North American RB-45C Tornado


The North American B-45 was the first four engined jet bomber to fly operationally for the USAF, went on to serve in the US, England and Japan and even saw operational service in the Korean War. However, surprisingly little has been written about this significant aircraft and it's only relatively recently that the full story of the Op Jiu Jitsu using RB-45C's from RAF Sculthorpe, has finally emerged into the public domain.

The first of 142 of the B-45's eventually delivered to the USAF arrived on in May 1949. The first models delivered were the bomber version, but the capability of the design for reconnaissance duties was immediately recognised. The reconnaissance version of the aircraft was given the designation RB-45C and first flew in Apr 1950 and the first of 33 aircraft were delivered to SAC a month later.

The transparent nose in the bomber version was completely fared over and equipped with a forward oblique camera. The four General Electric J-47-GE-13/15 engines were equipped with water injection for increased take-off performance. Two droppable 1200 gallon wing tip fuel tanks and additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay gave a total fuel capacity of 8133 gallons and increased the aircraft's range to 2540 miles. The RB-45C was the first jet bomber capable of being refuelled in-flight and to demonstrate this capability, Maj Lou Carrington and his crew of the 91st Reconnaissance Wing flew from Alaska to Japan in 9hrs 50mins, winning the MacKay Trophy for their achievement.

The RB-45C could carry cameras in four locations - four at the vertical position in the rear fuselage four at the split vertical station, one tri-metrogen K-17C camera mounted on a pallet just aft of the wing trailing edge and one camera in the nose. The normal crew was four - pilot, co-pilot/radio operator, tail gunner and photo navigator.

The RB-45C served with the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron during the Korean War, replacing RB-29s in the autumn of 1950 when they had become increasingly vunerable to the MiG-15. Flying daylight missions, the RB-45Cs were able to sucessfully evade the MiGs for a number of months, but eventually, after one aircraft had a narrow escape in Apr 1951, they were always escorted by fighters. Following another narrow escape in Nov 1951, the RB-45Cs were switched to night operations and a number of aircraft were painted black. Nevertheless, some overflights still continued. On the night of 17/18 Dec 52, Capt Howards S (Sam) Myers Jr and his crew flew an RB-45C number 8027 near Vladivostok, before continuing on a further 300 miles to targets of interest in the area of Harbin, Manchuria where radar-scope photographs of airfields and other militray targets were taken, before the aircraft returned to Yokota in Japan.

However, the RB-45Cs were not particularly suited to night photographic operations using flash bombs and were eventually withdrawn from the Korean conflict. However, the RB-45C was still engaged in clandestine operations elsewhere. In March 1955 three RB-45Cs led by Maj John Anderson took off from RAF Sculthorpe and overflew Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Baltic states, taking radar-scope photographs of Soviet military installations. Soviet fighters were scrambled, but failed to intercept the RB-45Cs which all eventually landed safely in West Germany.

The RB-45Cs were replaced by the RB-47 from the late 1950s onwards and the last aircraft was retired from active service in 1959.