Alan Howell Reports:
Last having appeared at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in 2006, English Electric Canberra XH134 returned to the air show for 2013, and while it did not perform in the aerial display portion of the festivities, it did fly in under its own power to RAF Fairford, and was on static display throughout the show, which sold out both days with an attendance of over 130,000 visitors over the course of the weekend.
It was surely a measure of the Canberra’s attraction that the crowd in the Friends of RIAT grandstand for departures day thinned noticeably after the take off of Canberra PR.9 XH134 (G-OMHD) as people set off home. Its arrival at the airfield three days earlier also generated much interest among enthusiasts pleased to see an example of this iconic airplane returned to flight status in Britain.
Its arrival at Fairford after the short hop from nearby Kemble marked a milestone in a long restoration and a significant step on the path to seeing XH134 actively featuring on the aerial display circuit. During a lull in the Air Tattoo display, an interview with the Canberra’s operators, Midair Squadron, confirmed their intention to develop a routine with their pair of Hawker Hunters (G-XMHD & G-VETA) which should be active by next season. Its debut will be eagerly anticipated by those of us who remember seeing very spirited displays by the type in the past, though it’s likely that future displays will be rather less exhuberant, in order to extend the active life of the airframe.
XH134 is no stranger to RIAT and was present (with XH135) in 2006 only days before its retirement from RAF service and the disbandment of its operator 39 (1 PRU) Squadron RAF. The unit flew the last three Canberras in RAF service and they were in active use over Afghanistan until June 2006. Subsequently purchased by private owner Mike Davis and kept at Kemble, a plan to restore and lease back the three airframes did not proceed. One (XH131) was subsequently shipped to Ulster Aviation Society in Lisburn in 2010, in recognition of the role Shorts played in Canberra production. A second (XH135) has been used as a source of spare parts to support the restoration of XH134, but was present in the static park of the 2010 Cotswold Airshow at Kemble. XH134 was still very much alive in 2010 and conducted fast taxi demonstrations on both days of that Cotswold show – with the commentator suggesting then that a return to flight might be on the agenda. Happily this has now been acheived and we can all look forward to its air show flying display debut in the 2014 season.