English Electric Canberra and the Rolls-Royce Avon Engine

English Electric Canberra and the Rolls-Royce Avon Engine

If you were driving southbound between Doncaster and Stratford-upon-Avon (A1, A46, M1 and A46) on Tuesday 24 May, you may have spotted the Vulcan to the Sky Trust van moving a Rolls-Royce Avon engine to our stores.

The Axial Flow Turbojet Rolls-Royce Avon Mk109 engine was purchased by the Trust, along with Canberra WK163, in 2016. This engine is approximately 70 years old.

Engine plate
The Rolls-Royce Avon plate attached to the engine, detailing the manufacturer and serial number.

Although the engine is Rolls-Royce designed and branded, this engine was built by the Standard Motor Company Ltd. for HM Government. At the time Rolls-Royce didn’t have capacity to keep up with demand, so in 1951 Standard were granted a contract to build the Avon engines. They made 415 Rolls Royce Avon jet aero engines between 1951 and 1955.

The Avon was considered to be the best engine of its generation.

Did you know? The engine got its name from the River Avon. Rolls-Royce named all of their engines after river names in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Canberra VN799 at Farnborough Air Show 1949. Note the squared off vertical fin. Ed Coates Collection
Canberra VN799 at Farnborough Air Show, 1949. © Ed Coates Collection

The first flight of the English Electric Canberra B.2, VN799, on 13 May 1949, was powered by two Rolls Royce Avon engines. The Canberra started to be delivered to the Royal Air Force in January 1951. It was RAF’s first jet-powered bomber.

The Canberra took over from the RAF’s Mosquito bomber. Flown by the same pilots at the time, it is now described as having been “like going from a Ford to a Ferrari”. Although the Canberra was a bomber, with its two Avon engines at half-power the Canberra could outrun the latest models of Spitfires with ease.

A total of 1,352 English Electric Canberra aircraft were built in 27 versions which equipped 35 Air Force Squadrons. The Canberra was exported to fifteen countries earning more than £90 million for the UK.

On 21 February 1951, the first nonstop unrefuelled transatlantic crossing by a jet took place. Sdn. Ldr. Arthur Callard flew English Electric Canberra WD932, from RAF Aldergrove, Northern Ireland, to Gander International Airport, Newfoundland. The journey took only 4 hours 37 minutes. The record would be bettered later that year in August, by another Canberra. Wg. Cmdr. Roly Beamont flew Canberra WD940 to the same destination and took nearly 10 minutes off the journey time, making the flight in 4 hours 18 minutes.

During it’s first ten years in operation, the Canberra was regularly in the news breaking another record. Our very own Canberra WK163 achieved the World Altitude Record in August 1957. By 1958 the aircraft had achieved 19 official flight records and three altitude records, along with a number of unofficial records. The unofficial records had no official observance so went unrecorded.

The Canberra served for more than 50 years with some operators. The Rolls-Royce Avon was still in operational service with the RAF in the Canberra PR.9 until 23 June 2006, when, 57 years after its first flight, the RAF retired the last three of its Canberra aircraft.

The Avon was used to power numerous aircraft during its production, including the DeHavilland Comet which was the first turbojet to enter transatlantic service, and the Martin B-57 Canberra. The B-57 was license-built in the United States.

Thursday 10th July 2014 saw this rare NASA WB-57 plane landing at Prestwick Airport in Scotland following a flight from Goose Bay.

Three of the Martin B-57 variant remain in service, performing meteorological and re-entry tracking work for NASA, but are no longer powered by Avon engines.

In June 2021, the Temora Aviation Museum in Australia successfully performed a test flight with their English Electric Canberra, WJ680. Below, you can watch the first engine test they carried out, which shows some of the inner workings of a Canberra engine.

If you were behind the Vulcan to the Sky Trust vehicle on Tuesday, you will have had a completely different view of a Rolls-Royce Avon jet engine.

IMG 8983
Crazy Frog on a Rolls-Royce Avon Engine, hitching a ride to Stratford.
Ask him “why?” at the airshows.


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