Lockheed RB-69A Neptune

Last revised March 22, 2020

The designation RB-69A was applied to seven Neptune twin-engined land-based patrol planes acquired by the USAF for special ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) gathering missions. They were fitted with a Side-Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) on the starboard side of the aft fuselage, and were used for intelligence gathering around the Soviet and Chinese periphery.

The RB-69As were basically P2V-7U (redesignated P-2H in 1962) versions of the Neptune, and were powered by a pair of 3500 hp Wright R-3350-32W Twin Wasp turbocompound radial engines and a pair of 3400 lb.s.t Westinghouse J34-WE-36 turbojets, one underneath each wing. The P2V-7 differed from earlier Neptunes in having a smaller ventral radome and smaller wingtip fuel tanks, plus it had a revised cockpit with a clear, bulged canopy. The long MAD stinger tail that had been introduced on earlier Neptunes was standard. Dimensions were wingspan 103 feet 10 inches, length 91 feet 8 inches, height 29 feet 4 inches. The wing area was 1000 square feet. Maximum weight was 75,895 pounds, and a maximum speed of 403 mph at 14,000 feet could be obtained. Cruising speed was 188 mph, and maximum range was 3685 miles. Navy P2V-7s had a pair of 0.50 inch machine guns in a dorsal turret, and up to 10,000 pounds of ordnance could be carried in the fuselage bomb bay as well as on underwing racks outboard of the jet engine pods.

The origin and history of these planes is sort of mysterious. It is not certain whether the planes were transferred from the Navy to the Air Force, or the other way around. USAF serials were 54-4037/4043. Rene Francillon's book on Lockheed aircraft has five of them (USAF serials 54-4037/4041, company construction numbers 726-7047, 726-7097, 726-7099, 726-7101, and 726-7105) being built by Lockheed directly for the USAF, whereas two were modified from unspecified US Navy airframes. However, Wayne Mutza's book has these planes as having been "borrowed" from the Navy, with their BuNos being 135612, 141438, 140440, 140442, and 141233 respectively. It just so happens that there are five "gaps" in Rene Francillon's list of BuNos in the appendix of his book that correspond exactly to what would have happened if five planes had been plucked right off the Navy production line at Lockheed and diverted to the Air Force. I suppose that the confusion is just what the Pentagon intended, namely to make the origin of these planes mysterious to prying eyes. The remaining two planes in the RB-69A lot (serial numbers 54-4042 and 54-4043) were probably just what Rene Francillon says they were, namely, rebuilds of existing Navy P-2H airframes. The identity of the original Navy P-2Hs is uncertain. Numbers 141231 and 141244 have been quoted. 141231 was indeed a Navy P2V-7 (company construction number 726-7103), but 141244 falls into a list of P2V-7s delivered to the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.

Rene Francillon has these RB-69As being returned to the Navy after their Air Force careers were over, being redesignated SP-2H. Presumably, they took up their original Navy BuNos. However, Wayne Mutza has a rather more intriguing story to tell. According to him, these planes were taken over by none other than the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and even though these planes were used by the CIA, they were given USAF markings and classified as radar trainers by the Air Force to hide their true role. All of them were handed over to the Republic of China Air Force, where they continued their ELINT missions. ROCAF serials 5005, 5050, 5060, and 5066 have been associated with these planes, but the correlation with USAF/US Navy serials is unknown. It is believed that five were lost while in Taiwanese service, with the other two being returned to the US Nzvy


  1. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1987.

  2. Lockheed P2V Neptune, Wayne Mutza.

  3. E-mail from Jorgen Andersen

  4. E-mail from Vahe Demirjian, with information from Pocock, Chris, 2010. The Black Bats: CIA Spy Flights Over China From Taiwan, 19511969. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7643-3513-6. Scutts, Jerry. "Tractable Turtle: The Lockheed Neptune Story: Part 2". Air International, Vol. 48, No. 2, February 1995. pp. 8087. ISSN 0306-5634. Swanborough, Gordon and Peter M. Bowers, 1990. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911 (3rd edition). London: Putnam.