Canberra celebrations at Warton
by Roger Cook, Pynelea Photo Bureau
On Friday 13 May 1949, at 11:46, the prototype Canberra, VN799, lifted off Warton's runway to herald the birth of a thoroughbred. On 13 May 1999, at exactly 11:46, Canberra T4 WJ874, painted in the all-blue colour scheme to represent VN799, lifted off Warton's runway to celebrate fifty years of Canberra operations.
The first contract, for four Canberra prototypes, was received by the English Electric Company in January 1946. In parallel with the detail design of the basic aircraft, several variants were also proposed, and prototypes of these (for training and photo-reconnaissance) were ordered. In March 1949, before the first prototype had flown, the first production order was received for 130 aircraft, in three variants.
EECo was very fortunate as it found a design team leader and an idea for an aircraft project in one man; William Petter, usually known by the name 'Teddy'. He moved from Westland Aircraft to EECo in July 1944 and his first task was to form his design team, housed in a former garage in Corporation Street, Preston. Petter's aircraft idea was a jet powered fighter-bomber but this soon evolved into a high-altitude light bomber, for which there was an Air Ministry requirement. The first design contract was received in February 1945 and the first formal brochure submission by EECo was dated 1 June 1945. At this time the aircraft was known as the "High Altitude Bomber" by EECo, and as the B3/45 by the Ministry. The name Canberra was adopted a few years later.
To represent the development of the Canberra over fifty years, a private celebration was held at Warton this year on 13 May where invited guests and those associated with the aircraft in the past witnessed the re-enactment of that first flight. Other aircraft present were WK128, a B2 from DERA Llanbedr and XH168/AD, a PR9 from 39(1 PRU) Squadron, RAF Marham carrying the 'System III' recce pod. As a backdrop to the formal presentations in the hangar was another 39 Squadron PR9, XH134/AB. Vampire T11 XE920 (G-VMPR) acted as a chase plane for the re-enactment of the first flight, and also present were PC9 demonstrator ZG969, Hawk 102D ZJ100 and Tornado GR4 ZG733. The public will get an opportunity to see 'VN799' perform at this year's Waddington International Airshow and Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford.