Canberra WT333 History

One of Bruntingthorpe’s more distinctive residents is Canberra WT333

This classic post-war design was the Royal Air Force’s first jet bomber and went on to make aviation history by becoming one of the longest serving military aircraft of all time – finally leaving RAF service in June 2006, a startling 57 years after the maiden flight of the prototype in May 1949.  The Canberra has seen considerable use, equipping over 60 RAF Squadrons, plus a number of special flights and served with distinction as a trials aircraft. 901 examples were built in the UK and 451 built overseas under licence; the Canberra entered service with 15 Air Forces and thanks to its low wing loading, excess power and high altitude ability it could out perform many contemporary jet fighters in service.

Built by English Electric as a B(I)8 variant with offset ‘fighter’ style cockpit canopy in March 1956, WT333 never served with the Royal Air Force, being directly transferred to the Controller, Air – Ministry of Supply.

Following delivery to Marshalls of Cambridge on 23rd March 1956, WT333 underwent various trials installations (TIs) for the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough, including a Smiths Mk.19 autopilot and power rudder stabiliser. By July of 1956 WT333 had been delivered to the Armament Dept of the RAE for functional and flight trials of the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS).

WT333 returned to Marshall’s in July 1958 for further modifications before delivery in mid March 1959 to the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down for Microcell Rocket firing trials.

Another return visit to Marshalls of Cambridge followed during June 1959 for further TIs and major servicing. The next six years in her life is something of a mystery. We know she was retained at Cambridge but quite what for is not clear. There are gaps in her log books and we read that she was flown by Marshalls between March 1962 and May 1964 so it is presumed that there were periods of storage as Treble Three is next noted departing Cambridge on 13th July, 1965 on delivery to British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) at Warton for further TIs and flight trials for the carriage and release of drop tanks. Delivery from Warton to Boscombe Down took place the following February for the clearance of drop tanks by the A&AEE.

The next chapter of WT333’s history saw her depart the United Kingdom on 24th May 1966 for operations from Woomera, Australia, on behalf of the Weapons Research Establishment. Here WT333 received an overall white colour scheme.

Canberra B(I)8 WT333 in all white colour scheme Royal Radar Establishment Pershore circa late 1969. Note RRE flying unit crest on tail.

Upon completion of the armament trials in Australia, WT333 was next assigned to the Royal Radar Establishment Flight (RRE) at Pershore on 21st July 1969 for torpedo separation trials. On 10th September 1970 WT333 was flown the short distance to RAF Shawbury, for storage by 27 Maintenance Unit, pending a decision on future test requirements.

On 24th February 1972 WT333 returned to Pershore and for further development work, she was fitted with the cockpit of Canberra B.2 WK135 by RRE technicians. This work resulted in the loss of the B(I)8s distinctive offset fighter style cockpit canopy, along with a much longer nose being grafted on. With the work taking over three years to complete, and the impending closure of Pershore, delivery to RAE Bedford took place on 18th May 1977. On 13th September, 1978 WT333 was flown to 5 MU Kemble for painting in her current ‘Raspberry Ripple’ colour scheme and was engaged on further trials and development work until withdrawn from use during September 1993 and stored at the Defence Evaluation & Research Agency’s Farnborough facility in 1994.

WT333 on arrival at 5 MU RAF Kemble 13.09.78 for painting in raspberry ripple colours for RAE Bedford.

Treble Three in Canada on trials work with RAE Bedford. Note the sensor added under the nose compared to the photo above.

Upon being put up for disposal WT333 was purchased via auction by Classic Aviation Projects and registered as G-BVXC on 9th January 1995. Delivery by air to Bruntingthorpe took place on 28th January 1995 – her final flight. Once at Bruntingthorpe she was used as a source of spares for sister Canberras XH568 and WK163 until the airframe was sold to Roger Wintle and Arthur Perks. A pair of Rolls Royce Avon 109 engines were subsequently purchased and installed in the aircraft to return her to a taxiable condition, a popular feature of the regular open days that take place at Bruntingthorpe. Arthur Perks’ place on the team has been replaced by three more enthusiasts; the aim is to keep ‘Treble Three’ in taxiable condition and demonstrate her as a tribute to all the Canberras and crews that provided such sterling service to the RAF and other air arms worldwide.