Saturday, May 12, 2007

Canberra No More...

It was sort of weird being flown to Agra yesterday because I realised that the first time I was ever going to see an English Electric Canberra in the flesh was going to be on it's last day in operational service with the IAF. Couple that with the fact that our hosts -- the IAF -- wouldn't allow us to stay for more than a few of hours, so after landing at about half-past seven, I was out three hours later with a steep sense that I would have liked to stay for a few days, you know, check out the stripping down, see the insides, find out where they're being flown to for their final resting place, that sort of thing.

[Photo to the right is me with one of the last Canberras at Agra yesterday-- for all my photos click here]. The first introduction I ever got to the Canberra was from a young pilot called Gerard (he was ACM Major's staff officer in Shillong) in Kalaikunda during the Cope India 2005 Indo-US air exercise. I remember how, over lunch, he told me all about flying the aircraft, the stability, the "best of both worlds" feeling, and the honour of flying a maching that had such a blistering frequency of involvement in conflict behind it.

But when I got back to Delhi, it was an account of the Canberra's role in the 1965 air war in the book by webmasters of BR's IAF site that captivated me endlessly about vintage aircraft in war. I was also thrilled to know that one of the authors Jagan, is currently working with Anandeep Pannu to author a detailed book on the Canberra in IAF service. I could not think of anything greater than the idea of a full account of one single aircraft in service. Their first two chapters are already up here, and personally, I can't wait for the rest of the book. Enjoy the photos.

Inside the Canberra cockpit

106 Sqn pilots with the display Canberra

You can see the rest of the photos I took here. Meanwhile, the IAF's press release on the retirement of the squadron was, for a change, quite nicely written, so I'm reproducing it here in full:



Agra/New Delhi: Vaisakha 21, 1928 / May 11, 2007

The Indian Air Force today phased out its Canberra aircraft after fifty years of its glorious service. The phasing out ceremony was held at Air Force Station Agra and was presided over by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Mshl FH Major. The ceremony comprised the fly past by the mighty bombers and concluded with the handing over of ‘form 700’ to the Chief by Wg Cdr Mathur, the CO of Canberra Squadron.

For over fifty years, the Canberra has been a familiar sight the world over, both in war and peace. Designed in 1944 to meet a specification for a jet bomber, the Canberra has had an unrivalled history in the world of military aviation. During its lifetime the Canberra equipped over sixty RAF squadrons plus a number of special flights. It was license built both in Australia and the USA, in the latter as the B-57, some 400 odd were built. It also proved a best seller overseas, being operated by seventeen air forces, and seeing active service with many of them. No. 5 squadron IAF was the first to equip with the Canberra Bomber in May 1957, and by 1959 two more squadrons, No 16 and 35, had become operational on type. The eight PR-57s were operated by 106 SR Squadron, while the T-54s were formed into a jet bomber Operational conversion Unit, namely JBCU. The Canberras were mostly based at Agra. Target- towing version was added to the inventory of the IAF in 1975.

Canberra, the only bomber of the Indian Air Force untill late seventies, came to India in 1957. An aircraft of British origin, the twin-engine jet bomber has been a proud possession of the Indian Air Force. The high altitude bomber was a force to reckon with in the then prevailing war scenario in the Indian subcontinent. Cruising at four-fifth the speed of sound at 40,000 feet, Canberra was the right weapon carrier then, to carry the war well beyond the frontiers, deep into enemy’s territory.

Canberra got the first taste of operation on 18th December 1961 when 16 Squadron and 35 squadron were tasked to carry out reconnaissance and bombing of Dabolim airfield. Canberras of No. 35 Squadron were the first jet aircraft of the IAF to bear its arsenal on an enemy. On 18 Dec 1961 the squadron dropped 60,000 lbs bombs over Dabolim airfield against the Portuguese. It is worth mentioning that the highly accurate bombing damaged only the target with no civilian causalities and the ATC and the aircraft on the dispersal were deliberately not targeted. By the 20th Goa had been reclaimed.

The Belgian Congo broke out in political turmoil in 1961 and the UNO was called in for help. When the situation in Katanga (UHHQ) and the capital Leopoldville worsened, India was requested to send strike aircraft on behalf of United Nations. Earmarked for this task was the proud No. 5 squadron. On October 9th 1961, under the command of Wg Cdr A Suares with twelve aircrew and ninety support personnel, six Canberra aircraft took off from Agra for Ndjili airport, Leopoldville over 6000 km away via Jamnagar and Nairobi as the first ever Indian Fighter bomber contingent to take part in UN operations. The Canberras were a major contributor towards the UN aim of establishing peace in Congo.

Through the Canberras stood down in the Chinese conflict and did not fly any combat sorties, recce sorties till went through. The Canberras flew 22 Photo Recce missions between 13 Oct to 11 Nov 1962 totaling more than fifty hours. Areas of Aksai chin and Eastern sector were covered to monitor enemy encroachment. The Canberras performed magnificently in the conflict.

Canberra’s mettle was tested for the first time in 1965 Indo-Pak war. Numerous high level bombing missions were successfully flown during the course of the short war. In recognition of their bravery and valour many Canberra crew, were awarded Maha Vir Chakras, Vir Chakras and other gallantry awards. Battle scenario changed dramatically for Canberra bombers after the 1965 war, Entry of radars and high performance fighters with night combat capability meant curtains for the high level sub-sonic bomber. However, air space close to the ground was still a grey area for the radars and the fighters and this was well exploited by the Canberra. Canberras were soon zooming at high speeds across the Gangetic Plains, the lush green fields of Punjab and Haryana, the sandy deserts of Rajasthan, the marshy lands of Saurashtra and the cool waters of the Arabian Sea, honing the new techniques for low level penetration and pull up attacks. The cohesive teamwork of skillful pilots and meticulous diligent navigators kept Canberra a viable and dependable bomber force when the 1971 war broke out. It goes to the credit of scores of aircrew and hundreds of ground crew that within hours of Pakistani pre-emptive strike in 1971, Canberra spearheaded a strong counter-attack on a number of Pakistani targets. Throughout the war, Canberra gave enemy no respite even at night due to persistent night raids on numerous targets. The highlight of the 1971 operations was bombing attacks carried over the Oil Refinery complex at Karachi. The results of these raids were so devastating that the Karachi Oil complex was ablaze for nearly a week. Canberra Squadrons were richly rewarded with four MVCs, a dozen VCs and many other gallantry awards and distinguished service awards in recognition of their contribution to the 1971 war.

Canberra had justified the faith reposed in them at the time of their acquisition in 1958. Advent of potent air defence system consisting of low looking radars, surface to air missiles and supersonic fighters equipped with air to air missiles in late seventies signaled formal retirement of this great war-horse from combat duties. However, superb aerodynamic design, high system reliability and good maintainability gave Canberra a lease of life to march on for some more time, albeit, in secondary roles viz. electronic warfare, maritime strike and target towing. The Photo Reece Canberra continued to operate stealthily for some more time. It was effectively used in the Kargil conflict and brought the first photographic proof of enemy intrusion in our territory. Despite taking a missile hit, the aircraft managed to land back safely at a nearby base. Such indeed was the reliability of the aircraft and the courage and commitment of its crew. After having served the nation for 50 years, the stubborn fighter was bid adieu today i.e, on 11 May 07.


Anonymous said...

a real shame to see them go... why couldn't the air force actually get down and get the right spares and stuff? i heard the airframes are in top form still,,

Zero said...

this is hillarious, but shame on MoD

MoD owns credit, passes discredits to DRDO

May 12, 2007 (FIDSNS)

It is a common knowledge that leader owns up responsibility. But Indian Ministry of defence thinks otherwise. The Indian Minister of Defence is shameless in taking full credit of DRDO accomplishments, otherwise passes the bucks to DRDO.

It was evident in the press release on Friday, May 11, 2007 in which the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Prof Mahadeorao Shiwankar in Lok Sabha wrote “Representatives of the Indian Air Force had participated in the development trials of the Akash Missile System conducted by DRDO, as observers and provided user’s inputs for improvement in the system performance. Some trials at the development stage had not been fully successful. User’s trial are likely to commence shortly.”

While assigning the Akash incident to DRDO, the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri Pankaj Chowdhary in Lok Sabha wrote on the same day ” The Government has conducted the test flight of pilotless combat aircraft the ‘Lakshya’ recently. Two Lakshya development campaigns were conducted at Integrated Test Range (ITR), Balasore during 3-5 January 2007 and 5-9 March 2007 to fly digital Pilotless Target Aircraft, Lakshya in autonomous mode and evaluate engine performance with one tow and one stow configuration, respectively. Both the campaigns met with the broad mission objectives.”

It is a common knowledge that DRDO has conducted both Akash Missile and Lakshya PTA trials and not the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

If Mr. AK Antony is known for his clean image, imagine the politicians with unclean image!

Shiv Aroor said...

what a silly, nickpickingly naive piece. presumably written by chacko joseph, this is complete tripe. the government is CONSTANTLY praising DRDO, even protecting it with lies in parliament answers, so this piece is codswallop (like a lot else that's coming out of FIDNS or whatever). when questions are asked about DRDO, it's DRDO that formulates the answers and sends them back. and unless there's a really anal babu on the prowl, these are taken as official and passed back to the parliament secretariat, where they are formatted and printed for tabling. calling into question antony's integrity over answers that no defence minister ever has to formulate himself (he probably doesn't even read them) is a reflection of ignorance, i'm afraid. this is either the work of a babu, or a subservient DRDO official who wants to curry favour. either way, what's wrong with saying government fielded tests. isn't DRDO a government agency? anyway, not the point.

Mihir Shah said...

Do you know why the Canberra had a cockpit that was slightly offset to the right?

Why bring DRDO here?

Shiv Aroor said...

mihir: not sure. to give the pilot more visibility? more space for the aimer/nav?

Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, frankly the history of foreign made aircraft which were also in service for many years at other airforces also, does not interest me.

The "air of intrigue" and hence the interest is generated only in those aircraft which are rare, which were ignored mostly in the west and yet which had a unique and very important role to play. The "prime candidate" for such an aircraft is the Gnat and much much more, the HF-24 Marut. The latter even more so than the former, because it was an aircraft developed by a third-world nation, and one which was definitely ahead of its time. It was ignored by the rest of the world and more "sinisterly" by its own master :- the IAF (as usual of course).

The article by Mr. Chacko on the Gnt and HF-24 Marut was definitely very interesting. Sir, with the resources at your disposal I may humbly request you to if you have time, energy and patience (collectively termed as "phursad"), please do research about the Gnat which only served in the IAF and the reclusive but nevertheless amazing HF-24 Marut.

However, the following is an article on the Canberra.

In my view, its history must be studied not only as an aircraft of the IAF, but as its role in all the airforces. Outside the IAF, I think that it has had a far more "glorious" history.

Thank you.

Shiv Aroor said...

abhiman: sad that the history of aircraft doesn't interest you. obviously you also consider web references to be the last word on all subjects, which is a little strange! anyway, when i talk of the glory of the canberra, why do you imagine i'm taking anything away from the indubitable glory of the folland gnat or the Marut? clearly not! they are all beautiful machines in their own right.. and this time it was the canberra being phased out, so you scarcely expect me to spew forth on military aviation at large.

Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, only foreign planes which are very common and have served in other forces also, seem uninteresting to me.

As a Canberra is as much a "commoner" as the F-15, it thus appears "boring" to be studied to me.

Earlier I did not mean that the HF-24 and Gnat are ignored by you; I only requested you to maybe someday report about the history of these two planes for the benefit of your blog-readers.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Shivji Sir,
Good all round report on Canberra only gripe amateurish photos you took. few good ones were
of officers. considering you are a reporter I thought you could use a camera. dissapointed.

Shiv Aroor said...

anon: i know! i'm an extremely amateur photographer! i just point and shoot with my little digi point and shoot. thing is, in print, i was a reporter, and only took photos whenever i could. i am hoping to actually get a pro print photographer to teach me more.. hopefully i'll take some better pics in the future. and glad to know you're disappointed. it means you don't think i'm half bad all round!

Anonymous said...

never mind abhiman mr aroor, i found this a fascinating intro to the canberra, and your obvious passion and grasp of the subject comes through. and while i don't see why you can't do a piece on the F-15s whenever you feel like, nothing like a news peg to whet our interests...good going

Zero said...

I thought Shive Aroor is supposed to be writing codswollop. After all who is the lifafa?

ajay said...

Dear Shivji Sir,
My mistake. reading all your blogs
I was under the impression you were a good all round reporter.I forgot ther is a dfference in a photo reporter and a print reporter.photographing skill will come,just take plenty and let a skilled one point out the mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Anyday I would prefer a dozen badly taken photos over ,ZERO Excellent photos :) . So thanks for the effort shiv.

Shiv Aroor said...

thanks anon! will try getting LOTS of EXCELLENT photos for the next one...

Mihir Shah said...

Some web pages claim that the cockpit was offset to "improve visibility", but why would one need to improve visibility on one side while possibly compromising it on the other side?

About the "Inside the Canberra cockpit" photograph... was it taken inside the cockpit, or inside the bomb-aimers space?

shiv said...

The Canberra was an agile and powerful aircraft considering its old-fashioned - non swept wing shape. I used to spend hours watching them outside Lohegaon airfield in Pune in the 1960s.

On the connection between DRDO, "self sufficiency" and the Canberra, the Canberra itself was a symbol of competence developed in aviation tech in by the West in WW2. That paid them dividends as they earned money from India that imported the Canberra, while Pakistan got the US version - the B 57 used to bomb civilan targets in Ambala and elsewhere

As recently as 1999 - an Indian Canberra was hit by a US made Stinger in a long tradition of the use of arms technology from nations allied with each other to arm hostile neighbors while the arms seller laughs all the way to the bank.

India unfortunately is neither here nor there - but I believe that Indian defence is a unit that consists of the armed forces and supporting civilians in industry. Those of us who are in neither group have a responsibility to be civil to both groups.

Blindly praising one group and being uniformly scathing of the other is bad practice for anyone who knows anything about running any organization.

But then who said we are all skilled in every area?

Shiv Sastry

Shiv Aroor said...

mihir: in that case, i'm not sure why the cockpit is biased to port. the photo is from the navigator's seat behind the pilot's section of the cockpit. i took one sitting in the pilot's seat but there was too much glare.

Anandeep said...


Great photos of the retirement event. I will be asking for some for my book!
I do have an answer about the port offset canopy. The first Canberras were built with the "goldfish bowl" canopy. The pilot sat to the left and there was a walkway to his right that the navigator used to walk to the nose bomb aimer position. While not over the target the navigator sat in the seat behind the pilot.
Then the Canberra was modified for the low level attack role - this was the major variant that the IAF ordered (the B.58)
The British wanted to make it a "minimum change" variant and needed better visibility for the pilot. So they left the pilot position where it was (ie. on the left when looking out from the aircraft) and put a bubble canopy over it. That resulted in the lopsided offset canopy look. The Brits also did this for the Sea Vixen aircraft.
This resulted in the navigator not having an ejection seat in the B.58 variant. The US modified their Canberras with a proper front and back seat, not taking short cuts.

Shiv Aroor said...

anandeep: thanks for that! now we know!

Mihir Shah said...

Thanks, Anandeep!

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