The MARTIN COMPANY entered their re-designed and re-engined B-57 medium bomber into a competition for achieving a very high altitude reconnaissance aircraft capable of penetrating areas of the world where intelligence was denied United States strategic planners and those of our allies. It would be chosen as an interium solution until the ultimate winner of the competition, the Lockheed U-2 could be made ready.
Making it first flight in November 1955, at the Martin Plant near Baltimore, 20 of these aircraft would be built in four different configurations. The first six would be single seat aircraft that were non-refuelable. Seven would be air refuelable, one would be dedicated to Side Looking Radar system, and six would be dedicated electronic ferrets with two seats (1 for the Electronic Warfare Officer). All of these aircraft would be assigned to the 4025th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron with initial basing at Lockbourne AFB, shortly moved to Albany, Georgia, and by early 1957, moved with the 4080th SRW to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. From 1957 to 1960, the aircraft operated on a global scale in multiple operations. They participated in the Special Weapons testing in the Pacific by sampling the nuclear debris and gases suspended in the atmosphere after detonation; flew photographic, electronic, and mapping missions over and around denied territorries; and conducted very high altitude research. At least two of the RB-57Ds were bailed to the RoCAF for intelligence gathering over the Peoples Republic of China. The first casualty by a Surface to Air Missile was one of these aircraft along with the pilot. The last United States military overflights of denied territory took place in December, 1956, when three RB-57Ds overflew Valdivostock and several inland airfields prior to returning to international airspace. By 1960, the wing-spars began to fail (one at Laughlin AFB, one at Kirtland AFB, and one airborne of Columbus Ohio) and the 4025th SRS was temporarily stood down and its aircraft placed into storage in Arizona. Some would be re-built and serve again and four would be re-built as the RB-57F models, at least two of which are still with the NASA.
Crew: Pilot only or with EWO in six A/C
Wing Span: 106 feet
Engines: Pratt and Whitney J-57-P-9 (two)
Altitude: Above 60,000 feet (11.36 miles)
(9 MODIFIED AS 272N)
(4 RE-BUILT AS 272P)