The North American B-45 Tornado was an early American jet-powered bomber designed and manufactured by aircraft company North American Aviation.
It has the distinction of being the first operational jet bomber to enter service with the United States Air Force, as well as being the first multiengine jet bomber in the world to be refuelled in mid-air.
The B-45 originated from a wartime initiative launched by the U.S. War Department, which sought a company to develop a jet-propelled bomber to equal those being fielded by Nazi Germany, such as the Arado Ar 234.
Following a competitive review of the submissions, the War Department issued a contract to North American to develop its NA-130 proposal; on 8 September 1944, work commenced on the assembly of three prototypes.
Progress on the program was stalled by post-war cutbacks in defence expenditure, but regained importance due to growing tensions between America and the Soviet Union.
On 2 January 1947, North American received a production contract for the bomber designated B-45A, from the USAF.
On 24 February 1947, the prototype performed its maiden flight.
Soon after its entry to service on 22 April 1948, B-45 operations were troubled by technical problems, in particular poor engine reliability.
The USAF found the plane to be useful during the Korean War performing both conventional bombing and aerial reconnaissance missions.
On 4 December 1950, the first successful interception of a jet bomber by a jet fighter occurred when a B-45 was shot down by a Soviet-built MiG-15 inside Chinese airspace.
During the early 1950s, forty B-45s were extensively modified so that they could be equipped with nuclear weapons. Improvements were made to their defensive systems and the fuel tankage was expanded to increase their survivability and range.
In its heyday, the B-45 was important to United States defence strategy, performing the strategically critical deterrence mission for several years during the early 1950s, after which the Tornado was superseded by the larger and more capable Boeing B-47 Stratojet.
Both B-45 bombers and reconnaissance RB-45s served in the USAF’s Strategic Air Command from 1950 until 1959, when the USAF withdrew the last ones in favour of the Convair B-58 Hustler, an early supersonic bomber.
The Tornado was also adopted by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and operated from bases in Britain, where it was used to overfly the Soviet Union on intelligence-related missions.
The RAF operated the type until it had introduced its own indigenously developed jet bomber fleet in the form of the English Electric Canberra.
Development of what would become the B-45 was initiated by a request from the U.S. War Department during World War II.
Aviation technology had developed rapidly, and the US was eager to introduce the latest advances into the Army Air Forces.
Having been alarmed by the emergence of the German jet bomber Arado Ar 234, the War Department issued a request for a new family of jet-powered bombers.
During October 1944 the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) issued a mission-need statement and on 17 November 1944, released a formal requirement, which has been claimed to be the first such requirement issued outside of Germany.
The requirements involved more than just jet propulsion; the desired aircraft would have a gross weight of between 80,000 lb (36,287 kg) and 200,000 lb (90,718 kg), which would make it a light bomber for that era.
Aircraft manufacturer North American Aviation chose to submit their own design, internally designated NA-130.
This bid, along with three rival proposals from other firms, would be ordered by the government.
On 8 September 1944, the company commenced production of three prototypes based on its NA-130 design.
The end of the war resulted in the cancellation or delay of many projects. In 1946, rising tension with the Soviet Union impelled the USAAF to assign a higher priority to jet bomber development.
By mid-1946, both the XB-45 and the rival Convair XB-46 were nearing completion, but the Boeing XB-47 and Martin XB-48 were at least two years out.
Thus, the USAAF chose to evaluate the first two designs.
The B-45 proved to be at a more advanced development stage and less expensive.
Accordingly, on 2 January 1947, a production contract for B-45As was signed.
Early plans called for five light bomb groups and three light reconnaissance groups.
The B-45 was commonly viewed as an interim aircraft while more advanced designs like the B-47 were being developed.
The first flight of the XB-45 was on February 24, 1947, from Muroc Army Airfield.
A total of 131 test flights were flown by the three-prototype aircraft, one being destroyed early on, killing two pilots.
The USAF accepted one of the two surviving aircraft on July 30, 1948, the other on August 31.
One was damaged beyond repair in an accident.
The last XB-45 was delivered to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1949.
It proved excessively difficult to maintain and was relegated as a ground trainer.
The B-45A differed from the XB-45 in having improved ejection seats and communications equipment, an E-4 automatic pilot and bombing navigation radar.
The first production B-45 flew in February 1948, and the Air Force took delivery of 22 B-45s in April 1948.
Powered by J35 turbojets and not considered combat-ready, they were assigned to training duties and to conduct various test programs.
The next batch were powered by the more powerful J47 turbojets.
The first B-45As entered service in November 1948 with the 47th Bombardment Group, and the initial order of 96 was completed in March 1950.
The first B-45As were not equipped with bomb fire control systems or bombsights.
They suffered from gyrocompass failures at high speeds, unhooked bomb shackles, engine fires, and inaccurate cockpit gauges.
The AN/APQ-24 bombing and navigation radar on some B-45s was maintenance heavy, and malfunctions in the pressurization limited the altitude at which the aircraft could operate.
Fifty-five nuclear-capable B-45s arrived in the United Kingdom in 1952.
These were modified with a 1,200-gal (4,542 l) fuel tank in the aft bomb bay.
Despite technical problems, these were Tactical Air Command’s first-line deterrent in Europe.
B-45A-1, B-45A-5, B-45A, B-45C
Development model of RB-45C 48-017
The B-45C was the first multiengine jet bomber in the world to be refuelled in mid-air.
It carried two 1,200-gal (4,542 l) wingtip fuel tanks, had a strengthened canopy, and an inflight refuelling receptacle.
The first B-45C was flown on May 3, 1949.
Only 10 were built, and the remaining 33 under construction were converted to RB-45Cs.
The RB-45C was the final production variant of the B-45.
The bombardier’s canopy was faired over and replaced with an oblique camera system.
The RB-45C carried two 214 gal (810 l) external fuel tanks, or two JATO rockets.
It could carry up to 12 cameras in four positions, or a single camera with a 100 in (2.5 m) focal length lens.
The RB-45C first flew in April 1950 and was delivered from June 1950 to October 1951.
Thirty-eight were built, including the 33 converted from B-45Cs.