PR.3 - WE139
WE139 - side
(Photo : Damien Burke)

Built in 1953, WE139 was first delivered to the RAF's Handling Squadron before being issued to 540 Sqd at RAF Benson. It was while it was with 540 Sqd that this PR.3 was selected to be an entrant in the great UK to New Zealand Air Race.

The RAF chose PR.3s for the Air Race because of their superior range at that time and WE139 along with two other Canberras, another PR.3, WE142 and WH773, a PR.7. The Canberra team were formed into an "Air Race Flight" under Wing Commander LM Hodges and based at RAF Wyton in 1953 for intensive training. Each Canberra was fitted with additional navigation equipment in the form of Marconi Radio Compass, "Rebecca", and a periscope sextant for astro-navigation. Cameras were removed and extra fuel tanks added, these increased the all-up weight which necessitated the fitting of slightly larger wheels.

WH139, crewed by Flight Lieutenents R Butron and DH Gannon, was the eventual winner of the speed section of the race with a time of 23 hours 51 minutes at an average speed of 514 mph.

After the excitement of the Air Race, WE139 returned to more mundane duties as a PR aircraft and was assigned to 69 Sqd at RAFG Laarbruch. In 1958, 69 Sqd was transferred to RAF Luqa, Malta to fill an operational PR gap in the southern flank of the 6 ATAF area. The squadron was re-numbered 39 Sqd later that year.

After serving in Malta, this Canberra was transferred to 231 OCU at RAF Bassingbourn from where, in 1969, it was moved to the RAF Museum at Henlow. WE139 was then moved to the new RAF Museum at RAF Hendon where it is currently on display.