The Meteor and Vampire were already flying - jet engined aircraft had arrived on the scene and were in service.   It became obvious that the next step was to produce a jet bomber.   In 1944, The Ministry of Aircraft Procurement issued a specification calling for design concepts for a fast, high-altitude, jet-powered medium bomber to replace the Whirlwind / Typhoon / Mosquito style of aircraft.   A Ministry of Aircraft Production requirement evolved which sought a jet engined medium bomber and it was initially considered that this new aircraft would take the RAF's Main Force into the jet age with a jet bomber which would be suitable until the heavy bombers, (the "V" bombers), were developed.   At English Electric Aircraft at Preston (UK), W.E.W. Petter took up the challenge and in the same year, 1944, conceived the aircraft that was to become the world-famous Canberra.

The Canberra was initially envisaged as a single engined, straight winged bomber with a circular cross-section (to ease the problems inherent at that time in pressurising aircraft), but this idea was soon dropped in view of the limited bomb and fuel capacity that would be imposed.   An aircraft with engines mounted at the wing roots was considered but wing-mounted engines became favoured when the Rolls Royce Avon 101 (RA1), an engine of relatively small overall diameter, became available.   The designers opted for straight, broad wings and retained the aircraft's circular cross-section fuselage - the Canberra's classic shape was settled.

The Canberra B.2

The Canberra B.2, VX165 - A classic shape - (Photo : EE Co Ltd)

A cut-away picture of a B.2 Canberra can be seen here.

The story of the initial design and building of the first Canberra is given in an excellent book The English Electric Canberra by Ken Delve, Peter Green and John Clemons.  The authors also make mention of the fact that an order for 90 aircraft was placed before the prototype even flew.

The prototype Canberra, VN799, looked very much as they do today except for a rounded tip to the fin and a long tail-fin strake along the top of the fuselage.   The aircraft was painted overall in a light blue colour and taxying trials took place at Warton on 8th May 1949.   The test pilot, R.P. Beamont, considered the aircraft more than ready after a few short "hops" under power on the main runway.

On Friday 13th May 1949, as the Certificate of Safety for Flight shows (below), Beamont lofted the prototype Canberra into the air accompanied by a Vampire chase plane - the Canberra was airborne for the first time.   On that Friday 13th, the pilot and designers probably little realised that their aircraft would develope, become a multi-record breaker and go on to serve world-wide with many different Air Forces.  I suspect they didn't give much thought either to the possibility that the Canberra would survive to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1999 and beyond.

On its entry into service at RAF Binbrook in 1951, the B.2 Canberra was considered to be the replacement bomber for the RAF's Avro Lincolns and B-29 Washington B-1s.  These aircraft had themselves replaced the Halifaxes and Lancasters that had given such sterling service for Bomber Command during the, then, recent conflict.

The Avon
Canberra Power 1 - The Rolls Royce Avon
War Loads
Canberra Power 2 - War Loads
Bomb Bay
Canberra Power 3 - The Bomb Bay

The historic Certificate of Safety for Flight which records the Canberra's first flight (as Item 6).
This image of the certificate was supplied to the Canberra Tribute Site by Paul Brooke - Webmaster, Royal Arsenal Woolwich website team, after it had been found amongst their records.

VN799 Certificate