After the Second World War, France had no bombers on strength. In the 1950s the French government tried to find a valuable bomber from England and, in 1954, purchased six English Electric Canberras B6 (3) and B8 (3) firstly for evaluation. The first three were diverted from RAF contracts et and the other three had no connections with the RAF.

English Electric Canberra B6, WJ763 (F-ZJAM), serial 763, coded AM, as it looked at CEV Brétigny during an open day in 1975 (Photo JCM)

English Electric Canberra B6, WJ763 (F-ZJAM), serial 763, coded AM, as it looked at CEV Brétigny during an open day in 1975 (Photo JCM)

Finally the French Armée de l’air received the SO 4050 Vautour II in two main versions: Vautour IIB bomber and Vautour IIN night-fighter.

The Canberras were then put in service with the CEV (Centre d’essais en vol or Flight Test Center) at Brétigny, near Paris for various trials, mostly for development of engines and missiles and were assigned civil registrations. It is to be noted that the CEV is a part of the DGA (Direction générale de l’armement or general Directorate for Armament) a state organism.

Among different research and evaluation trials we find the evaluation of a mock-up of the SO 6050 Trident, the Cyrano III air-to-air radar for the Mirage III, the AS Super 530 missile for the Mirage F1, etc. The French Canberras have had a total life of nearly 30 years from 1955 to the 1980s.

The three ex-RAF Canberra B6 aircraft delivered in 1954 were:

WJ763 (F-ZJAM) as F763. It is now in the Musée de l’air at Le Bourget.
WJ779 (F-ZJAN) as F779. It was later fitted with a B8 nose section. It was replaced in the RAF by XJ249.
WJ784 (F-ZJPK, later F-ZJAK) as F784.  It was replaced in the RAF by XJ257.

Three aircraft were acquired directly from the manufacturer:

F304, F316 and F318 (British c/n unknown) were respectively coded F-ZLAL, F-ZLAT and Z-ZLAU and were of the B(1)6 version.

Jean Claude Mermet