham now. The front fuselage (transportation joint forwards) and the starboard wing are now at DERA (Boscombe Down). The structure is going to be used as part of a 'structural teardown' programme to assist in ensuring that the structural integrity of the Canberra can be maintained safely for many years to come. The remainder is going to be used for NDT development, inspection training, etc.
WT509 : PR.7 - (Photo : Les Bywaters)

Another PR.7 preserved for "spares". at RAF Marham. This PR.7 was awaiting delivery from 31 December 1954 and was flown to 45 MU on 24 Jan 1955. From there it belonged to several squadrons - 13 Sqn, 17 Sqn, 80 Sqn and 58 Sqn. It was next transferred to A&AEE for radio trials in February 1975. Returning the RAF service, WT509 was allocated to 13 Sqn again. In 1991 it was moved to 100 Sqn at RAF Wyton with the code "CG". In 1992 it was transferred to 1 PRU and, like WH779, moved with them when they took their PR.9s to RAF Marham. I don't think it flew again but was used for ready spares.

The following from Simon Roberts - 39Sqn
This aircraft remained in a sorry state on the airfield at Marham for a number of years. It was a source of a number of spares, but the airframe soon deteriorated and the weather took its toll. In October 2004, the airframe was broken up by a civilian contractor (in a JCB!) for scrap.

WH509 WH509 on the pan at RAF Marham in August 2001