North American RB-45C Tornado

Last revised June 5, 2000



The last production version of the Tornado was the RB-45C. The RB-45C (NA-153) was a reconnaissance version of the B-45C. The transparent bombardier's nose was completely faired over, and the tip of the aircraft's nose where a forward oblique camera was installed had a characteristic duck's bill shape. The RB-45C had a water injection system for increased takeoff thrust that used two 214-gallon droppable tanks suspended underneath the nacelles. In place of these water tanks, the RB-45C could also carry two droppable JATO rockets.

The crew was normally four--pilot, co-pilot/radio operator, tail gunner, and photo-navigator. The pilot and copilot sat in tandem underneath the transparent canopy, the photo navigator sat inside the nose, and the tail gunner occupied a position behind the vertical tail.

The RB-45C was also equipped with inflight refuelling capability, with the refueling receptacle being installed immediately aft of the cockpit canopy.

A total of 12 cameras could be carried in four positions--four at the vertical position in the rear fuselage, four at the split vertical station, one tri-metrogen K-17C mounted on a pallet just aft of the wing trailing edge, and one forward oblique camera in the nose. The forward oblique camera nose installation gave a characteristic duck's bill appearance to what had been the bombardier's glazed nose. The bomb-bay was retained, but on photo missions it carried only 25 M-122 photoflash bombs together with additional fuel tanks. The total fuel capacity of the aircraft was 8133 US gallons.

The crew could move to the aft camera compartment while in flight. However, access to the bomb bays was possible in flight only if the bomb bays were empty, the bomb bay doors were closed, and the pressurized compartments were depressurized.

The first RB-45C flew in April of 1950. The first RB-45C was delivered to the Air Force in June of 1950 Most of the RB-45Cs were delivered to SAC. The last of 33 RB-45Cs was delivered in October 1951.

The RB-45C served with the 95st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron and saw some action in Korea. The first TAC RB-45s arrived in the Far East in the autumn of 1950. By this time, the RB-29s of the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron were now being confronted with Chinese-piloted MiG-15s and were no longer able to perform reconnaissance, targeting, and bomb-damage assessment photography with impunity. The RB-45C unit was attached to the 91st Squadron and began flying reconnaissance missions over northwestern Korea. The RB-45Cs were able to evade the MiGs for several months, but on April 9, 1951 one of the RB-45Cs had a close call and was barely able to escape a numerically superior enemy. At that time, it was decided that RB-45s could no longer go into northwestern Korea without fighter escort. Another close call on November 9, 1951 caused the RB-45s to be restricted from entering northwestern Korean airspace in daylight even when fighter escort was available. In January of 1952, the 91st Squadron was ordered to convert to night operations. Some RB-45Cs were painted all black so that they would not show up on enemy searchlights. However, the RB-45s were not well suited for night photography because the aircraft buffeted too badly when the forward bomb bay doors were opened to drop flash bombs. The RB-45s were withdrawn from the Korean theatre early in 1952, bringing the Korean experience with the RB-45 to an end.

Early-model RB-45Cs carried tail gunners with fully operational twin 0.50 machine guns, but the gunner was sometimes deleted and the guns were fixed in place to fire either upward at a 45-degree angle or downward at a 45-degree angle, operated by the pilot through a toggle switch. Once adjusted on the ground, the guns could not be moved in flight.

The RB-45C also served with the 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in Europe. Never officially disclosed until recent top secret documents were declassified and released by the National Archives was the fact that the Royal Air Force was also equipped with the RB-45C. The RAF crews were trained at Sculthorpe in the UK and at bases in the United States. Their mission was to conduct deep penetration and reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union during the mid-1950s.

In 1950, a SAC RB-45C (48-012) carried out the first air-to-air refueling of a jet aircraft, the tanker aircraft being a boom-refueling KB-29P.

On July 29, 1952, A 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing RB-45C (48-042) commanded by Major Louis H. Carrington made the first nonstop trans-Pacific flight from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska to Yokota AB in Japan. There were two inflight refuelings by KB-29s along the way. This feat earned the 1952 Mackay Trophy for the crew.

RB-45C serial number 48-017 was modified for various flight test programs and was redesignated JRB-45C. A jet engine under test could be mounted in a retractable pylon underneath the bomb bay. The equipment bays which housed the camera equipment could be refitted to house test equipment.

In the later 1950s, the RB-45Cs were rapidly replaced by such aircraft as the RB-47E, and by mid-1959, only one RB-45C remained in the Air Force inventory.

Serials of RB-45C:

48-011/043 	North American RB-45C Tornado 
				017 to JRB-45C 

Specification of North American RB-45C Tornado:

Engines: Four General Electric J47-GE-13/15 each rated at 6000 lb.s.t with water injection. Alternatively, four J47-GE-7/9 engines rated at 5820 lb.s.t with water injection were provided. Performance: Maximum speed 570 mph at 4000 feet. Combat speed 506 mph at 32,700 feet. Initial climb rate 4340 feet per minute. Service ceiling 40,250 feet. Range 2530 miles. Takeoff ground run 6100 feet. Takeoff over 50-foot obstacle 8070 feet. Dimensions: Wingspan 96 feet 0 inches, length 75 feet 11 inches, height 25 feet 2 inches, wing area 1175 square feet. Weights: 49,984 pounds empty, 110,721 pounds gross. Armament: Two 0.50-inch M-7 machine guns in tail turret. 25 188-pound M-122 photoflash bombs could be carried in the bomb bay.

Sources:


  1. American Combat Planes, Third Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  2. Post World War II Bombers, Marcelle Size Knaack, Office of Air Force History, 1988.

  3. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  4. USAF Museum website, http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=2638