B-66 Destroyer Development
Basic Development began in 1951. The B/RB-66 Destroyer grew out of the Douglas Aircraft Company's XA3D-1, a high-altitude, light bombardment airplane developed for the U.S. Navy. The A3D-1 Skywarrior, the production version of the experimental carrier-based bomber, was first flown on 16 September 1953.
The beginning of the Korean conflict caught the Air Force with a tactical inventory of light bombers and reconnaissance aircraft consisting essentially of World War II B/RB-26s. This was supplemented by a few B-45s, acquired between 1948 and 1950. However, 50 of the B-45 Tornadoes had been modified to carry atomic weapons, and another 60 were unable to meet the projected need for tactical bombers designed to carry conventional munitions. This predicament accounted for the March 1951 production order for the B-57 light bomber (too small to carry current atomic weapons). Yet the Air Force harbored no great illusions. Although it thought erroneously that the B-57 Canberra would be available between 1952 and 1953, it never overestimated the new aircraft's potential. The Air Force also knew that, realistically, the ideal weapon system for tactical bombing and reconnaissance-Weapon System 302A-remained a long way off. Design studies for weapon System 302A were submitted by the Glenn L. Martin Co. and Douglas Aircraft Co. in 1952 and again in 1954, along with an entry from North American Aviation, Inc. A proposal by Boeing Airplane Co., presented after the competition deadline, was automatically rejected, and Martin ended being the winner. Unfortunately, the proposed B-68's inertial guidance bombing and navigation system ran into serious difficulties. This meant that production quantities of the B-68, should they be approved, would be postponed to at least 1963. This problem soon became immaterial. In early 1957, citing stringent budget limitations and the higher priorities of other weapon systems, Air Force Headquarters cancelled the B-68 program. The solution, therefore, was to seek a more satisfactory interim airplane that would become operational around 1954. While the Air Force's June 1951 objective centered on a reconnaissance vehicle, this requirement was extended in August to include tactical bombing. Tactical bombing is the bombing conducted, usually by tactical air units, in support of surface forces. Bombing to achieve air superiority or to carry out interdiction is a part of tactical bombing, although the term tends to be restricted to battle area operations.
Defining a requirement was usually easy; finding the best aircraft for the task was always difficult. An improved B-45 might satisfy the Tactical Air Command's demands of the mid-fifties. However, the Tornado's relatively slow speed and inferior defense armament were not encouraging. The Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) believed the B-47 would be a preferable choice, even though the Boeing medium bomber was a Strategic Air Command airplane and rather costly. It also called for more maintenance than practical for tactical theatre operation. In any case, ARDC was the first to recognize that the B-47 would not be the absolute answer. TAC could put the aircraft to good use for high-altitude bombing, but the command's close air support missions would probably be better served by the Martin B-51. The latter, still in the experimental stage, was a 3-engine all-weather airplane designed primarily for low-level bombing. On the other hand, the XB-51 was far from perfect. First flown in October 1949, it had a short radius of action and could not carry more than 4,000 pounds of bombs. A fourth candidate, the Navy's Douglas XA3D-1, was the most promising on paper; however, as the plane was not expected to fly before another year, there was no knowledge of this plane's stability and control characteristics. Finally, to make matters worse, whatever plane was chosen would suffer at first from a probable shortage of engines and a lack of reconnaissance equipment.
Based on a Douglas proposal of 29 August, the USAF Aircraft and Weapons Board opted in November for an Air Force version of the future A3D-1. In as much as the adaptation suggested by Douglas would require such major changes as deletion of naval aircraft carrier provisions; addition of ejection seats, of a larger search antenna, and an increase of the aircraft's load capacity, the board wanted to start with a few service test aircraft. The board also recommended procurement of modified RB-57s to fill the gap until Air Force A3Ds could be purchased in significant quantities, planning centering at the time on a fleet of about 350 interim aircraft. The Air Materiel Command (AMC) took exception, and actually did prevail, after arguing that such an arrangement would be wasteful, since the new aircraft most likely would be available only 8 months later than the additional RB-57s proposed by the board.
On 12 January 1952, AMC was informed by USAF Headquarters that the USAF Aircraft and Weapons Board selection had been fully endorsed, because the adapted A3D came closest to fulfilling the interim tactical requirements than other candidates, and that the Air Force version of the Navy aircraft would be designated B-66. Although brief, the Air Staff message carried specific instructions. Reconnaissance would have priority, the RB-66 would be immediately equipped for night photography, and electronic reconnaissance equipment, as well as electronic countermeasures components, would be added at the earliest possible date. AMC notified Douglas of the Air Force production decision on 15 January.
The Air Force issued the general operational requirement (GOR) for the future RB-66A, RB-66B, and RB-66C on 21 January 1952. A second GOR, strictly concerned with the B-66B, was published in April. In essence, these documents were basically alike. They asked for a fast, highly maneuverable tactical reconnaissance bomber that could perform in all types of weather, at very high or low altitudes. Nevertheless, the requirements were quite explicit. A 1,000-nautical mile radius was needed, and the planes had to be capable of carrying large amounts of equipment (radio, radar, electronics) without affecting their normal performance. The B/RB-66s had to be large enough to accommodate a 10,000 pound payload of either atomic, conventional, or photographic flash bombs. They had to be fitted with defensive armament, and would require sophisticated electronic countermeasures components to deal with enemy radars. Finally, the Air Force wanted every model of the new aircraft to be able to use makeshift or short runways. It also insisted that the B/RB-66's maintenance and logistic support be fairly simple.
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