The B-57: This Was America's First Jet-Powered Bomber

Sebastien Roblin

Key Point: The U.S. Air Force officially retired the last training and reconnaissance B-57s in 1982. However, three specially modified WB-57F weather reconnaissance planes have remained active with NASA and were even deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 to serve as airborne command posts (BACANs).

During World War II the speedy deHavilland Mosquito demonstrated that speed and altitude afforded a bomber better survivability than defensive machine guns. In 1944, the manufacturer English Electric began work on a turbojet-powered bomber to bring it to new heights and speeds. The result was a twin-engine Canberra bomber that would see action in dozens of Cold War conflicts.

Though the United States Air Force already had B-45 Tornado jet bombers, it found the Canberra to be superior. The Martin Corporation arranged for license-production and eventually churned out 403 B-57 Canberras of all types.

After the initial near-identical B-57A Canberra, the B-57B main production model entered Air Force service in 1955, differing from the British original in its J-65W-5 turbojets, its tandem seating arrangement under a bubble canopy, and a new rotary bomb rack in the internal bomb bay that could be quickly swapped out between missions.

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