The RB-57D originated as a competitor  by Martin to designs produced by Bell and Fairchild following a 1952 USAF study funded by the Wright Air Development Centre for a turbojet-powered special reconnaissance aircraft with a radius of 2000 nautical miles that could operate at altitudes of 65,000 feet. Subsonic performance was considered to be acceptable and it was felt that no defensive armament would be needed. . The project was carried out in high secrecy. It was known as Weapon System MX-2147, and the code name was "Bald Eagle".

Preliminary design contracts were awarded in April 1953 to Bell, Fairchild, and Martin. On July 1, 1953 these three companies were awarded six-month contracts for further design studies.  The Martin proposal was an adaptation of the B-57B bomber and was given the company designation of Model 294.

The RB-57D featured a substantially-altered B-57B fuselage. The fuselage bomb bay was permanently closed off and the fuselage fuel tanks were removed. Four camera windows were installed ahead of the nose wheel well. A large nose and tail radome further lengthened the fuselage. A power-driven rudder and yaw damper were installed. A new 105-foot wing was fitted, which carried all of the internal fuel in the aircraft. The fuel cells were integral with the wing, which was of honeycomb construction--the first time that such a structural feature had been used in a piloted aircraft. Wing spoilers augmented the stubby ailerons. Wing flaps and speed boards were eliminated as a weight saving measure. The J65 engines were replaced by a pair of 10,000 lb.s.t. Pratt & Whitney J57-P-9 turbojets housed in enlarged nacelles and equipped with anti-icing equipment. It was anticipated that the aircraft would be able to operate at altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet.

The first RB-57D flew on November 3 1955 and a total of 20 were built  with the first deliveries being  made in April 1956. Initially the planes were based at Lockbourne AFB in Ohio with the 508th Fighter Wing and later they moved to Turner AFB in Georgia. In early 1957 they were assigned as the 4025th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron of the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, at Laughlin which was a part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC).

There were three separate versions, RB-57D, RB-57D-2 and the RB-57D-1, of which a total of 20 were built, all of which were flown by the 4025th SRS.  These RB-57D had an unusual paint scheme of white on the top of the wings with black undersides and tail.  The demarcation line between the two colours being scalloped. US AIR FORCE / serial numbers were in RED.
The RB-57D Basic and RB-57D-1 were "single place" cockpits, meaning that only the pilot was in the plane.  The RB-57D-2 were "tandem" cockpit, with a pilot in front and a navigator acting as an ECM operator / observer in back.
The RB-57D Basic was an optical reconnaissance aircraft, the RB-57D-2 were passive ECM birds, and the RB-57D -1 was an early version with  active ECM and Side Looking Radar  (SLR).
The RB-57D aircraft were used during daylight only, although there was flash capability, it was never used.  The D-1 and D-2, however, were normally night flyers, although they also could be used in daylight hours.  The -D Basics were sometimes used as air sampler aircraft.

The RB-57D featured an altered B-57B fuselage. The fuselage bomb bay was permanently closed off and the fuselage fuel tanks were removed. Three camera windows were installed ahead of the nose wheel well. A new 106-foot wing was fitted, which carried all of the internal fuel in the aircraft. There were hard points fitted outboard of the nacelles, which in the case of the RB-57D is where the Radioactive sampling pods were located.

The fuel cells were integral with the wing, which was of honeycomb construction, this was the first time that such a structural feature had been used in a piloted aircraft. Wing spoilers augmented the stubby ailerons. Wing flaps and speed boards were eliminated as a weight saving measure. The J65 engines were replaced by a pair of 10,000 lb.s.t. Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 turbojets housed in enlarged nacelles  that were trimmed for above 65,000 feet.

Power-driven rudder and yaw damper were installed, a fully operational horizontal "stabilator,"   The honeycombed wings were much lighter and extremely strong, but were very susceptible to hail damage.  The wings had neoprene fuel bladders installed in them.  Wing flap was obviously more with these wings than the original -B model wings. There were  heavily-padded canvas "hail covers" available that would be installed on top of the wings whenever heavy rainstorms or, especially, hail storms, were forecast.  It took many men to install these heavy and bulky covers and all shops would be put into action to help put them on. 

Of the twenty -57D's built,  13 , (tail numbers 53-3970 through 53-3982), were dubbed the RB-57D-0, ( "D Basic.")  Six being in-flight refuelable, the other seven were not. 

The first six RB-57Ds were built according to the original Model 294 specification. They were built as single seater's and carried two K-38 and two KC-1B split vertical cameras which occupied the space under the canopy behind the pilot. The  K-38 was on the front of the camera platform with the two KC-1B Mapping cameras at the rear.  The KC-1B's were at an angle of 55 degrees from the vertical and looked out of the through the camera viewing panels in the lower section of the fuselage. The K-38  was a split vertical configuration with each aspect of the camera looking at 9 degrees from the vertical in the opposite direction (left camera looking right , right camera looking left) and the camera viewing panel was located under the fuselage just forward of the two side looking panels   This gave the K-38 camera an overlap and when the two films were placed together a combined image of  9" x 30" could be viewed. Resolution of the K-38 was 3 feet from 65,000 feet.


The -57D Basics carried four cameras in a space where a normal backseater would have occupied.  Two of these were normal K-38 9" x 18" 24" focal length split-vertical cameras with A-8B magazines of 390' film capacity.  These were installed forward of the other two cameras.  The K-38 on the starboard side pointed down at about 9 degrees to port of nadir.  The K-38 on the port side looked down at the same angle the same amount and to the starboard side.  With both K-38s tripping in unison, a "matrix" of photography was covered whereby the starboard camera looked a little port, and the port camera looked a little to starboard and the matrix was 9" wide by approximately 28-30"", whereby the cameras overlapped each other by 56%, giving an overall view of high resolution and short-range side-to-side detail.  The lenses in the K-38 were modified with better lenses, but that was the only operational change made to them.  Resolution of these cameras was about 70 or so lines per millimetre.  Compared to the commercially-sold Argus C-3 35 mm cameras that was popular at that time, which had very good resolution, the C-3 would have probably had from 50-60 lines of resolution.
To the rear of these K-38 cameras and pointing port and starboard obliquely at about 55 degrees or so were two KC-1B  9"x 9" format 6" focal length precision mapping cameras.  Even though only a focal length one-quarter of the K-38, the KC-1B had almost the same resolution as these modified K-38 cameras.  With a full swath of photography in this matrix, a horizon-to-horizon and high-detailed vertical matrix of photography was accomplished with very high resolution overall.  The D-Basic flew from between 64,000 feet to 68,000 feet, extremely high for that time.  This, of course, depended on many factors, e.g. the aircraft itself, fuel load, and even the pilot's weight. 
Also in the RB-57D Basic was a VF-11 viewfinder in the nose that the pilot could use to check aircraft drift and to perform tracking for the intervalometer systems that would help the pilot figure out which trip settings the intervalometer should put out to the K-38 Split Verts and the KC-1B Oblique.  Because the aircraft flew so high, moisture was a problem with the viewfinder.  This was overcome by using a desiccators, which was nothing more than a clear plastic round container about 2" in diameter and about 9" long.  This unit was filled periodically with blue desiccant granules and connected to the viewfinder so that the internal moist air could be pumped out of the viewfinder, through the desiccators, where the moisture was captured by the blue desiccant, and sent back into the viewfinder optical path.  Therefore, no moisture was a problem.  The dessicator would be checked after every flight to see if the desiccant was still blue.  If any of it, however small in size, had turned pink, the dessicator was removed to the shop and the desiccant was taken out, new desiccant was installed, and the unit put back on the airplane.  Generally, it would last from 3-4 flights on the same desiccant.  One of the guys got the idea to take the used desiccant home and heat it in his wife's oven to dry it out and reuse it again.  Worked quite well.
By September 1956 the 4025th SRS with the RB-57D-0 was being deployed overseas to Yokota AFB Japan as Flt A Det 1, 3rd Air Division  under Operation Sea Lion and they also deployed to Eielson AFB, Alaska.

Missions flown from Eielson  were ELINT / SIGINT  near / over the Soviet and Chinese borders ( Kamchatka Peninsula) and sea ports gathering information on Naval operations. Missions include Sky Shield, Toy Soldier and Green Hornet which were classified surveillance programs, which later would be performed by the U-2's of the 4028th SRS.

On Dec 11, 1956 a  mission with 6 RB-57D's was flown over and around Vladivostok (USSR)  early in the morning  from Yokota AB with three aircraft as the prime mission flown by William Shuman, Bob T Chalmers and Keith Simms. and three as spare's. 

The Russians weren't all  pleased with this intrusion into their airspace. 

I have heard said that as the RB-57D was flying east to west towards Japan high in the upper jet stream if power was reduced the plane would actually hover or flybackwards!!!! because the jet stream was that strong.

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DET 1 

3rd Air Division Yokota AB




Notes from a RB-57D Pilot   ,  I wish I could be more specific but too many years have gone by! I do not remember the jet stream speed , but I know that they have recorded speeds in the 300 kt. range in that area around Japan. I was probably briefed on the jet stream, but I sure do not recall specific's. I was at 35,000 ft. plus or minus a little and approached the East coast of Honshu heading in a westerly direction and as I approached the coastline, I throttled back and when the coastline was centred in the drift sight, I throttled back and "hovered" on the coastline. As I throttled back some more, the aircraft backed away from the coastline. I continued to "play" with the coastline for several minutes. I wish I could recall the indicated airspeed, but I cannot. I am sure it was below 100 kias.


The next model, the RB-57D-2, tail numbers 53-3964, through 53-3969 were all in-flight refuelable  (Martin Model 796) and carried a crew of two and they were equipped with ferret electronic countermeasures equipment instead of camera's and like the Model 744 they to had in-flight- refuelling capability. The RB-57D-2 featured an AN/APA-69A radar set with an antenna housed inside a belly radome. The RB-57D-2 could often be externally distinguished by the presence of radomes at the wing tip.( Picture required of these)

The RB-57D-2 passive ECM birds used three different camera systems, all which were non-optical recon types.  One was an O-20 Radarscope Recording Camera which, later in the program, used an LD-45 magazine.  It originally used the O-20 magazine which was very unreliable, leaked light, and was a bear to load and unload in a darkroom.  The LD-45 was just the opposite, and a very good unit.  This was a 35mm film of 100' capacity and Tri-X film speed, about 320 or so.  It was mounted at the top of the search radar system and viewed the radar screen through a dichroic mirror  ( the image would be seen by both the camera and the pilot) and would trip using a signal from either the radar's sector scan or PPI scan.  It was used mainly to prove that the pilot was at the right place at the right time.  This was in the front cockpit with the pilot.  The camera had only an on-off switch that allowed power to be passed to the camera and magazine and provide a 28 VDC trip rate that was signalled by the radar system.

In the rear cockpit was the navigator/observer who had many radar and ECM systems to control.  Mostly ECM.  One unit, called a KD-2, used a simple 36-exposure 35 mm Tri-X film cassette that was the exact same as the ones used commercially.  It operated from one of the ECM units.  The next camera was an ECM system itself which used an APD-4 film magazine that carried a 35mm x 400' supply of Tri-X film which was used in the magazine.  This camera was not a camera as such, just a lens that projected the image onto the film which was "wiped on"; it was maintained by ECM.  The KD-2 and O-20/LD-45 systems were also pretty reliable, but the O-20 magazine was lousy.
The third model, of which only one was built, was the RB-57D-1, tail number 53-3963 and was also air refuelable.

The third and last version was known as RB-57D-1. It was a single-seater that was equipped with the AN/APQ-56 high-resolution side-looking radar for all-weather radar mapping reconnaissance. There was a nose radome with an antenna for an AN/APN-107(XY-1) antenna, and there was another radome in an extended tail cone. Lengthy sausage-like radomes were faired into the centre of the fuselage underneath the wing roots. Only one was built and very little is known about its use other than it's involvement with Operation Bordertown in Europe.

The RB-57D's involvement with Crowflight came to an end in 1959 and when the aircraft returned from Operation Bordertown, which was carried out in Europe, they were retired  ( due to wing fatigue) and the 4025th SRS was deactivated. 

Operation Bordertown was an ELINT / SIGINT / Sampling  surveillance operation of Eastern Germany and the USSR and were flown from the RAF BRIZE NORTON     Four RB-57D-2's and  the only RB-57D-1  of Detachment 7 of the 4025th SRS were  known to be involved in these missions. Very little is actually known about these Bordertown Operations





In late summer of 1958,  Major Robert Schueler, an RB-57D Basic pilot that would become a U-2 pilot, took off in 973 from Laughlin AFB.    A few minutes later,  every emergency vehicle go went roaring out the side of the runway, which they did anytime an in-flight emergency was given. 

Out there in the distance, a few miles from the runway, was an RB-57D heading around to finals.  It had to be 973 because it was the only -57D in the air at the time.  One of the problems was that no fuel had been burned off as is done during most emergency landings.  This meant that, besides the original problem, he was very heavy and was bringing 973 to a landing in a way that was NEVER EVER done if possible.  Those honeycombed wings, although they were very strong, were also extremely fragile, especially at the engine roots in the wing.

Here he came, very good landing, and then he touched down.  Then it all came unglued!!.
As soon as the wheels hit the runway. the wing on the starboard side snapped off and went tearing down the runway by itself.  The port wing stayed attached, caught the ground, and, although the bird didn't ground-loop, it went off through hell and glory in the dirt and came to a sudden stop.  Then we saw the canopy eject, and we just knew that Shuler had forgotten he was on the ground, that this was not a "zero-eject" bird, (No such thing in those days) but he just jumped out of the cockpit and ran like hell away from the bird.  The emergency crews doused the bird with foam and ended up getting it and the debris off the runway.

973 ended it's life as a fire-team training exercise bird at the south end of the runway.

This section has been modified with more detailed information that was received 18/02/2007 from Glenn Chapman
Author, "Me and U-2:  My Affair With Dragon Lady."  Thanks Glenn


Between March and August 1958 the RB-57D's flew air sampling flights from the Marshall Islands, Eniwetok Proving Ground in conjunction with the USA Nuclear testing program (Code name Hardtack).  Six aircraft were involved in this deployment. The aircraft that were deployed are listed in the table below.
RB-57D 53-3979 "CLOUD CHASER" In action
Washing down the sampling pods after a mission RB-57D 53-3979 "CLOUD CHASER"

Crew names required.




Tony Girtman / Vic Milam / Fred Martin standing next to "Miss Acuna" The 3 Amigos 47 years Later


The 3 Amigos 50 years Later,

May 21st 2008

  Picture courtesy of Tony Girtman Picture taken by Alan Johnson
Thanks Gentlemen.


Left to Right

Back Row:    #1  Unknown,  2 Capt Marsh,  3 Capt Blum,  #4 Unknown,    #5 Unknown

Front Row:  #1 Unknown, 2 James Ballard, 3 Jim Wemple,  4# Sgt Hanes.


The official squadron patch was approved on 16 Nov 56 and designed by
Airman First Class R.H. St. Amand.  We have that from the Heraldry Office of
the USAF.  

SIGNIFICANCE:    The field of the shield is divided by an honourable heraldic
bend partition into black and gold representing the squadron's night and day
capabilities, respectfully.  The honourable blue heraldic bend superimposed
over the field and spangled with white stars, is representative of the SAC
ribbon of the parent command.  The white cloud symbolizes the altitude
capability;  the back knight's helmet is symbolical of our sobriquet - BLACK
KNIGHT;  the mailed gauntlet holding a lightning bolt and an olive branch
signifies our war and peace capabilities.  


4025th SRS

 RB-57D Aircraft list

Many Thanks to Vic Milam and Jack Carr / CB Stratton for the detail of the aircraft names and crews.

Can anybody supply any other/missing aircraft names and Crew/Asst Crew Chief names?

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4080th SRW   4025th SRS 


Serial Number Model Number Aircraft Name Pilot Guy In Back Crew Chief Asst.

Crew Chief

53-3963 RB-57D-1   Max Treece ----    
      Reginald Petty ----    
53-3964 RB-57D-2          
53-3965 RB-57D-2          
53-3966 RB-57D-2          
53-3967 RB-57D-2          
53-3968 RB-57D-2          
53-3969 RB-57D-2          
53-3970 RB-57D-0          
53-3971 RB-57D-0          
53-3972 RB-57D-0          
53-3973 RB-57D-0          
53-3974 RB-57D-0          
53-3975 RB-57D-0          
53-3976 RB-57D-0
53-3977 RB-57D-0 "Miss Acuna"  Vic Milam ---- Tony Girtman Fred Martin



"PePi La Pew" Jack Carr ---- James Elg Bob Peniston
53-3979 RB-57D-0 "Cloud Chaser" Earl White ---- William Martin Thomas Scott
53-3980 RB-57D-0 "Old Dusty" Don Joyce ---- Norman Best  

James Case





name unknown   ---- James Toney Mack Mcintyre
53-3982 RB-57D-0 "Queen City Del Rio" ---- Bob Chinnis Jim Wemple



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