Aviation News – NASA’s new WB-57F, N927NA, flies for the first time in 41 years

NASA currently operates a pair of WB-57F high-altitude research aircraft based out of Ellington Field in Texas, but very soon a third airframe will join the fleet. Paul Filmer reports on NASA 927’s first flight.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

N927NA, more commonly referred to as NASA 927, started life as a B-57B with the 13th Bomber Squadron and with a serial of 53-3918.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

The B-57 is a licence-built English Electric Canberra, manufactured and modified extensively by the Glenn L. Martin Company, or simply Martin.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

In 1964 this airframe was one of 21 that were rebuilt as RB-57Fs by General Dynamics, and was re-serialled as 63-13295.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

The RB- 57F had almost double the wingspan of the original B-57B at 122 feet, and the Wright J65 turbojets were replaced with Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofans, which were double the thrust of the original engines.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

63-13295 was retired to the then MASDC (Military Aircraft Storage and Disposal Center) on 26 June 1972.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

She was displayed on Celebrity Row at the facility, now called AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group), for a number of years, and was pulled from storage and dismantled in May 2011.

© Glenn Beasley - globalaviationresource.com

© Glenn Beasley – globalaviationresource.com

She was trucked to Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) at Centennial Airport, Colorado, in order to be stripped and rebuilt back to flying condition.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

Following her restoration, the aircraft is now known as a WB-57F, which is simply a re-designation paper exercise when these aircraft are transferred to NASA.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

N927NA came out of major rebuild on 30 July 2013 to perform engine and system runs for the first time.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

On 8 August 2013 taxi runs were performed at Centennial and deemed to be a success, with departure slated for the following day.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

Interestingly, because of the lengthy wings and the way they droop, the airport took the step of replacing all the runway side-lights with examples that were half the height, to allow the aircraft to depart safely.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

On 9 August 2013 NASA 927 took to the runway for its first flight in 41 years.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

The aircraft was airborne very quickly and performed a left-hand pattern in order to do a flyby of the runway for all the SNC, NASA and US Air Force personnel who were on hand to see her off.

© Paul Filmer - globalaviationresource.com

© Paul Filmer – globalaviationresource.com

There’ll be further test flights from Colorado Springs before the aircraft is handed over to NASA to join the other two WB-57Fs in the fleet at Ellington Field in Texas.

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22 Comments

  1. I was Life Support Superintendent from Oct 1964 to Sept 1973. The F was a beautiful bird, amazing to watch take off and fly by. The ap-22s-2 Full Pressure Suits were my biggest immediate problem. The suits were ADC hand me downs, all going over age. New suits were finally procured after numerous equipment failures, but depot support managed to keep the suits going pending replacements. The suits did their job on at least seven occasions of cockpit pressurization loss at altitude and allowed the crew to return safely to base. (Ask Max Schuerrman). Politics seemed to enter into the retirement of the Fs but it is great to see three of the Longwings still active with NASA, while the SR71s and soon the U-2/ER2s will no longer be flying. LONG LIVE THE LONGWINGS!!!! Little is said about the “Big Safari” “PEE WEE III missions and only recently has it become public knowledge that 287 which was lost in the Black Sea in Dec 1965, had indeed been struck by a “missile” but was not deemed a “Shootdown”. The crew was never recovered/returned to the US, and the report on the findings of a special team of aeronauticl Engineers that found evidence of a missile strike stated that the US Government did not want to “pursue it”! Info about this may be found in the book “The History of BIG SAFARI” by ret Col Bill Grimes published Jan 2014. The 58WRS and the RB/WB57F have never receieved the recognition they truly deserved. Now NASA is carrying the ball.

    Reply
  2. I got there in Jan 62, discharged Feb 65, when it was still the 1211th Test Squadron (Sampling) before we became the 58th, and worked in Instruments and Nuke Apps. I was standing on the flight line when the first F we got had it’s first flight there. Will never forget that takeoff. Also, we could never get the fuel quantity gauges to work right in the D. Had to show the pilots it was topped off before hopping the pond. And the TDY’s! Sleeping on the Tarmac in Fiji, under the wings of a C-124 on our way to East Sale RAAF Base…”Dem were the days!”

    Reply
  3. Not sure where the AMARG photo came from… This photo shows the aircraft in 1000-1500 series storage which was probably 20 years ago, when we recovered the aircraft from DM the aircraft was in 4000 series storage soon be recycled like the F100. The aircraft was dismantled and trucked on 3 flatbeds to Colorado for restoration where every wire, hydraulic line, and wing structural component was replaced with brand new parts fabricated for this effort. The wing tips could not be installed during the high speed taxi tests due to runway signage interfernece which were removed for the function check flight. Awesome to see the aircraft leave the bounds of terra firma once again.

    Reply
    • The AMARG shot was taken on Celebrity Row in January 2009.

      Superb work – congratulations to everyone involved!

      Reply
  4. I was the first sgt (MSGT) july 72 sepy 73 and it was a great sq. I departed the same day Col. Smith did. All you x 58th F troops should know that we have a reunion every year at Branson in June you can find info on line.

    Reply
  5. I was in the 58th at Kirtland from March 1970 through March 1973. It is great to see #295 back in the air again. I was the back seat Nav that delivered #295 to MASDC (Tucson storage). No big deal but according to my Form 5 flight records we delivered the airplane on June 27th not the 26th. My entry says “June 27, RB-57F #295, O-5 mission of 2.5 hours. When we taxied 295 across the railroad tracks and down the road to the storage area it was a funny feeling to be going by all those “broke” airplanes. When I walked away from 295 I felt like I was dumping a little puppy along the side of the road. Treat her nice NASA, because she was always nice to me.

    Reply
  6. I flew this aircraft. I arrived in Albuquerque in the summer of 1962 having just graduated from Nav School at Harlingen, TX. I flew the Ds for the last phase of nuclear testing out of Barbers Point and Johnston Island. I was there in 64 when the Doug Campbell brought in the first F. I was one of the first back seaters to be checked out. I flew it back to Hawaii and Johnston Island for an training exercise should nuclear testing restart. I also flew it out of all of our detachments, Eielson AFB, AK; Albrook AB, Panama; East Sale, Victoria, Australia; and Mendosa, Argentina. Overall, in A-B-C-D-E- and F models, I completed just over 1,000 hours in all models combined. We were measured by radar on day over Texas, level at 77,500 feet. I left the squadron in late spring 1966 with orders to Rhein Main AB, Germany. I included many stories about all the aircraft in my newly published book, “Pigeons to Peshawar”, Friesen Press. My title comes from ferrying a modified B-57B half-way around the world to Peshawar, Pakistan (which was home to 2 F-models by the way).

    A few comments about the pictures, which are great. I hope they were high speed taxi testing with the pictures showing the missing wingtips. Most likely the aircraft would have flown well without them.

    295 was the aircraft parked on “Show Row” at AMARG, the line where they showed off one of each of the aircraft in the boneyard. For many years, during the open house and airshow, they would tow it to the flight line for display. I even have a picture of me standing by the aircraft. The spot on show row is now vacant, although the bone yard still has a few Fs left in storage.

    Copies of my book can be ordered at http://www.friesenpress.com or downloaded from http://www.amazon.com

    Reply
  7. I am missing the RB-57D….

    Reply
  8. Great work. There is so much aviation history, it’s good to see some people are working to kee it alive. Thank you!

    Reply
  9. I was assigned to the 58th WRS from September 1968 through July 1972. I was first assigned as crew chief on aircraft 288. I went TDY many times with that aircraft as well as others. This squadron was famous for its TDYs. This squadron was the best of all my other assignments that I had over my thirty years of Air Force servicing. Col Folf and Col Click D Smith always brought everyone home for Christmas. In some cases that would be the only time you would see them. I remember one time returning from a 45 day TDY to Panama Canal zone and being met at the Air Craft by Col Derdon and being told to take my bags from that Air Craft and move them to a C-130 parked close by. I was to leave on another TDY to Portoreco for operation Bomax. I lucked out in that the C-130 was broke so I was able to go home and leave the next day. After crewing for a few years I was reassigned to the Iso Dock. From there I was reassigned to quality control. I was working there when Col Derdon landed at night. He called me at home and asked me to take a look at the aircraft horizontal stabiliser as it did not look right to him. When I arrived at work the next day I found that the horizontal stabiliser actuator had failed upon landing. Had it failed I flight he would have lost the aircraft. We found that the brass nut that ran up and down on the actuator screw had striped out allowing the stabiliser to fall to the full nose down position. With that all the aircraft had to have their actuator changed. I was placed in charge of this action. A few months later we had an aircraft fall from the sky as it was returning from altitude and crash on the top of the Manzono Mountains with the loss of both crew members. The first thing that came to my mind was that we had another actuator failure and the aircraft had gone into a mock tuck. With that I was assigned to the accident investigation team. After arriving at the crash sight by helicopter, I was able to rule that out. The actuator had not failed. I was on the mountain a few days later when I received my orders to go PCS to San Antonio Tx. I left a few days later. I only have great things to say about the 58th WRS men, women and the RB-57((F) aircraft. It is good to see they are still flying.

    Reply
    • That airplane did get into Mach tuck during a presumably accidental overspeed. As a result of the tuck the overspeed increased and the aircraft fluttered; the fuselage failed immediately behind the wing. Both crew members were indeed killed. I conducted the flutter analyses on the aircraft in 1963 as a newly hired engineer at General Dynamics/Fort Worth. There were three incidents of flutter, the other two not resulting in loss of the aircraft. All three occurred at the predicted flight conditions.

      Reply
  10. I am right in line with the runway at Ellington Field and I don’t even have to look up when a WB57 is flying over. Those engines are so distinctive sounding. I really do love it on the days they are doing touch and goes. I even have a WB57 Long Wing sticker on the back window of my truck. Someone told me that the plane actually makes money for the govt. gathering weather data.

    Reply
  11. Awesome!It’s great to see these old birds finding a path to the sky once again..

    Reply
  12. Hi, did the WB-57f flights fly through the hurricanes for meteorological work in the 1960’s and 70’s or were they involved in capturing data from the radiation coming from various countries nuclear testing, very interested in knowing what was happening where. I realise they were being flown out if Guam and other Pacific islands but where else were they stationed?
    All the very best,
    Steve Brech
    Far North QLD, Australia

    Reply
    • Google “57th Weather Rcon. Sq.”

      Reply
      • I was 57th WRS at Hickam. 65 – 67. Started as 55th weather Det 2. Haven’t heard from anyone that was from the 57th. I worked on the WB-57’s, WB-47’s, weather C-130’s. Supposed to have been stationed at Melbourne so I extended one year for the two year tour. Those orders were cancelled while on leave. Thought I was Nam bound but was very relieved with Hickam. Did some TDY at Clark AFB also. If anyone was with the 57th I’d like to hear.

        Reply
    • Steve – we flew over the hurricanes (I personally piloted an F model over Hurricane Lauren – my daughter’s name) in an F model in 1969 out of the 58 WRS. And we monitored the French and Chinese bomb tests from American Samoa with the same airplanes. Check out b-57canberra.org

      Reply
      • We flew INTO them with EC-121 Super Connies back then. VW1 out of Agana, Guam. But that’s another subject.

        Reply
  13. I was a member of the 58 WRS from Jan 69 to Aug 72. I crewed, I think 286 for time. I think Paul McKey crewed 289. It is a very good airplane and I didn’t know it at the time, a very good sq with a lot of good people. I do miss them all.

    Reply
  14. I was a crew chief with the 58WRS and worked on this aircraft and left the 58th shortly after it did In July of 1972.

    Reply
    • I was in the 58th from Jan 1969 to Aug 1972. I was Asst. Crew Chief on 3295 and later Crew Chief of 3295 before I was transfer to Docks. I served with a lot of great guys. Went TDY to Alaska, Panama, and Argentina. I will never forget those days or those great guys.

      Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Martin WB-57F Returns to the Air After 41 Years! | Pickled Wings - […] http://globalaviationresource.com/v2/2013/08/10/nasas-new-wb-57-n927na-flies/ […]
  2. "new" nasa wb-57f - PaperModelers.com - […] in Colorado Springs, probably Peterson AFB. Check out this link for several excellent images. NASA’s new WB-57F, N927NA, …

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