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canberraman

RAF Wyton 1980-1995 Pt 3 1 PRU/39 Sqn and Canberra recce

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Part 3 of my 6 part series on the aircraft and operators at RAF Wyton  - 1980-1995, covers No 1 PRU/39 Sqn and the ultimate production Canberra, the PR.9 reconnaissance platform.

 

39 Sqn arrived at RAF Wyton in September 1970 following relocation from RAF Luqa, Malta. In its various guises, it was the longest serving Canberra unit at Wyton remaining there until December 1993. With Wyton’s closure as a flying station looming, the then 39(1 PRU) Sqn, moved to RAF Marham where it served for a further 13 years, being the last RAF operator of this venerable aircraft. By the early '80s, from when this article covers, 39 Sqn had 15 examples on strength. In January 1982 following a round of UK defence cuts, 39 Squadron was reduced to half strength before formally disbanding in May that year. Following the end of the Falklands War, three ex 39 Sqn PR.9s were supplied to the Chilean Air Force. The remaining flight strength unit at Wyton (with an establishment of five PR.9s) was redesignated as 1 PRU (Photo Reconnaissance Unit) and continued much as before, though it lost its tactical reconnaissance commitments. Much of the unit’s role during the 80s was primarily survey photography, the majority of which was at medium and high altitudes. The unit regained its traditional identity as 39 (1 PRU) Sqn on July 1st 1992 and moved to RAF Marham in December 1993. Although by then in the twilight of its career, with successive capability upgrades, the PR.9 then served until retirement in 2006, in a range of operational or humanitarian theatres including Rwanda, Kosovo/Bosnia and Afghanistan.

 

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Canberra PR.9 XH175 in original 39 Sqn markings, seen on exercise at Eggebek in June 1980.

 

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Another shot of XH175 from June 1980, this time at its home station RAF Wyton.

 

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39 sqn Canberra PR.9 XH168 at the 1980 Mildenhall Air Show held 23/24 August that year.

 

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Canberra PR.9 ‘341’ (ex XH166) was one of three such former 39 Sqn aircraft supplied to the Chilean Air Force (FACh) Escuadrilla de Reconocimiento / Grupo de Aviación 2, on 15 October 1982. The type served the FACh until retirement in the mid 90s. Although one aircraft (342) was lost in FACh service, the remaining two have been preserved at Santiago Los Cerillos Chilean National Air and Space Museum. 341 is seen in 2000 awaiting restoration.

 

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By now wearing 1 PRU badges, XH165 is seen at Wyton in May 1987.

 

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Also wearing 1 PRU badges, and in the former gloss dk green, dark sea grey, medium sea grey scheme, is XH174 photographed at Wyton in November 1988.

 

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XH168/AB of 1 PRU in the later hemp over Light Aircraft grey c/s seen at Wyton in May 1989.

 

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XH169/AC of 1 PRU at Wyton in May 1989. A quite rare photo that shows this particular PR.9 fitted with the US supplied System III border surveillance photo recce fit in the enlarged fuselage centre section.

 

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XH134/AA of 1 PRU seen at RAF Alconbury Air Tattoo in August 1990.

 

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This undated photo shows 1 PRU PR.9 XH135/AG taxying out for a Runway 27 departure at RAF Wyton.

 

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PR.9 XH135 seen at Wyton in November 1991 wearing a 13 Sqn fin badge. These markings were only retained for a couple of weeks to allow an air to air photo shoot with a 13 Sqn Tornado to commemorate the squadron anniversary.

 

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XH131/AF of 39(1 PRU) Sqn at RAF Mildenhall Air Fete in May 93. Note the forward opening hinged nose to allow access to the navigator’s station.

 

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The winged bomb emblem of 39 sqn seen on the fin of XH131.

 

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XH131/AF seen arriving at RAF Mildenhall Air Fete 1993.

 

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XH134/AA in July 93. Note the line up of Canberras in the background that had recently been withdrawn from use and were in open storage at Wyton.

 

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Wyton Gate Guard. Former 39 sqn PR.9 XH170 as she looked in July 2001.

 

Hope you're not getting too bored of Canberras yet!  Just another 3 more instalments to go. As always c&c is greatly appreciated.

 

Mark

 

Edited by canberraman

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No, definitely not getting bored but for some reason the idea of pulling a Canberra out of the cupboard is becoming tempting.

 

I was lucky enough to be able to visit 1 PRU/39 Squadron when they were based at RAF Marham shortly before the type was retired: an airframe fitted with a "state of the art" reconnaissance equipment which, in many respects matched the US Air Force's U-2 for performance but one where the RAF had to send its wooden rudder to a specialist carpenter for maintenance.

Edited by Richard E

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These are absolutely fantastic photos.

 

I'm pretty sure I remember seeing the Canberra's at Air fete 93 as a kid. Keep the photo's coming! :)

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5 hours ago, canberraman said:

 

 

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Wyton Gate Guard. Former 39 sqn PR.9 XH170 as she looked in July 2001.

 

Hope you're not getting too bored of Canberras yet!  Just another 3 more instalments to go. As always c&c is greatly appreciated.

 

Mark

 

Glad that you included a picture of the gate guard at RAF Wyton. The reason for this is because although working of 51 Sqn a team of riggers (including myself) from the Sqn replaced the tailplane on this aircraft with another aircraft that was going to stay in service. 39 Sqn were on their last deployment (to Norway I think) so there was no-one around. So as a few of the older sweat rigger on 51 Sqn had worked on Canberra's it was decided by people in high places that we should carry out the tailplane change (plus some people at Wyton did think that 51 Sqn engineers did not do much work). The reason for the change was because the aircraft that was staying in service had had its tailplane damaged when it lost an engine panel (which according to rumour at Wyton had landed in the middle of 4 F-15 Eagle at RAF Alconbury). So as XH170 had been designated to become the gate guard at Wyton it had a serviceable tailplane which could be swopped with the U/S one. It was an interesting weeks work, plus we found a birds nest under the tailplane, which cause a slight rumpus with higher authorities. One other thing is thatXH170 did not have a tailplane actuator refit (I can't remember the reason why) but did have a piece of angle iron to the right dimensions.

 

Keep the photos coming as it does bring back some memories.

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Chaps

Thanks for the comments and likes.

 

Jabba - that's an interesting story regarding XH170's tailplane, especially the hidden bird's nest! I wonder how long she will remain on gate guard duty given the elements causing corrosion and the Joint Forces Command's occupancy of Wyton now. 

 

Mark

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Awesome shots, thanks for posting!

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