"Spy" Planes At Albrook AFB
During the late 60's the French were testing their hydrogen bombs in the atmosphere in the western Pacific. To monitor the kinds of nuclear reactions that were involved in these explosions, which would give an estimate of their yield and of the technological sophistication, the Air Force sent WB (weather bomber) 57- F's from Luke AFB Arizona to Albrook AFB. Many people thought these long winged birds were U-2's. In a way, they were right, as the RB-57D, and its more able follow-on-- larger wing, taller tail, the WB-57F were designed to replace the U-2's in Europe after Gary Powers was shot down.
On the PAD at Albrook AFB, I had the opportunity to watch the crew prepare for one of their flights, orange flight suits, and the SAME helmet as used by the Mercury Astronauts. This plane was able to sustain altitudes of more than 65,000 feet, and fly extreme distances. They had two turbofans as their main engines and two smaller auxiliary engines a bit further out and under the wing, which was almost twice as long as the plane's overall length. I always thought the blue band on the tail with WEATHER written in white was a great under-statement of the craft's real mission.
P.S.: The B-57 "Canberra" as it was known started out as a British Design but was bought by the USAF in the early 50's and quickly became one of our best light bombers. In fact, it was a B-57 that dropped the FIRST bombs in the Vietnam conflict. Designed from the outset as a low altitude attack bomber, it showed great potential for use as a high altitude reconnaissance aircraft (the D and F versions) and later, the B's and C's were modified with the latest in night vision apparatus and used against the Ho Chi Minh Trail and in Europe for night interdiction.
April 3, 2001