Thunder & Lightnings

English Electric Canberra - Survivor 'VN799' (really WJ874, ex G-CDSX)

T.4 VN799 - Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre, RAF St. Mawgan, Newquay, Cornwall

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Canberra T.4 VN799 at Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre, 8th October 2022; Jake Wallace

Produced by English Electric Co at Preston, Lancs, WJ874 was built as part of a 1950 contract for 25 aircraft. Ready for issue on 24 December 1954, she spent her early service life with various Station Flights - Gaydon, Binbrook and Coningsby. She was next transferred to 231 OCU for a while before going to the RAF's Handling Squadron at RAF Manby.

Then a total change - in November 1969, after 25 years of RAF service, WJ874 was transferred to the charge of the Royal Navy's Fleet Requirements Unit (FRADU) to train the TT.18 (Target Tug) pilots in the art of Canberra flying. Seventeen years later, in 1986, WJ874 was returned to RAF charge and issued to 231 OCU at RAF Wyton. Put into open store at RAF Wyton in February 1988, WJ874 languished for a few years until she was re-activated and issued to the charge of the newly formed 1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit. WJ874 moved to RAF Marham when 1 PRU was re-designated as 39 Sqn, subsequently flying operationally with the squadron.

In 1999 as a tribute to the Canberra's 50th Anniversary that year, WJ874 was repainted by the RAF in an all-over blue scheme and marked with the identity of the prototype Canberra, VN799. During 1999 and onwards WJ874 took part in many air shows and displays slipping gracefully through the skies resplendent in her blue colours, becoming known as "The Blue One". During the latter half of 2004 WJ874 was sent for a Minor Star maintenance servicing at FRA at Hurn, Bournemouth and returned to service life to continue crew training and currency with 39 Sqn at RAF Marham in January 2005. It was decided to keep her in the prototype colour scheme for the rest of her service life.

WJ874 made her last operational flight on 1 September 2005 crewed by Sqn Ldr Terry Cairns (Pilot), Wg Cmdr Clive Mitchell (Nav and CO of 39 (1 PRU) Sqn) accompanied by the Air Officer Commanding No. 3 Group, Air Vice Marshall Andy White on his first flight in a Canberra.

On 9 November 2005, WJ874 crewed by Flt Lt Mike Leckey (Pilot) and Wg Cmdr Clive Mitchell (Nav and 39 Sqn CO) took off from RAF Marham for the last time. She was on what turned out to be her last flight, a delivery to Coventry Airport, the base of her new owners - Air Atlantique's Classic Flight. AACF intended to fly her at airshows and other events, but sadly, this never came to pass, and poor old 'VN799' as she is still marked, languished at Baginton for years before moving to Air Atlantique's new base at Newquay (infamously starring in an episode of TV's "Monster Moves" which showed just how not to move an aircraft).

In July 2015 the ownership of WJ874 was transferred to the Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre (CAHC), where she remains on display outside. Externally, she is starting to look a little tired with the canopy starting to cloud, and faded paintwork due to the weather, although the paint is still quite reflective in some places!

Sadly, in mid-2022, it was announced that it would be likely CAHC would be closing its doors for the last time at the end of October 2022. Hopefully, WJ874 will be able to find a new home where she can be looked after for years to come.

Information on this page current as of 11/10/2022, last updated by Jake

Find other photos of VN799 on the following sites:

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