The Indian Air Force on Friday commemorated 60 years of induction of the English Electric Canberra plane, the first generation jet bombers that participated in the Goa liberation, two wars with Pakistan, and the Kargil conflict on reconnaissance missions. A prototype of Canberra first flew in May 1949, though the jet bomber was first inducted in the IAF in its Number 5 Squadron (Tuskers) at Agra in Uttar Pradesh on September 1, 1957. The aircraft had been selected for induction by the air force in January 1957 so as to equip its bomber and strategic reconnaissance fleet. In 1961, when political turmoil broke out in Belgian Congo, the United Nations requested India for strike aircraft, following which six Canberra aircraft took off from Agra under the command of Wing Commander A.I.K. Suares, for Leopoldville — over 6,000 km away — to join the United Nations Multinational Force in Congo. It was the first-ever Indian fighter bomber contingent to take part in UN operations.
The offensive operations in Congo earned the Squadron two Vir Chakras, one Vayu Sena Medal, and five Vishisht Seva Medals. Thereafter, the Canberras took part in all major operations, Goa liberation in 1961, the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars, 1987 Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, 1988 Operation Cactus in the Maldives and the 1999 Kargil War. On December 18, 1961, the Canberras from Numbers 16 and 35 Sqadrons bombed the Dabolim airport in Goa, forcing the Portuguese forces to surrender.
The Canberras last saw action in the Kargil War in 1999, where these participated in recce missions. During one of the missions, one aircraft’s engine was hit by a Pakistan missile but the sturdy Canberra survived the attack and landed safely with all vital information. During service, the Canberras provided invaluable photo reconnaissance inputs of enemy territory during wars and peacetime operations, resulting in accurate and effective operations. After 50 years of glorious service to the nation, the war horse was retired from service on May 11, 2007, at the Agra Air Force Station.