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North American’s B-45 Tornado — unknown and remarkable

2 December 2011

North American’s B-45 Tornado — unknown and remarkable

Though little known today, the North American B-45 Tornado was an aircraft of historical firsts:

  • First four jet engine bomber in the USAF inventory
  • First jet aircraft capable of nuclear weapon delivery
  • First muli-jet aircraft to aerial refuel

The “A” model was perhaps too adventuresome to fly with various pieces of equipment failing or even breaking off of the aircraft. The design evolved to the “C” model quickly, which was much improved. This model became outmoded in conventional bombing missions but was converted to a reconnaissance aircraft where the Tornado met with additional success. Naturally, these were the RB-45C Tornados and were equipped with up to a dozen cameras.

The North American B-45A Tornado at the Castle Air Museum — photo by Joseph May

North American’s B-45 Tornado was history making as it was the Air Force’s first aircraft with the capability to deliver tactical nuclear weapons. She was served by four crew members: pilot and copilot in tandem, a bombardier/navigator in the nose and a tail gunner.

The tandem cockpit for the pilots and the glazed nose for the bombardier/navigator are clearly seen in this view — photo by Joseph May

Powered by four engines in two pods slung under the wings (a trait that would be shared by the future B-47, B-52 and B-58 strategic bombers) delivery of the weapons was exciting/doubtful/problematic — depending upon how one looks at one of three available delivery options, all from treetop level.  A low loft trajectory or a high loft trajectory could be selected — but the most demanding, accurate and least likely to survive was the over-the-shoulder method where the crew would fly their Tornado over the target, then zoom up into a Cuban-8 and release the weapon at the top of the arc with the B-45 completing the maneuver in a diving half roll, making for a hasty exit away from the target.

Four turbojet engines, a first for the U.S. Air Force — photo by Joseph May

Whether the B-45s could have been effective in these ways is subject for conjecture since this form of combat did not occur. However, the threat they presented had to be honored by the USSR and helped to keep the Cold War, in the 1950s, from becoming a hot war.

This Tornado was used for engine testing and had an enclosed nose instead of a glazed one  — photo by Joseph May

The North American B-45C Tornado at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — photo by Joseph May

There is one other Tornado on display, it is an RB-45C, and it is located at the Strategic Air & Space Museum.

Posts are aplenty with regard to the Castle Air Museum as well as the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — paste the names into the search window, select ENTER and voilá.


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 December 2011 08:47

    Excellent coverage of a little-known USAF aircraft, at the dawn of the jet age. Even less known is the use of the RB-45C by a Special Duties Flight of the Royal Air Force. Four aircraft were loaned from USAF stocks, and crewed by RAF personnel from No. 35 and 115 Squadrons; they flew from RAF Sculthorpe on sensitive missions over Soviet territory. This was in 1952, when USAF crews were not allowed to penetrate Soviet airspace.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      2 December 2011 12:58

      The Cold War recce pilots and crews did much and have not gotten their due, in my opinion. I did not know of the RAF flights, it would be another realm of information for me.

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