English Electric Canberra PR3 / PR7The first jet reconnaissance aircraft with a really effective range and capable of air-to-air refuelling, North American RB-45C Tornado, was already entering service in 1952. The activities of the RB-45C at RAF Sculthorpe are particularly noteworthy and covered separately. However, although the RB-45C could cruise at Mach 0.7, it’s operational ceiling was limited to less than 40,000 feet, making it vulnerable if used in daylight operations. In early 1950 a new medium bomber designed for the RAF, the Canberra, was undergoing its initial testing and, with a operational ceiling of 50,000 feet and a maximum speed of 470 knots, had clear potential as a reconnaissance platform.
In 1954 the RAF commenced Project Robin exact details of this project have yet to be released by the British Government. However, what is known is that it involved the use of a specially equipped Canberra to obtain photographic intelligence of specific Warsaw Pact military bases close to the borders of West Germany.
One particular sortie by a Canberra, over Kapustin Yar, during 1953 and is discussed in more detail elsewhere.
Sweden also operated two SIGINT Canberra B2s known as Tp52s. Lars Henricksson has written a full article on these two unique aircraft which can be seen here. The article has been copied with permission from Les Bywaters excellent Canberra Tribute Site.
A number of Canberra aircraft were on the strength of 540 Sqn, which later became 51 Sqn - generally these aircraft operated in conjunction with the 540 Sqn Comet 2R’s on ELINT sorties. As far as can be ascertained these aircraft were:
On 6 Nov 1956, during the build up to the Suez crisis, an RAF Canberra PR7 WH799 flown by Flt Lt B L Hunter, along with his Navigator Fg Off Urquhart-Pullen and a third crew member, took off from Akrotiri in Cyprus for a photo-reconnaissance sortie over Syria. The purpose of the sortie was to monitor an apparent build up of Soviet supplied combat aircraft in Syria. Unfortunately, WH799 was shot down over Syria on by either a MiG-15 flown by a Soviet or Czechoslovakian pilot or possibly by a Syrian Meteor NF-13, supplied to Syria by Britain! Sadly the Navigator was killed but the pilot and the other crew member survived and after treatment in Beirut Military Hospital, were later repatriated.
Three ex-RAF Canberra B2 were supplied to the West German Luftwaffe in Sep 66 and converted for ELINT duties.
The Swedish Air Force also purchased 2 Canberra’s in 1960 which were converted into ELINT ac and designated Tp52. The Canberra's were replaced by two ex-SAS Tp85 Caravelles in 1971.