Losses and Aviation Safety

Did you know the navigator’s station in Canberra PR.9 was one of the most uncomfortable crew stations ever designed?

The Canberra PR.9 incorporated a hinged nose for access to the navigator’s station which included an ejection seat.

The English Electric Canberra was the first jet-powered bomber to enter service with the Royal Air Force (RAF). It was unarmed and relied on high speed to escape enemy fighters.

As the Cold War deepened in the early 1950s the Canberra was ordered in large numbers to replace the obsolete Avro Lincolns and to form new light bomber squadrons. To meet the demand it was built by Avro, Handley Page and Short Bros as well as the parent firm English Electric.

With the bomber version firmly established in service the RAF began to consider the Canberra as replacement for its aging photo-reconnaissance Mosquito aircraft.

The photo reconnaissance, PR.3 variant, first flew in March1950, with the last of these being delivered to squadrons during 1954. By this stage the next version, the PR.7 was entering service, but already plans were being drawn up for another version capable of flying at over 50,000 feet exceeding the ceiling of the PR.3 and PR.7.

The new model would be designated PR.9.

According to Ulster Aviation Society, the PR.9 would however see major redesign and development of the Canberra incorporating an enlarged wing with more powerful Rolls Royce Avon 206 engines fitted, improved hydraulic systems and a hinged nose for access to the navigator’s station.

Noteworthy, the navigator station in the Canberra PR.9 was one of the most uncomfortable as the photos in this post show.

‘He had only a very small window and sat very cramped. The original design called for the latest automatic radar to be housed in the nose, but long delays in radar development resulted in a crewman being placed there instead,’ says André Kupferschmid, Former F/A-18 plane captain, on Quora.

Note the small side window at the front.

‘My late father-in-law, who flew in PR.3’s and PR.9’s (as well as Vulcans and Phantoms) during his RAF career, referred to the navigation compartment windows as “day/night indicators,”’ Alex Dicey, an aviation enthusiast, recalls on Quora.

How could he can bail out?

The navigator station had a Martin Baker ejection seat.

‘There is a lid on top of his seat that can be jettison first. See the black/yellow handle in the last picture left of his head,’ Kupferschmid says.

Throughout the Cold War the PR.9 flew missions when and where surveillance was called for with in more recent years the aircraft being deployed for operations over Rwanda, Kosovo the 2003 Gulf conflict and Afghanistan in 2006.

Photo credit: Crown Copyright

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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