Aviation News

November 25, 2015

PHOTOS: The Three Remaining WB-57Fs Take Flight Over Houston

Residents of Houston were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime sight last week as three Cold War-era jets took part in a special formation flight over the Space City. Manufactured by Glenn L. Martin Company in the mid-1950s and reborn as “long wing” variants under the General Dynamics RB-57F program in the 1960s, the aircraft are the only remaining examples of the B-57 in service.

IMG_7887Originally developed and used as tactical bombers and military reconnaissance aircraft, the remaining WB-57Fs now serve as airborne science platforms for NASA, studying Earth’s atmosphere and climate from altitudes as high as 82,000 feet. The program was used to film several space shuttle launches in 2005 and 2006 to study the effectiveness of new safety measures and recently surveyed hurricanes Joaquin and Patricia.

The three aircraft bear the registrations N926NA, N928NA and N927NA. The third WB-57F, NASA 927, joined the squadron in August 2013 and set a world record for the longest time an aircraft had spent in storage before being returned to service: a whopping 41 years! All three are based at Houston’s Ellington Field and are serviced inside NASA’s Hangar 990. It’s rare to see two of these birds together, let alone all three, making Thursday’s operation one for the history books.

Departing shortly after 10:30 am CST, the three aircraft began an hour-long journey around the greater Houston area, overflying downtown Houston, the Galleria, Bush Intercontinental Airport and the San Jacinto Battleground before returning for a flyby of Johnson Space Center and landing at Ellington. The event was captured by a T-6 Texan II chase plane, invited guests and media on the ground at Ellington and countless Houstonians watching around the city.

Invited media were treated to tours of the suit-up and maintenance facilities, including a full demonstration of the pressure suits worn by WB-57F crewmembers. These suits are critical for pilot safety during high altitude missions. Up-close photo ops of the aircraft themselves were also provided for an impressive encounter with the mighty jets. With a wingspan of over 122 feet, the WB-57s are as wide as a space shuttle orbiter is long. Each aircraft has a wing area of over 2,000 feet (equivalent to the floor space of a mid-size house), which is essential for biting into the extremely thin air at high altitudes and generating lift.

While the WB-57F trio is unlikely to be seen in flight together again anytime soon (if ever), Houstonians can still expect to see them regularly in the skies during training and proficiency flights, as well as atmospheric and climate science missions for years to come.

 

Nathan Moeller is a native Texan and lifelong aviation enthusiast who collaborates with aviation and spaceflight organizations to provide behind-the-scenes photos and videos. Currently working as an aviation training development specialist in Houston, he offers an inside look at rarely-scene aviation operations. His experience includes imaging operations with the space shuttle, 747-8 and 777 freighters, and outsized cargo aircraft such as NASA’s Super Guppy and the massive Antonov An-225. You can follow his organization on Twitter at @Astro95Media.



About the Author

Nathan Moeller





 
 

 

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  • Gots

    Impressive aircraft , would have liked to see those up close .
    A side note , the Nasa C-9B Skytrain II (DC-9-32CF) in several of the photos started life flying for KLM in 1970 and is now a Zero-G training platform .