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.
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.
The B-57 is a licence-built English Electric Canberra, manufactured and modified extensively by the Glenn L. Martin Company, or simply Martin.
In 1964 this airframe was one of 21 that were rebuilt as RB-57Fs by General Dynamics, and was re-serialled as 63-13295.
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.
63-13295 was retired to the then MASDC (Military Aircraft Storage and Disposal Center) on 26 June 1972.
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.
She was trucked to Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) at Centennial Airport, Colorado, in order to be stripped and rebuilt back to flying condition.
Following her restoration, the aircraft is now known as a WB-57F, which is simply a re-designation paper exercise that occurs when these aircraft are transferred to NASA.
N927NA came out of major rebuild on 30 July 2013 to perform engine and system runs for the first time.
On 8 August 2013 taxi runs were performed at Centennial and deemed to be a success, with departure slated for the following day.
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.
On 9 August 2013 NASA 927 took to the runway for its first flight in 41 years.
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.
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.