Keeping this fleet of old aircraft in the air, however, is not easy. “Parts acquisition is one of our biggest challenges since many of the parts on the aircraft are no longer available and the vendor has long since shut down,” says Mallini.
“We have scavenged parts from the aircraft that have been stored at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base outside of Tucson, Arizona and even from museum aircraft from around the country. When parts are no longer available our engineering team has to design or procure a functionally similar replacement part or back engineer the part. This can easily present a number of design challenges for the team.”The fuel tanks caps, for example, had been taken on and off so many times that they no longer fitted tightly “allowing the caps to come loose in flight”, says Mallini. The problem is, the company that had made them had long-since closed down. The support crew had to reverse engineer a replacement, make an engineering prototype and then make 100 new examples.
In RAF service, the Canberra’s work is now largely done by Tornado bombers and unmanned aircraft. Their retirement brought to an end one of the golden eras of aviation, one that can seem unimaginably low-tech by modern standards.
“The Canberra had a wooden tail,” Keen says. “So that meant that the RAF had to have carpenters right up until the aircraft came out of service.” From such humble beginnings, a Nasa legend has been made.
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