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Canberra Farewell
 
Canberra PR9 - XH135 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force   Canberra PR9 - XH135 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force   Canberra PR9 - XH131 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force   Canberra PR9 - XH134 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force
 
Canberra PR9 - XH131 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force
 
Canberra PR9 - XH131 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force

Bye, Bye to a legend.

Words and photographs by Stuart Freer

After more than fifty years service, the Royal Air Force has finally retired the English Electric Canberra. Touchdown-Aviation were at RAF Marham on the 23rd June 2006 to witness the Canberra PR9s of 39 (1 PRU) arrive back to there home base from the final ever deployment that marked the end of operational service for the Canberra.

This event signaled the end of an operational career unequalled by any other aircraft. Right until the end, the Canberra’s were providing valuable operational capabilities, having deployed to the Persian Gulf and spending the past five months in the Middle East under Wing Cdr Clive Mitchell, Officer Commanding No 39 (1 PRU) Squadron.

The Canberra PR9 variant represents the final UK production of the type, and the one that outlasted all others in RAF service. Twenty three PR9’s were built for RAF service, production being subcontracted to the company Short Brothers in Belfast. First delivers took place in April 1960 to RAF Wyton to No 58 Squadron. The next squadron to re-equip being No 13 Squadron at Luqa, Malta. Third to get the PR9 was No 39 Squadron which received its aircraft in October 1962 also based at Luqa, the two squadrons continued to fly over the Mediterranean until October 1970 when No 39 Squadron was moved back to the U.K

With its new home at RAF Wyton, No 39 Squadron also had a NATO forward operating base in Norway at Orland. From here the unit could cover the area from the northern tip of Norway to southern outposts of Denmark. During this exercise period flying activity was maintained around the clock.

 A decision made in the spring of 1976 was to transfer all the RAF’s PR9’s to No 39 Squadron. With two out of three RAF squadrons now having relinquished the PR9, it was looking that the writing was on the wall for the variant.

 
Canberra PR9 - XH131 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force
 

By the late seventies No 39 squadron’s taskings were winding down, with the intention that the recce-equipped Tornado GR1A would replace the Canberra from around 1985.

At the end of May 1982 the disbandment ceremony of No 39 Squadron took place at RAF Wyton, marking the end of the RAF Canberra in the tactical reconnaissance role.

But the PR9 got a second wind as the following day a smaller unit was established at Wyton taking the title ‘No1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit’. The unit was tasked on a national basics rather than NATO, doing a variety of survey & other photographic tasks.

With an increasing demand for it’s services, the unit took back it’s standard of No 39 Squadron on July 1st, 1992, becoming No 39 (1 PRU) Squadron. A base move to RAF Marham in Suffolk was made in November 1994 when Wyton was closed to front-line flying.

Arguably the squadron’s greatest success came towards the end of its career. In 2003 the unit was deployed to East Africa, and the PR9 proved invaluable in the second Gulf war of 2003, when the aircraft undertook many targeting missions with great success.

An announced 2005 disbandment was delayed for a year, but there was to be no delay on the new date of July 31, 2006.The final operational tasking was for two PR9s to fly over Afghanistan. Two aircraft XH131 and XH135 left RAF Marham in February 2006 on a four-month detachment. There task successfully completed, the two Canberra’s returned to Marham on June 23rd, 2006 marking an end to an incredible career, spanning some fifty-five years. 

The author would like to thank RAF Marham and all staff at 39 Squadron for there help and co-operation in preparing this article, especially to the squadrons PAO.

Canberra PR9 - XH134 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force
 
Canberra PR9 - XH131 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force   Canberra PR9 - XH131 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force   Canberra PR9 - XH134 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force   Canberra PR9 - XH131 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force
 
Canberra PR9 - XH131 - 39 (1PRU) Squadron (disbanded) - Royal Air Force
 
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