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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 20546
Last updated: 18 November 2021
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Time:11:00 LT
Type:Silhouette image of generic CNBR model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
English Electric Canberra T.4
Owner/operator:A&AEE BLEU (Blind Landing Experimental Unit) (Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment BLEU (Blind Landing Experimental Unit))
Registration: WE189
MSN: 71170
Fatalities:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Crown Point, Felixstowe Road, Martlesham Heath, Suffolk -   United Kingdom
Phase: Approach
Departure airport:RAF Wittering, Cambridgeshire (EGXT)
Destination airport:RAF Martlesham Heath, Ipswich, Suffolk
Canberra T.4 WE189, A&AEE BLEU (Blind Landing Experimental Unit) - Written off 28/9/1956: The port engine stalled after the pilot attempted to overshoot from a too low and slow approach to Martlesham Heath. Suffolk. Directional control was lost and the aircraft rolled inverted and dived into the ground from 200 feet at Crown Point, Felixstowe Road, Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, killing both crew: Flight Lieutenant Leslie A Coe and Mr J Birkle (civilian) of the BLEU.

The latter was the BLEU scientist in charge of the project - research and development of a Type D Autopilot for fully automated blind landings and approaches. Canberra WE189 was the first jet aircraft in the world to be equipped with a fully automatic blind landing system. According to the wikipedia entry on his subject:

"The first fully automatic approach and landing was made by [Vickers Varsity] WF417 on 11 November 1954 under calm and misty conditions. A similar system was installed in Canberra WE189 to provide the first application of Autoland to jet-type aircraft. Automatic approaches and automatic landings were recorded by WE189, but the development was interrupted in April 1956 when the facilities at Woodbridge, which had the only suitable leader cable installation, ceased to be available to BLEU. Development of auto-flare and automatic kicking-off drift was continued at RAF Wittering, but in September that year WE189, returning from tests at Wittering, crashed due to engine failure on an approach when returning to its base at Martlesham Heath. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Leslie A. Coe, and the BLEU scientist in charge of the project, Mr. Joe Birkle, were killed".

The port engine had failed to respond due to a faulty acceleration control unit which had caused severe over fuelling.

Early in 1957 BLEU moved from Martlesham Heath to a newly equipped airfield at Thurleigh, the base for RAE Bedford. The development was continued in a third Canberra, WJ992, based on the results obtained with WE189. Experimental flights in WJ992 began late in 1957.


1. Halley, James (1999) Broken Wings – Post-War Royal Air Force Accidents Tunbridge Wells: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. p.183 ISBN 0-85130-290-4.
2. Royal Air Force Aircraft WA100-WZ999 (James J Halley, Air Britain, 1983 p 31)
3. National Archives (PRO Kew) File BT233/273:
4. National Archives (PRO Kew) File AVIA 5/35/S2838:
12. RAF Martlesham Heath, Operations Record Books, Jan 1956–Jan 1957 National Archives (PRO Kew) File AIR 29/2860 at
13. T. W. Prescott (1976) BLEU – The first decade. RAE Tech. Memo, FS 77 National Archives (PRO Kew) File AVIA 6/25422 at
14. J. W. Birkle (1956) Automatic Approach Tests of a Type D Autopilot in a Canberra T.4 Aircraft at Woodbridge Airfield, R.A.E. Technical Note No: BL.41 National Archives (PRO Kew) File DSIR 23/24675 at

Revision history:

03-Jun-2008 23:44 JINX Added
29-Jan-2012 15:21 Dr. John Smith Updated [Operator, Source, Narrative]
04-Apr-2013 00:10 Dr. John Smith Updated [Location, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]
20-Jan-2020 18:03 Dr. John Smith Updated [Time, Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
11-Jul-2020 23:07 Dr. John Smith Updated [Date, Narrative]

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