Martin RB-57A

Last revised April 9, 2004

The RB-57A (Martin Model 272A) was a reconnaissance version of the B-57A bomber. The decision to develop a reconnaissance version of the B-57A was made in October of 1951, guided by experience in the Korean War, which had underscored some USAF reconnaissance shortcomings in the face of increasingly effective enemy air defenses.

Cameras installed aft of the bomb bay constituted the main difference between the RB-57A and the B-57A. The cameras (P-2s, K-17s, K-37s, K-38s, or T-17s) could be interchanged according to the aircraft's mission. The intended mission included day and night, high and low, and visual and photographic reconnaissance. Unlike the B-57A, the RB-57A was totally unarmed. It was painted with a high gloss black paint which was intended to minimize detection by searchlights. The crew was two--one pilot and one photo-navigator. It was intended that only a minimum of effort would be required to convert the RB-57A to a bomber mission--which was never actually done in practice.

Early in January 1952, the USAF was prepared to order 99 RB-57As. However, a few weeks later the Air Staff expressed an interest in cutting back the order to only 87 RB-57As. Some on the Air Staff proposed that the RB-57A order be cancelled altogether, with re-equipped RB-26s filling in until the Douglas RB-66 could be made available. However, because the first RB-66 was not expected to be available until 1954 at the earliest, and since successful modernization of the RB-26 was at best questionable, the Air Staff decided against any drastic change and to go ahead with the RB-57A. Nevertheless, the Air Staff decided on August 11, 1952 to cut the RB-57A order to 67.

The first flight of the RB-57A took place in October of 1953. Production schedules broke down in February of 1954 because of Kaiser's inability to meet wing delivery schedules. In order to get production going again, Martin was forced to build the wing panels in its own facility. Also contributing to the delay was slow delivery of J65-BW-1 engines from Buick.

The first few RB-57As went to the 345th Light Bomb Wing at Langley AFB in Virginia, where they were used for transitional training. The first operational unit to re-equip with the RB-57A was the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (TRW) which was stationed at Shaw AFB in South Carolina. The 363rd TRW reached initial operational capability in July of 1954.

Other RB-57As were ferried across the Atlantic to equip reconnaissance units in Europe. The principal users of the RB-57A in Europe were the 10th TRW based at Spangdahlem in Germany and the 66th TRW based at Laon in France. Still other RB-57As served at Yokota AB in Japan with the 6021st TRS and later with the 6091st TRS.

The 363rd TRW's operational readiness was short-lived. A problem soon appeared with the J65-BW-5 engines, which tended to burn oil and fill up the cockpit with smoke. This problem caused an additional production delay, and for a while in 1954, many completed B-57s were sitting on the ramp at Middle River awaiting engines. Production of the engine finally reverted back to the Wright Aeronautical Corporation as the J65-W-1.

The last of 67 RB-57As was accepted by the USAF in September of 1954. Operationally, they were hampered by their high accident rate, which caused the RB-57As to be grounded for much of 1955.

The service of the RB-57A with the USAF was destined to be relatively brief. Beginning in April of 1957, the 10th TRW began to re-equip with the the Douglas RB-66B Destroyer. However, it was not until November 1958 that the final RB-57A was relinquished by the 10th TRW. In 1958, the 66th TRW reequipped with the McDonnell RF-101A Voodoo.

In 1958, some of the de-activated RB-57As were transferred to the Air National Guard. The following ANG units received the RB-57A:

These ANG units were placed on alert during various international crises, but they were never deployed overseas. One of their major missions in the USA was to carry out out photographic surveys of areas hit by natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes.

In 1965, the 154th, 165th and 192nd ANG TRSs exchanged their RB-57As for RF-101 Voodoos. In May of 1971, the 172nd TRS underwent a change of roles and traded in its RB-57As for Cessna 0-2A observation aircraft. The 117th TRS finally disposed of its RB-57As in May of 1972, when they changed over to the tactical bombing role and converted to B-57Gs.

Beginning in 1959, RB-57As from inactive reconnaissance units were modified by Martin to have their bomb bay doors refitted to carry the latest electronic countermeasures equipment for use in carrying out realistic training exercises. At first, the equipment was powered by air-driven generators in the bomb bay. Later, the aircraft was provided with a pair of Sunstrand constant-speed AC generators powered by large air scoops underneath the engine air inlet. Wing racks now carried chaff dispensers, and the navigator was replaced by an electronics warfare officer. The aircraft were redesignated EB-57A. The EB-57As wee operated by three Defense Systems Evaluation Squadrons (DSESs), the 4713rd, 4758th, and 4677th. These squadrons deployed aircraft to bases throughout the USA, Canada, and Europe to provide training for air defense units. As later models of the Canberra became available, the EB-57As were phased out and replaced by Bs and Es.

In the late 1950s, two RB-57As were used by the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) to fly clandestine missions over the Chinese mainland. I don't know their USAF serials, nor do I know very much about their missions. However, I have heard that one of them (serialled 5642 by the ROCAF) was shot down by a MiG-17 on February 18, 1958. The RB-57As were replaced by a pair of RB-57Ds in 1959.

By 1973, most of the surviving R/EB-57A's had been consigned to the boneyards at Davis Monthan AFB. A few were converted to RB-57F

In the late 1950s, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acquired two RB-57As for use in evaluation of high-altitude airways in preparation for the introduction of jet-powered commercial transports.

Specification of Martin RB-57A Canberra:

Engines: Two Wright J65-W-5 turbojets, 7220 lb.s.t. each Performance: Maximum speed 609 mph at 4500 feet, 534 mph at 45,700 feet. Stalling speed 119 mph. Combat ceiling 48,350 feet. Initial climb rate 7180 feet per minute. Combat radius 1267 miles with 3618 pounds of bombs at 495 mph. Ferry range 2568 miles. Weights: 24,751 pounds empty, 48,847 pounds gross, 34,917 pounds combat weight. Dimensions: wingspan 64 feet 0 inches, length 65 feet 6 inches, height 14 feet 10 inches, wing area 960 square feet.

Serials of RB-57A:

52-1426/1492		Martin RB-57A-MA


  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. Martin B-57 Canberra--The Complete Record, Robert C. Mikesh, Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1995.

  4. Canberra: The Operational Record, Robert Jackson, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

  5. The English Electric Canberra Mk.1 and IV, K. Munson, Aircraft In Profile, Doubleday, 1969

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

  7. E-mail from Erwin on ROCAF use of RB-57A.