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& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Canberra Boys

Andrew Brookes      Grub Street, May 2017

An iconic aircraft: arguably the most successful British jet born from the embers of WW2. It first flew in 1949, and entered RAF service in May 1951. The final flight of the type in RAF service was 31 July 2006 – an astonishing record. Clearly this only happened due to the evolution of the design; even in its last years (in Gulf War 1) it was carrying out tasks, primarily in the PR role, that no other types in the  Coalition’s armoury could fulfil.


With a strong authorial pedigree, Andrew Brookes does the aircraft justice. The first third of the book is somewhat dry, as the transition from drawing board to front line is given in some detail. This reader learned some new facts: the type’s name came from a tradition of naming British bombers after inland cities (think about it) – but that it was named after the Australian capital was a nod to the chances of export to that country. I had also not previously been aware that the Canberra was made by several manufacturers other than its designer, English Electric.


There were several deaths of crews in its early days arising from tailplane actuator runaways – these are given a good airing. I had always thought there was a goodly number of (needless) deaths arising from practising asymmetric go-arounds. If that were the case, these are barely covered. It still is something of a surprise however to learn that Canberra navs were, at least in the Fifties, still using the Gee-H system (as used in WW2) for target identification. The Canberra was intimately involved in Britain’s testing of nuclear warheads in the Pacific, and these are covered from the perspective of many participants, with a degree of overlap.


The Canberra was in a small club of UK military designs that achieved significant export success; so it is ironical that it featured on both sides of the Falklands Conflict! The Argentinian stories are some of the best in the book; indeed Brookes’ chapter on the Falklands is very interesting. However the best story in the book goes to Steve Fisher’s account of a trip returning from Akrotiri. But perhaps I am biased  - he was my QFI!


At times Canberra Boys reads like an historical list of the type’s operations; by comparison with sister titles there is a paucity of tales. This is strange given the numbers of aircrew who must have flown it, and its length of service. There is only one chapter on its US service, yet more than 400 aircraft were manufactured there. Several of the contributors have also written tales for other Boys titles, (in this case from later in their career). It might be an idea to cross-reference contributors to the other titles.

canberra 2
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