Planning is under way to delay retirement of the UK Royal Air Force’s last four English Electric Canberra PR9 photographic reconnaissance aircraft to provide cover for a major British Army deployment to Afghanistan next year. The Ministry of Defence had intended to retire 39 Sqn’s veteran PR9s and its one Canberra T4 trainer in March 2006, but a recent deployment of the aircraft to the Middle East to support US operations in Afghanistan has forced a rethink.
Speaking at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, air force officers told Flight International that the aircraft are now expected to be kept in service until at least late next year because of its unique mapping cameras and datalinks that allow the downloading of electro-optical imagery. The Canberra entered RAF service in 1951 and has been progressively upgraded since the late 1990s with US-supplied electro-optical sensors and datalinks.
The MoD had intended to begin winding down the squadron later this year, but as part of preparations for the service extension, additional aircrew have been posted to RAF Marham to ensure a functioning detachment can be stood up during foreign deployments.
The RAF says its intention is to retire the Canberras during 2006. However, it adds that a four-month service extension is now being examined, and “if we need to keep it in service a bit longer, we will”.