The idea of installing a radar on a plane first appeared in the UK in the late 30's. After the beginning of massive night raids by German bombers in England, the production of two-engine twin-engine Blenheim IF with AI Mk III radar began. Radar-equipped heavy fighter Blenheims performed very well during night interceptions and were later replaced by more sophisticated Boofeiter and Mosquito with AI Mk.IV radars. However, night fighters were not radar patrol aircraft in the modern sense, the radar on board was usually used for individual search for an air target and information was not exchanged with other interceptors and ground control points.
The US Air Force was much later than the Navy in engage in airborne early warning aircraft and at first did not pay much attention to them. In 1951, three B-29s were modified in mid-1951 during a full-scale development program for airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. The forward upper fuselage was extensively modified to house an AN/APS-20C search radar. The aircraft interior was extensively modified to house radar and electronic counter measures equipment.
Some accounts relate that these aircraft received the designation P2B-1S. But the P2B is the US Navy version of the B-29 Superfortress. And Joe Baugher relates that "On March 14, 1947, the Navy took over four B-29-BWs for long-range search missions. The designation P2B-1S was assigned." One of these aircraft was later loaned to NACA, the forerunner of NASA, where it was used as the mothership to launch the D-558-II Skyrocket. The Skyrocket eventually became the first aircraft to exceed Mach 2.
For the most part, these machines were not used for patrol flights or coordination of fighter operations, but for weather reconnaissance and participated in various kinds of test programs, experiments and exercises. By that time, the Air Force had not yet decided on the role and place of the long-range radar surveillance aircraft. Unlike the admirals who still remembered the consequences of the ravages on the "Pearl Harbor" and the kamikaze attacks, the Air Force generals relied on numerous ground-based radar and jet interceptors. However, shortly after the creation of nuclear weapons in the USSR and the adoption of long-range bombers capable of reaching the continental US territory and returning to their positions, American strategists were forced to spend considerable funds for the improvement of the air defense system, including aircraft and even airships carrying powerful radars detection of air targets.
The development program was of interest to the Strategic Air Command and the Air Defense Command and led to the procurement of operational radar picket aircraft including the Lockheed RC-121 Warning Star.
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