During the early part of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force needed an aircraft to gather information about Soviet air defense radar systems, including details like their location, range and coverage. The electronic reconnaissance RB-47H, developed from the B-47E, met this requirement, and Boeing completed the first RB-47H in 1955. Boeing produced 32 newly-built RB-47Hs and converted three B-47Es into ERB-47Hs.
The RB-47H first entered service in August 1955. Over the next decade, RB-47H crews of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) flew thousands of dangerous "ferret" missions. Flying in radio silence at night along -- and sometimes over -- the border of the Soviet Union and other communist nations, RB-47Hs collected essential intelligence about the size and capability of Soviet air defense radar networks. The need for this information and the relatively small number of RB-47Hs forced crews to spend much of their time deployed to places around the world, away from their homes at Forbes Air Force Base, Kan. The RB-47H continued in service until the more capable RC-135 replaced it in the mid-1960s.
The museum's RB-47H was delivered to the USAF in October 1955. The aircraft served with the 55th SRW from 1955 until its retirement in 1966. During this time, it deployed to several locations, including Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, and Yokota Air Base, Japan, and flew missions over the Soviet Union. The aircraft came to the museum in 1998. After extensive restoration by museum personnel, the aircraft went on display in 2003, marked as it appeared in 1960.
The B-47 Stratojet in the Cold War The B-47 Stratojet became an essential component of the U.S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) during the 1950s and early 1960s, both as a nuclear bomber and a reconnaissance aircraft. Designed to meet a 1944 requirement, the first XB-47 prototype flew in December 1947, performing far beyond its competitors. It incorporated many advanced features for the time, including swept wings, jet engines in underwing pods, fuselage mounted main landing gear and automated systems that reduced the standard crew size to three.
In May 1951 the B-47 began replacing the propeller-driven B-29s and B-50s in SAC's medium bomber units. While it could carry about the same bomb tonnage as the aircraft it replaced, the B-47's top speed was more than 200 mph faster. Since the B-47 did not have the range of SAC's heavy bombers (the B-36 and later the B-52), Stratojet units regularly deployed to forward air bases around the world on temporary duty. Initially these deployments lasted three months, but beginning in 1957 under the Reflex Action program, they were shortened to three weeks.
In addition to its role as a nuclear strike bomber, the Stratojet's speed and payload made it a useful strategic reconnaissance aircraft. Between 1952 and 1956, photographic reconnaissance B-47s conducted several overflights of the Soviet Union, providing detailed pictures of Soviet military and industrial facilities. Stratojets gathered intelligence about Soviet air defense systems and the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile program. Weather reconnaissance versions of the B-47 not only collected weather data, but also took air samples of Soviet nuclear detonations. These essential RB-47 missions over and along the border of the Soviet Union were hazardous, and Soviet fighters damaged one reconnaissance Stratojet and shot down two, with the loss of seven USAF personnel killed and two temporarily imprisoned.
Between 1947 and 1957, Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed built over 2,000 Stratojets. At its peak use in 1958, the USAF operated 28 B-47 bomb wings and four RB-47 reconnaissance wings, totaling 1,357 B-47s and 175 RB-47s. The USAF phased out its last B-47 bombers in 1965, and the USAF retired its last Stratojet, a WB-47E, in 1969.
TECHNICAL NOTES (RB-47H):
Armament: Two 20 mm cannons in the tail Maximum speed: 602 mph Range: 3,935 miles (unrefueled) Ceiling: 38,850 ft.