Hikoki's Black Box Canberras: British Test and Trials Canberras 1951-1994


David Forster




$49.95 from Specialty Press


Scott Van Aken

Notes: ISBN 978-1-902109-53-4, 228 pages, 250+ photos and drawings

There has always been a need for test and trials aircraft. Whenever a new piece of aviation equipment is developed, be it a radio, radar, rocket or jet engine, the only way to ensure that it functions as it should is to take it into the air and test it.

For the British after WWII, that aircraft was often as not, a Canberra. The Canberra offered qualities that other planes did not. One is that it was a steady airframe. It was able to fly and generally high speeds and altitudes, and probably the most important, it had room for additional observers and test equipment.

Thanks to the way the airframe was built, with a separate nose section, wing center section, and tail section, modifying say, the empennage to accept a rocket motor, did not require the entire airframe in the fabrication shop. Same went for new nose sections for radar testing. Simply unbolt the nose, haul it into the shops, make the required modifications and bolt it back on. Of course, there was a teeny bit more to it than that, but that is essentially the way the plane was designed and built.

So useful was the Canberra, that it was not only in operational service for forty years, but operated in the test and trials role for about as long as it was in service. Thanks to the fairly large number built, there were always airframes available not only for the British government units, but also for manufacturers of the various equipment being tested.

The author of this book has put in a lot of time combing various primary sources to provide the most complete look at trials Canberras every published. There are 13 major sections in the book that are fairly well divided into the purpose of the various tests and trials. They include radar, air to ground missiles, navigation equipment, engines,  and atmospheric & space tests to name a few.

Each one of these is often accompanies by photos of the aircraft used in the trials. I found it interesting that while some planes were used over and over again, this was not always the case with others having been used for one program and then either reverted to its original condition or even scrapped.

I found it to be a fascinating look into an aspect of aviation that is critical, yet often overlooked by most enthusiasts. The clear, concise writing along with the excellent selection of photos of not only the planes, but also the equipment being tested, makes this a book that should be on your shelf. Highly recommended not only for the Canberra fan, but the enthusiast in general.

February 2017

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