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WH780's service history

Canberra WH780 was built by English Electric at its Preston factory. It was originally planned to complete it as a PR.3 variant, but it was instead upgraded on the production line to PR.7 specification. It was declared ready for collection on 31st March 1954, and entered service with RAF 542 Squadron (Sqn) at RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire. It is not known how long it remained with the Unit, or with its next Squadron; RAF 58 Sqn also based at Wyton. During April 1956, WH780 was transferred to RAF 527 Sqn at Watton where it remained for three months before returning to Wyton to serve with its third based Unit, this time RAF 82 Sqn.
On 18th July 1956, the aeroplane was loaned to the Controller(Aircraft) - C(A) at Boulton Paul Aircraft's Defford airfield and was employed on trials work until November 1957, when it moved to the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) for further trials.
When the test flying was over WH780 was returned to the RAF, and it was posted to RAF 81 Sqn at Tengah, the RAF's only photo reconnaissance Unit present in the Far East. It remained in use until the Squadron was disbanded in January 1971, and the aeroplane arrived back in the UK where it was placed in store at RAF Athan.

On 15th February 1971, WH780 was transferred to the Royal Navy, and seven months later was moved to the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) Salmesbury for overhaul and conversion to T.22 specification.
Exactly three years after becoming a Navy airframe, WH780 joined the Fleet Air Arm at RNAS Yeovilton when it became a part of the Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Training Unit (FRADTU) as '853'.
The Unit dropped the word Training from its title later that year becoming FRADU, and WH780 remained in service until May 1977, when it was sent to RAF Aldergrove for a major inspection. It was returned to FRADU in November that year, and flew numerous sorties for the Fleet Air Arm until its period of service was broken by a move to RNAS Lee-on-Solent in September 1980 for modifications, allowing it to carry tip tanks. During February 1981 it was handed back to the FRADU, but just two months later WH780 was moved to RAF St Athan for further modifications.

WH780 was re-introduced to service on 9th August 1982, and had the distinction of being the last FRADU Canberra T.22 withdrawn following the establishment of its Dassault Falcon 20 successor at Yeovilton.
On 20th September 1985, the aeroplane was ferried to RAF St Athan for storage, where it would remain until being offered for disposal in March 1992.

[© Eric Tammer]

[© Pedro Arag„o]

[© Bob Turner]

WH780's civilian life

WH780 was bought by Hanningfield Metals, a scrap merchant based in Stock, Essex.
Its cockpit was removed from its fuselage in February 1993, and the remainder of the airframe was scrapped at St Athan and eventually passed to the Station Fire Dump where it expired very quickly. The cockpit section was moved to the Company's yard, where it remained until it too was scrapped in April 1995 following a major clean-up of the busy scrap-yard.

- December 2020

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