THE FRADU CANBERRAS WEB-SITE


HISTORY OF THE NAVY & FRADU CANBERRAS

The Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit (FRADU) is currently operated, under contact to the Royal Navy by Serco Defence and Aerospace. Presently based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, the Unit is equipped with 11 British Aerospace Hawk T.1 and T.1A aeroplanes, all of which were previously used by the Royal Air Force. Two airframes are permanently detached at RNAS Yeovilton and are used by the Naval Flying Standards Flight (fixed wing) and although flown by Fleet Air Arm pilots, are still maintained by FRADU's engineers.
FRADU's staff pilots and engineers are all ex-military with varying fast jet backgrounds from the English Electric Lightning to former Red Arrows team members, which are now employed by Serco as civilians.

The FRADU's task sheet fulfils several roles that belie the name of the Unit, including support the Royal Navy's Task Fleet with Simulated Ship Attacks and airborne Early Warning (AEW) exercises. Fighter Controller training, nicknamed 'Direction School' is also carried out, as is Helicopter Fighter Affiliation training. FRADU's former aircraft, namely the Hunters and Canberras did this to a very high level for over twenty years. During the ship attacks FRADU maintains a close relationship with Cobham Plc (formerly Flight Refuelling Aviation (FRA)), which began in 1983 when its parent company Flight Refuelling Ltd won the contract to run the FRADU Unit on behalf of the Royal Navy. Cobham operate a large fleet of Dassault Falcon 20 aircraft from both Bournemouth and Teesside, and has done so since the first aeroplane arrived in 1985. FRADU's Hawks are often operated from bases in Mainland Europe as well as the UK, including previous deployments to France, Spain, and Portugal, as well as RAF Kinloss and RAF Waddington in the UK.


The original Navy Canberras

The Fleet Air Arm's association with the English Electric Canberra began in quiet fashion in May 1961. Six surplus Canberra B.2 airframes from the Royal Air Force were moved to Short Brothers' airfield at Belfast for conversion to U.14 specification. This would allow them to be operated by radio control on the ground without the need for a pilot in the cockpit. The first aeroplane delivered to the Fleet Air Arm was Canberra was WH921, when it arrived at RNAS Hal Far in Malta ready for service with 728B NAS (Navy Air Squadron) on 25th May 1961. The fleet code '590' was applied, and gradually the remaining five aeroplanes arrived from Belfast to join the Squadron and were coded in-sequence; WD941/591, WH720/592, WJ638/593, WH704/594 and WH876/595. All were painted overall white, with wide black bands on the outer wings.

During August 1961, WH720/593 completed the first U.14 pilot-less flight in Fleet Air Arm service, and 728NAS began an intensive period of flying on guided missile trials involving the Armstrong Whitworth Seaslug weapon, the Canberras being operating alongside the Unit's existing fleet of Gloster Meteor U.15 and U.16s and Fairey Firefly U.9s. On 6th October 1961, WH921/590 was shot down by a missile fired from the Royal Navy warship HMS Girdle Ness, and the trials continued until the end of the test programme in December 1961. Now redundant, the five surviving airframes were withdrawn from Fleet Air Arm service and returned to the UK for storage at Pershore airfield and were left to varying fates.


The Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU)

During 1965, English Electric was asked to develop a target tug version of the Canberra, as a candidate to replace the Gloster Meteor TT.20 in RAF and Fleet Air Arm service. In the case of the latter, the Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU) based at Hurn airfield had a number of Royal Navy examples on strength which were adequate for the role but had some endurance and maximum height limitations. During 1967, the Canberra was officially chosen as the Meteor's successor, and an order was placed by the Fleet Air Arm to refurbish ten airframes to TT.18 specification. With a maximum operating ceiling of 15,000ft and three hours of endurance, the 'new' Canberras would be far superior in the role.

Rather surprisingly, the first Canberra to re-enter Fleet Air Arm service was not a TT.18, instead the honour fell to former Royal Air Force B.2 WK142 on 12th September 1969, when it arrived at Hurn to join the FRU. Three days later on 15th September the first Canberra TT.18 released for military service WK123 arrived, and this was followed by three further airframes and a T.4 pilot trainer before the turn of the year as the Meteor aeroplanes were slowly being withdrawn. A second T.4 trainer was added to the fleet in January 1971, and an additional TT.18 arrived at Hurn in February 1972, as FRU established a fleet of eight Canberra airframes all of which were assigned fleet numbers in the 840-849 range.

In February 1971, seven English Electric Canberra PR.7 airframes were transferred to the Fleet Air Arm at RAF St Athan to satisfy a need for a new radar trainer. All were gradually moved to British Aerospace's Salmesbury plant, for overhaul and conversion to their new role. This included the fitment of a Blue Parrot radar, as fitted to the Blackburn Buccaneer as well as Buccaneer-orientated avionics in the cockpit. These aeroplanes would be designated the T.22 in Fleet Air Arm service, and the prototype airframe first flew in June 1973.

The FRU moved to RNAS Yeovilton in October 1972, where it began to operate alongside, but separately from Airwork's Air Direction Training Unit (ADTU).

The Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit (FRADU)

On 1st December 1972, the FRU and ADTU were officially merged together, and the Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Training Unit (FRADTU) was born. The Canberras TT.18s and Canberra T.4s retained their FRU 84x identities.
Between November 1973 and December 1974, the FRADTU Canberra fleet was increased considerably with the addition of further airframes, beginning with the arrival of the first T.22 WH801 at RNAS Yeovilton in November 1973. It was issued the fleet number '850' and was followed by five further aeroplanes during 1974, all of which were coded in sequence of arrival (851-855). Three Canberra airframes that had been purchased by the Royal Navy and converted to TT.18s also entered FRADU service at this time. The seventh and final Canberra T.22 arrived at Yeovilton in July 1976 following RAF trials, adopting the fleet number '856'.
The last Canberra aeroplanes to enter FRADU service were two RAF TT.18s, which were transferred to the Fleet Air Arm in March and June 1981 and were kept in use until the following year.

During 1983, the contract for the managing and staffing of FRADU came up for renewal, and it was offered on competitive tender.
Flight Refuelling Ltd, based at Hurn, were the winners of the contract, replacing Airwork Ltd in the role. Over the next twelve months work began to give the Royal Navy a better product at a competitive price, and also to find a replacement for the Canberra T.22 fleet which was becoming more expensive to operate.
This resulted in the leasing and subsequent purchasing of several civilian Dassault Falcon 20 business jets, the first of which arrived at Hurn in late 1984 and was formerly presented to the Royal Navy in February 1985 following the creation of Flight Refuelling Aviation (FRA) Ltd. The Falcon airframes received several modifications for their new roles, and as they came on strength the Canberra T.22s were withdrawn one-by-one and placed into store, the last aeroplane to leave Yeovilton was WH780/853 on 20th September 1985.
Further reductions to the Canberra fleet included the permanent withdrawal of the Canberra T.4s, and the TT.18 fleet was reduced to a pool of five aeroplanes, with three remaining in service at any one time.

The type was officially withdrawn from FRADU service in November 1992, when the final three TT.18s were ferried to RAF St Athan for storage and disposal.


[ Lindsay Peacock]

[ Mick Freer]

[ HMS Heron]

[ Kev Slade]

[ Peter Foster]

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