ULSTER AVIATION SOCIETY

UAS-Logo-2016-RGB-Website-130px Facebook-2016-Logo-RGB Twitter-2016-Logo-RGB YouTube-2016-Logo-RGB QAVS-Queens-Awards-UAS-logo-RGB Canberra PR9 pilot at the Ulster Aviation Society Low altitude fly-by of XH131 Canberra PR9 at Shorts' facilities in Belfast

Like it predecessor the Mosquito, it quickly became apparent that the Canberra could fulfill many other rolls,and a photographic reconnaissance aircraft was one of the first to be identified, even before the bomber variant had flown.

 

The photo reconaisance, PR.3 variant, first flew in March1950, with the last of these being delivered to squadrons during 1954.       By this stage the next version, the PR.7 was entering service, but already plans where being drawn up for another version capable of flying at over 50,000 feet exceeding the ceiling of the PR.3 and PR.7.

Conceived as a high altitude unarmed bomber, the English Electric Canberra first flew on the 13th May 1949 and entered service with the RAF two years later eventually equipping over 30 RAF squadrons.

 

The design proved to be such a success that overseas orders soon followed with examples eventually seeing service with 14 airforces worldwide, and production lines being established in Australia and the USA for licence built examples.

 

On 21 February 1951, an RAF Canberra B Mk 2 (serial number WD932) flown by Squadron Leader A Callard, took off from RAF Aldergrove and flew to Gander Newfoundland, becoming the first jet to make a non stop unrefuelled transatlantic crossing.

 

The flight covered almost 1,800 miles in 4h 37mins.

The last remaining PR.9's remained on the strength of No. 39 Sqn until it was disbanded in June 1982 and replaced by No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) also at Wyton under the control of No. 18 Group. However, rationalisation of the RAF in the early 1990s resulted in No. 1 PRU assuming the name of No. 39 Sqn (although officially its title was No. 39 (1 PRU) Squadron. Throughout the Cold War the PR.9 flew missions when and where surveillance was called for with in more recent years the aircraft being deployed for operations over Rwanda, Kosovo the 2003 Gulf conflict and Afghanistan in 2006.

 

XH131 was the third aircraft from the PR.9 production line at Belfast and is the oldest surviving example of the type. The aircraft was purchased with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and transported to Northern Ireland to join the collection during December 2010.

Short Brothers & Harland in Belfast had already established production lines manufacturing Canberra B2 and B6 variants. The PR.9 would however see the company undertaking major redesign and development of the type incorporating improved hydraulic systems and a hinged nose for access to the navigators station which now included an ejection seat.

 

The PR.9 also had an enlarged wing  with more powerful Rolls Royce Avon 206 engines fitted. Eventually a total of 23 PR.9s were built between 1958 and 1962, however only 21 were actually delivered to the RAF. One aircraft (XH129) was written off before it was even delivered and another (XH132) was used for missile trials, being redesignated the SC.9.

 

In Jan 1960, the Canberra PR9 entered service with 58 Sqn at RAF Wyton and the first operational sortie was flow three months later. No 13 Squadron became the second unit to operate the type in the summer of 1961 from its base in Malta begining a long association between the PR.9 and operations in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

 

During 1962, PR.9s were used to photograph Russian shipping movements during the Cuban crisis, but by early 1963, No. 58 Sqn had handed over its aircraft to No. 39 Sqn in Malta when it reverted to being a PR.7 squadron. When the RAF withdrew from its remaining bases in the Gulf during 1971, No. 13 Sqn moved to Malta and replaced No. 39 Sqn who disbanded. Now assigned to NATO, it provided the only high altitude reconnaissance squadron on its southern flank until 1978 when it moved to RAF Wyton before disbanding in 1981.

Shorts Canberra PR.9

— XH131

Rear of XH131 Canberra PR9 at the Ulster Aviation Society

Low altitude fly-by of XH131 Canberra PR.9 at Shorts' facilities in Belfast

Rear section of XH131 Shorts Canberra PR.9 at the Ulster Aviation Society

The hidden and cramped photo reconnaissance cockpit inside the nose of XH131 English Electric Canberra PR9 at the Ulster Aviation Society

The hidden and cramped photo reconnaissance cockpit inside the nose of XH131 English Electric Canberra PR.9 at the Ulster Aviation Society

The large format photo reconnaissance camera and film used on-board the Canberra PR.9 UAS Volunteer, Mal Deeley demonstrates the roll of large format film (in the pre-Google Maps days!) that would have been the result of the photo reconnaissance missions of the Canberra PR.9 A still of large format film that would have been the result of the photo reconnaissance missions of the Canberra PR.9

Photo: Mark J. Cairns

Photo: Mark J. Cairns

Photo: Mark J. Cairns

Photo: Mark J. Cairns

Photo: Mark J. Cairns

Photo: Mark J. Cairns

The large format photo reconnaissance camera and film used on-board the Canberra PR.9

UAS Volunteer, Mal Deeley demonstrates the roll of large format film (in the pre-Google Maps days!) that would have been the result of the photo reconnaissance missions of the Canberra PR.9

XH131 Shorts Canberra PR9 in Hangar 1 of the Ulster Aviation Society at Maze Long Kesh in 2018

XH131 Shorts Canberra PR.9 in Hangar 1 of the Ulster Aviation Society at Maze Long Kesh in 2018

Photo: Mark J. Cairns