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Boeing RB-47H Stratojet

Boeing B-47B rocket-assisted take off on April 15, 1954. (U.S. Air Force photo)

To leave the ground, a fully laden Stratojet required the additional thrust from takeoff rockets in the rear fuselage. Early B-47s carried these rocket units internally, while later Stratojets dropped them after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (Photo courtesy of Airshow Traveler)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (Photo courtesy of Airshow Traveler)

The RB-47H carried a crew of six, with the pilot, co-pilot and navigator in a pressurized section in the nose. The three electronic warfare officers (EWOs), also known as “Ravens” or “Crows,” were stationed in what would be the bomb bay in a normal B-47. On typical missions, the EWOs spent about 12-14 hours working in this confined, windowless compartment, completely surrounded by electronic equipment.

The RB-47H carried a crew of six, with the pilot, co-pilot and navigator in a pressurized section in the nose. The three electronic warfare officers (EWOs), also known as “Ravens” or “Crows,” were stationed in what would be the bomb bay in a normal B-47. On typical missions, the EWOs spent about 12-14 hours working in this confined, windowless compartment, completely surrounded by electronic equipment.

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet crew door opening at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet crew door opening at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet food warming device at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet food warming device at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet navigator controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot controls at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Boeing RB-47H Stratojet co-pilot location at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

Boeing RB-47H. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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The RB-47H carried electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment and electronic sensors in radomes in several locations -- in the nose, under the front and rear of the fuselage, under the wing tips, and on some later RB-47Hs like the one pictured here, in a pod attached to the right side of the fuselage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing RB-47H. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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An RB-47H takes on fuel from an aerial tanker. The yellow lines helped the boom operator guide the tanker’s fuel probe to the fueling point in the RB-47H’s nose. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing XB-47. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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The first of two prototype XB-47s a few weeks before its first flight in December 1947. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing RB-47 refueled by Boeing KC-97. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Though mismatched in speed, the propeller-driven KC-97 became the main tanker aircraft used to extend the Stratojet’s range. During refueling, the B-47 flew just above stall speed while the KC-97 flew at full throttle. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing RB-47E Stratojet. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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The RB-47E carried one forward-looking camera in the nose and up to six cameras in the modified bomb bay, plus photoflash bombs for night photography and a defensive 20mm cannon in the tail. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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 AFB, 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 was acquired by the museum in 1998 from the City of Salina, Kan. 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.

Click here to return to the Cold War Gallery.

 

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