Having completed the set routine with time to spare Beaumont raised the gear and flaps, opened the throttles on the Avon engines and roared spectacularly over the heads of the distinguished visitors. Directly over their heads he pulled the twin engined bomber into a tight 360 degree turn, rolled over into a high speed flypast culminating in a 'cartwheel' wing over. This was followed by a silent spiral dive with the power right back and a final turn in front of the impressed spectators. Still on silent running with only a tweak of the throttles to adjust landing speed ; he lowered the flaps and gear again and, banking sharply to the left brought the aircraft into a nearly perfect landing. Nearly perfect, because on braking on the heavily sanded runway surface, both mainwheel tyres burst!
This was on the 26th February 1951 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The USAF., urgently looking for a replacement for it's B-26 Invader aircraft; had arranged a comparative display and had included in the fly off two aircraft designed and built in foreign countries: the English Electric Canberra and the Avro CF-100 Canuck from Canada. Roland 'Bee' Beaumont, chief test pilot for the English Electric Company had the task of presenting the Canberra.
The Invader, a veteran of World War 11, was proving to be relatively ineffective at night in Korea. In the immediate post war period the USAF. had concentrated on building up it's nuclear forces and had rather neglected it's conventional capability. There was not the capacity to effectively mount night interdictor missions. In spite of the best efforts of the B-26's the North Koreans were able to operate their supply lines at night without more than an irritating interference. The Invaders were also proving to be vulnerable to ground anti aircraft fire. If the nocturnal missions of the USAF. were to be effective they must quickly acquire a state of the art light bomber capable of night attack. It was necessary to buy "off the shelf." as speed was of the essence. A group of officers was tasked with the job of examining the alternatives and coming up with the right aircraft. Their research and deliberation led to the fly off that winter day. This involved, in addition to the foreigners, the North American B-45 Tornado, the North American AJ-1 Savage and the Martin XB-51.
In spite of promising performances by the Savage and the Canuck the Canberra carried the day and proved itself the undoubted winner. However, it was not until the United States had procured manufacturing rights, that the decision to adopt the Canberra was finally made. The order for 250 license built Canberras was awarded to the Martin company, partly in compensation for the rejection of their XB-51. Subsequent to the successful competition at Andrews, Beaumont flew the Canberra, WD932, to the Martin facility at Middle River and demonstrated the aircraft to 15,000 Martin employees. The Canberra was to be designated B-57.
It is an interesting footnote to these events that the B-26 Invader, which the Canberra was procured to replace, soldiered on in USAF. service for many more years achieving some distinction in Vietnam as a night interdictor!
The first B-26 was delivered to Martin in March 1951 and a second in August. Much testing and evaluation work was done and as a result of this Martin suggested some modifications to the basic design which were put into effect. The first production B-57A rolled off the production line on the 20th July 1953 and flew at once.
The B-57A differed from the B.2 in having a two man crew instead of a three. The navigators window was deleted from the port side of the forward fuselage and on the starboard it was repositioned. the engine nacelles were slightly redesigned to accommodate the Wright YJ65-W-1 jet engines and the bomb bay was shortened. Regrettably the aircraft did not perform as well as had been expected and the USAF. encouraged a further redesign to create the tactical reconnaissance dedicated RB-57A. Production of the B-57A ceased after eight aircraft had come off the line and production was switched to the RB-57. Altogether some 67 of these aircraft were produced and saw service with the USAF. and the Air National Guard into the 1960's.
After the RB-57A the Canberra was redesigned quite dramatically and all future variants were to have the now familiar tandem cockpit and bubble canopy. The B-57B was designed as a light bomber and one of the special features that Martin introduced on this model, which it also retrospectively fitted to some of the RB-57A's, was the rotating bomb bay. This had been one of the revolutionary features on the ill fated XB-51 aircraft . The B-57B was followed by the B-57C dual trainer version; and subsequently by a host of highly successful variants too numerous to mention here; and of no direct relevance to this narrative.
The RB-57A arrived in Europe for the first time on the October 24th, 1954 at Spangdahlem in Germany for the 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 10th Tactical reconnaissance Wing. The Canberra was destined to replace the RB-26's of that unit; and of the 30th Tactical Reconnaissance squadron of the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, which was based at Sembach, also in Germany. On October 25th the new arrival was demonstrated to the personnel and families at Spang'. Sadly it was not the totally celebratory experience that it should have been; for on the very day of the aircraft's arrival on the base; one of the squadron's RB-26's had crashed on take off, killing all three crew members.
Pilot familiarisation with the RB-57A had commenced earlier in the latter months of 1953. Pilots and crews from both the 1st TRS. and the 30th TRS. had been checked out on their respective unit's T-33 aircraft, prior to a period of temporary duty at Shaw AFB. in South Carolina. Shaw was the home of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing; the first unit in the air force to receive the RB-57A. Mobile Training Detachments were set up at Spangdahlem in late 1954 and at Sembach in the beginning of 1955.
The first RB-57's of both the 1st and the 30th TRS.' did not have the rotating bomb bay fitted. The cameras were located in the rear of the standard bomb bay, thus leaving space for other ordnance to be carried, including photoflash bombs for night photography. It was intended for the B-57 to have a dual role; it's primary function being tactical reconnaissance; but it's capability including weapons delivery.
The 30th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Sembach received it's first RB-57 on the 30th November 1954. The pilots had already checked out on the T-33s by this time. They were required to fly 20 solo hours; during which time the observers, mechanics, camera specialists and hydraulic specialists spent a tour of duty at Spangdahlem with the Mobile Training Detachment there. In early '55 this tdy was no longer necessary when Sembach had it's own M.T.D.
There was a considerable period of time when the RB-57s and the RB-26s worked together as the transition to the new aircraft took some time. The 1st TRS did not complete reequipment until June 1956. Both units also received B-57Cs during this time; the first of these arriving at Spangdahlem in December 1955. the B-57C was used basically for crew familiarisation and training. It differed considerably from the 'A in having the tandem seating and bubble canopy typical of all later models; and in spite of their "non combatant" role they retained an offensive capability, carrying four 20mm guns and, like the RB-57A four hard points on each wing for the carriage of ordnance. All models also had the rotating bomb bay.
It is an unfortunate fact that an aircraft that had promised so much proved less than an unqualified success during it's time with USAFE. It was subject to two groundings and performance limitations on speed and operating ceiling. There were several crashes which were attributed to what were basically trim control problems. One such accident occurred on an Armed Forces Day at Sembach on 17th May 1955. A 1st TRS. machine was making an approach to display and crashed into the ground, killing both crew members instantly. Captain Wallace Rodecker and 1st Lt. John P Nodine were not the first, and they were not to be the last, fatalities before a number of "fixes" and several groundings later, the problems with runaway trim and pitch down were solved. It is of note that these problems also beset RAF Canberras.
Not all accidents could be put down to the "trim" problem and, fortunately, not all were fatal. On the 9th February 1955 a 30th TRS. machine suffered considerable damage when, on take off, it slid to a long stop along the runway. The pilot had raised the landing gear before the aircraft had become completely airborne! It is not recorded what his fate was!
The RB-57As were mission ready in early 1955 and shared the workload with the RB-26s. The latter aircraft took the lion's share of the mission responsibility in Exercise Carte Blanche , which took place in June 1955; but the RB-57s participated. This exercise was designed to test the latest concepts in dispersal, tactical air control and execution of alert plans in the event of an atomic war. Before "hostilities" commenced the 30th was tasked with flying a picket line and reporting any aircraft crossing that line. After war had broken out, the RB-57s and RB-26s commenced a rigorous session of night visual and photo reconnaissance missions. The squadron completed 94 out of the 122 missions assigned to it; of which 81 were deemed successful.
During the latter months of 1955 the 30th TRS., 66th TRW. built up to full strength on the RB-57A; also acquiring, in December, one example of the B-57C dual trainer. At the end of the year the 30th had 17 RB-57A's and 1 B-57C. The 1st TRS, 10th TRW was not to complete reequipment until midway through 1956. The RB-57's were ferried from the states by the squadron crews who had gone over to pick them up. For example: on August 25thfive pairs of pilots and navigators of the 30th TRS travelled stateside to be followed by two more pairs on the 11th September. Three of these crews returned to Sembach on the 15 th September with their aircraft; the remaining four crews returning shortly afterwards.
Several exercises during the period held the attention of the aircrews of all the tactical reconnaissance squadrons, not least the 'freshmen' RB-57 crews. Exercise Fox Paw from the 1st to the 4th October engaged the 30th TRS for the first time on night reconnaissance missions.
The early part of 1956 was not good for the RB-57 squadrons. A further fatal crash at Spangdahlem in December while an aircraft was on approach; underlined the serious problems that were being encountered; and though not directly responsible; this accident undoubtedly contributed to the decision to ground all B-57 aircraft from the 29th January to the 20th February and later from the 24th May to the 24th July. Missions were curtailed or did not take place at all; and there is no doubt that the workload of the day reconnaissance squadrons increased markedly while the groundings were taking place. the 30th TRS found themselves in Libya preparing for Operation Sunflash in January when the first grounding was enforced. Sunflash was in support of the 11th Tactical Missile Squadron practice firings. The task of the reconnaissance unit was to report on weather and range clearance over the target area and photograph missile impact. The 30th had to be bailed out by the ageing RF-80A's of the 303rd TRS. It is not recorded with what relish the Shooting Star pilots took over this mission!
Exercise Whipsaw from the 26th to the 28th September 1956 involved all the tactical reconnaissance units of USAFE. It was a major exercise 'designed to test, practice and evaluate current plans, policies and procedures promulgated by SACEUR and subordinate commanders for the employment of nuclear weapons in the defence of allied Europe.' The principle mission profile for tactical reconnaissance was to fly pre-strike, post-strike and weather reconnaissance missions. In the case of the RB-57 squadrons must be added to this the tactical bombing role. The 1st TRS was somewhat pessimistic in it's evaluation of the success of Whipsaw. The 30th, on the other hand, were more than satisfied with their performance. They had spent many hours over several months in preparation for the exercise, which had involved their moving to Stuttgart Army Air Field, Echterdingen. The missions effectiveness was not adversely affected by the move. 33 bombing sorties were flown against 54 targets, all of which were hit. Total flying time was 100 hours of which 25 were at night. A total of 58 photographic sorties were flown and photo coverage of 4 targets was completed.
The adverse weather conditions played more havoc with the reconnaissance missions than with the bombing. the 1st TRS only managed to complete 15 photographic sorties out of a total of 83. The 30th may have been at somewhat of an advantage during Whipsaw. Immediately preceding it they had been involved in Exercise Stronghold where the RB-57 crews flew 17 maximum range and altitude sorties in an exercise set up to test the air defences of the United Kingdom.
One operation order which is of particular interest in that it accentuates the dual role of the RB-57 was Twelfth Air Force Operations Order 607-56 which required a series of low oblique photographs to be made of training targets for the low altitude bombing system (LABS); more commonly known as 'toss bombing.' The recce runs were made at 1,000 and 10,000 feet and resulted in a picture portrayal of the actual bomb run to be made with the terrain features clearly defined. This enabled B-57 crew briefing to be made much more effectively and clearly.
If Whipsaw proved at least a qualified success for the RB-57; regrettably Exercise Sabre Knot, which took place from the 2nd to the 9th November clearly demonstrated the shortcomings of the aircraft. This exercise, in support of the 7th Army, required an operating ceiling of below 3000 feet. The restrictions placed on the RB-57's following the groundings early in the year prohibited them from taking part. It was one of several factors that led to the decision to replace them with the Douglas RB-66 Destroyer. The 30th TRS welcomed the RB-66 simulator to Sembach in November of 1956 in preparation for the squadrons conversion to the type. Paradoxically, in the first Royal Flush tactical reconnaissance competition held at Lahr in October, 1st Lt. Ronald A. Krzan had come second in the high level competition acquiring 98 points out of a possible 100.
1957 was the year that saw the retirement of the RB-57 from the European theatre. The 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Spangdahlem received it's first RB-66B on the 20th April and had completed transition to the type by the 20th June. During this time it did retain mission capability on the RB-57. In fact these aircraft were to be an integral part of the training for the Destroyer crews; the 42nd TRS also converting to this type from the ageing piston engined Douglas RB-26. These crews first trained on the wing's T-33 aircraft; then there followed a period at Laon with the 38th Bomb Wing on multi engine training on their B-57's. Then it was back to Spang' for checkout on the RB-57; then to the RB-66 simulator, followed by actual RB-66 flying. 4 RB-57's were retained by the 10th TRW for multi-engine conversion training up to the 1st November 1957.
The 1st and the 30th TRS' both took part in the NATO Royal Flush 11 Tactical Reconnaissance competition held at RAF Lahrbruck in May. The competition was a disappointment for the RB-57's who regrettably did not achieve the success of the previous year.
The RB-66 simulator arrived at Sembach in the early part of 1957. Each pilot of the 30th TRS and the 19thTRS of the 66th TRW was required to complete a total of 15 hours on the simulator. The 30th retained a high mission profile on the RB-57 throughout the transition to the RB-66. In January 1957 in fact a symposium was held at Laon AB, home of the 38th BW to which both the 10th TRW and the 66th TRW were invited to discuss the reasons why the 30th squadron managed to maintain an higher in-commission rate than the other B-57 wings in USAFE. A more efficient system of scheduling maintenance was determined to be the cause. Certainly the 30th must have gained a considerable amount of satisfaction from this encounter. In January this squadron was also involved in Operation Sunrise in Libya. In support of the 11th Tactical Missile Squadron which was engaged in practice firing; it was the job of the 30th TRS to find the missiles after they had been fired, photograph them and determine how close they were to the target. Altogether the squadron flew a total of 134 sorties with great success. A fitting swan song for the RB-57.
The first RB-66 to land at Sembach was a 19th TRS machine, on 26th February, 1957. The purpose of this flight was to test the Sembach runway. It was suspected that it was too short for RB-66 operations. In the event the transition to this aircraft for the 30th TRS took place primarily at Landstuhl AB. The squadron received it's first three aircraft in June and completed transition by October. By the end of 1957 all RB-57 aircraft had left Europe and returned to the United States where they were assigned to the Air National Guard.
It must finally be noted that
the Martin Canberra in it's many variants proved to be every bit
as good as it's early promise had foretold; flying with distinction
with the U.S. Air Force for three decades in a variety of roles.
The short and somewhat disappointing career with USAFE was not
typical of the aircraft.