The RB-57F was developed as a result of an Air Force Big Safari requirement for a high-altitude reconnaissance platform with better performance than the existing and similar RB-57D, some of which had been grounded as a result of wing spar failures. A more urgent need to field an aircraft capable of high altitude signals intelligence arose in 1962 when a SIGINT operation conducted by United States Navy against the Soviet Union from Peshawar, Pakistan, ended abruptly because the Pakistani government evicted the Navy for committing too many violations of restricted
airspace. Two B-57Bs dubbed "Pee Wee 1" and "Pee Wee 2" were quickly modified by Big Safari with antennas and a modular telemetry receiver suite packaged in a pressurized canister and sent to Pakistan in January 1963 as an interim measure under an operation named Little Cloud to continue the mission. In the meantime Big Safari authorized the Pee Wee III project to develop the new high-altitude platform from existing B-57s. Because General Dynamics was responsible for contract maintenance on the D model, its Fort Worth Division was given the sole-source contract for the development of the Pee Wee III RB-57F prototypes.
The RB-57F Canberra was a Convair development of the Martin B-57 which originated from the English Electric
Canberra. The prototype RB-57Fs incorporated many major changes from the immediate predecessor RB-57D, the most obvious of which was a more enlarged and computer-designed wing to enable it to operate at extreme altitudes. The wing had a span of more than 122 feet (37 m), which was 16 feet (4.9 m) longer than the RB-57D and nearly twice the length of the B-57B fuselage on which it was installed. Extensive use was made of aluminum honeycomb wing panels in the wings that bonded outer and inner aluminum skins to a honeycomb of aluminum and fiberglass. All control surfaces had tightly sealed gaps in order to reduce drag, and there were no wing flaps. In addition, the size of the empennage was redesigned so that the vertical stabilizer had nearly twice the area of that of the standard B-57B. Its height was increased to 19 feet (5.8 m) and the width increased, improving longitudinal and asymmetric control for greater stability at very high altitudes (up to 80,000 feet (24,000 m).
Another obvious change was the replacement of the Wright J65 turbojets with Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-11turbofan engines. The TF33s gave the aircraft more than double the thrust of the B model. The RB-57F was also fitted with two detachable Pratt & Whitney J60-P-9 turbojets mounted in pods attached to the wings outboard of the main engines. These auxiliary engines were air-started and only for use at altitude in flight. At altitudes above 40,000 feet (12,000 m), the J60s generated about 3,300 pounds-force (15 kN) of thrust each and increased the maximum altitude of the RB-57F by 2,000–3,000 feet (610–910 m).
Military Air Transport Service (and its successor organization Military Airlift Command) was frequently used by the USAF for clandestine, special operations missions prior to the establishment of Air Force Special Operations Command in the 1980s. The RB-57F, with its extreme high-altitude ceiling was frequently used as a strategic reconnaissance platform. The four Rivet Slice aircraft (converted from RB-57D airframes) were equipped with covertly mounted cameras and assigned specifically to reconnaissance work in 1965, Rivet Slice 2 and 3 with the 6091st Reconnaissance Squadron at Yokota AB and Rivet Slice 1 and 4 with the 7407th Support Squadron at
The official mission of the RB-57F was weather reconnaissance, and all RB-57Fs were assigned to meteorological units of the 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wing Air Weather Service, Military Air Transport Service, headquartered at McClellan Air Force Base, California:
55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, McClellan AFB, California
56th Weather Reconnaissance
Squadrion, Yokota AB, Japan
57th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, Avalon Airport, Avalon, Victoria, Australia
58th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.
Air Weather Service RB-57Fs duties involved high-altitude atmospheric sampling and radiation detection work in support of nuclear test monitoring, mostly on behalf of the Atomic Energy Commission including collection of airborne debris in a program of ongoing monitoring of nuclear tests. Most of this activity was centered on nuclear tests carried out in People's Republic of China, but monitoring air in the aftermath of U.S. underground nuclear tests was also conducted. One RB-57F is known to have been used for research into airborne laser equipment by the Air Force Logistics Command research laboratory at Kirtland AFB. In 1968, the Air Weather Service's RB-57Fs were redesignated WB-57F.
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The kit: RB-57F
Make: Airmodel Kit 190
Type: Vac form kit, no decals.
Price: 11 Euro
Released by Airmodel Products, the Kit consists essentially of 26 vac form parts molded on white styrene. No decals are issued but there is a good reference side view to help one fork out the required decals appropriate for one example in ‘Weather Service markings’ The two page instructions consists of a very brief history of the high altitude
aircraft, an exploded view depicting the essential main parts issued, less the 4 part engine cowlings which for some unknown reason were
omitted. Section bulkheads are also not supplied not even a drawing of the sections required are given.. I am
assuming this model was a long out of production kit and therefore difficult to acquire.
After separating the parts from the styrene sheet, the aircraft is assembled into minor sub assemblies. Parts are scored with a sharp exacto blade and then snapped from the backing sheet. First the fuselage and wing centre sections are sanded and interior detail as cockpit office to forward fuselage and cross section brackets are added to the centre section. With the use of a profile gauge I was able to get the shape of four separate section bulkheads required to strengthen the fuselage from
inside. The sub assemblies are carefully painted on the inside and glued together. This is followed by outer wing panels. The tail plane halves were out of shape and instead I cast a set of tail planes in aluminium using ones from an Italeri kit as patterns. After glueing these together the outer wing panels and horizontal tail surfaces are added. As the model was tail heavy adequate amount of nose weight was placed at the front nose compartment
I much preferred to use parts from a Canberra B6, Airfix kit for undercarriage legs, main wheels and nose wheels and well doors. I have reshaped the engine cowlings and again preferred to cast a set of cowlings in Aluminium, making them hollow on the inside. I then added the turbo fan blades from surplus kit parts with a cone at centre. Continual reference to scale plans and photos of the aircraft being built was essential. I also reshaped the kit wing outer sampling pods which differed from each other. The auxiliary engines which are located outboard of the main engines were assembled in the end.