Published March 31, 2009
Martin RB-57A "Canberra"
Crew: Two - pilot and navigator/camera operator
Engines: Two Wright J-65-W-5 turbojets of 7,200 lbs thrust each
Wingspan: 64 ft 0 in (without tip tanks)
Length: 65 ft 6 in
Height: 15 ft 7 in
Weight: 51,000 lbs
Speed: max: 610 mph at 45,000 ft; cruise: 530 mph
Range: 2,650 miles
Service Ceiling: 48,000 ft
Armament: None for recon mission; could be converted to bomber role
Designed and built in 1951 by the English Electric Company in Great Britain, the Canberra was license built in the United States by the Glenn L. Martin Company. The aircraft was very versatile, being flown during the Cold War and in Vietnam for tactical bombing, strafing, high-altitude photo reconnaissance, and as an early-warning platform. It was the first foreign-designed aircraft to be used by the US Air Force.
General Dynamics Corporation modified 21 aircraft, designating them the RB-57F. The modification included long drooping wings (122 ft. span), and a bulbous nose. In addition, two small jet engines (J-60s) were added for fuel economy. The larger engines were shut down while cruising at high altitude. NASA used one RB-57 for studying curvature of the earth from high altitude. Ideas taken from those aircraft were included in the design of Lockheed's famous U-2.
Fuel economy, high altitude operation, and mission diversity made it a valuable aircraft for the Air Force. The two-man crew sat side by side, and if needed, a third crew member was added. The bomb bay, with doors that rotated up into the fuselage, carried 5,000 lbs of bombs. Eight rockets were carried on pylons under the wings. The large pods on the wing tips carried extra fuel.
This RB-57A, S/N 52-1492, was completed by Martin on July 13, 1954 and accepted by the U.S. Air Force on May 24, 1955. It was the last RB-57A to be built, ship number 75. During its career it served with the 7499th Support Group and 7407th Support Squadron in Germany, Air Materiel Command Headquarters in Ohio, and the 4440th Aircraft Delivery Group in Virginia. It was retired from active duty in December 1960 and transferred later to the USAF Museum System. It arrived at Hill Aerospace Museum in 1990.
While flying with the 7499th Support Group this aircraft flew special high-altitude peripheral reconnaissance missions in support of Project SHARP CUT. The aircraft was heavily modified for this role and used a very long focal-length camera to look into Warsaw Pact territory without actually overflying it.
The camera had a 240-inch focal length lens (f/11), but the actual package was surprisingly compact because of folded optics. In fact, it was known as the "bomb camera" because it was designed to fit in the bomb bay of the American B-57 and the British Canberra. (The Royal Air Force had an equivalent reconnaissance program named Operation Robin.)
For the SHARP CUT missions the aircraft had a crew of two, pilot and navigator. Both wore pressurized flight suits and helmets. The navigator also doubled as the camera operator. Museum restoration volunteers have repainted the aircraft to closely resemble its gloss black appearance while flying the SHARP CUT missions. They are currently applying the special markings.