A NASA WB-57F arrived at RAF Mildenhall on the evening of 11 October 2005 for a series of high-altitude, cosmic dust-collecting missions.
While in the United Kingdom the aircraft carried out at least four missions to collect samples of cosmic dust from the upper atmosphere, flying at altitudes up to 65,000 ft (19812 m) as part of the Airborne Remote Earth Sensing (ARES) programme. The aircraft has a two-man crew – a pilot and a systems operator – both of whom wear high-altitude pressure suits when flying on the collecting missions. Mildenhall was selected as the United Kingdom base for the missions since it has all of the facilities needed to support the NASA missions.
Right: WB-57F pilot’s cockpit. Below right: WB-57F rear cockpit. Below: The WB-57 arrives at Mildenhall.
The aircraft uses lP-8 fuel and requires a supply of liquid oxygen for cooling its avionics. Mildenhall also has a runway of suitable length and suitable hangars for WB-57 flying. To support the aircraft’s operations, NASA had a motorhome flown in by C-5 Galaxy. This acts as a mobile office, also escorting the aircraft to the runway for final preparations before takeoff. Each mission is around four hours in preparation before the aircraft can get airborne. The flying stage of each mission lasts between four and five hours. Cruising at 65,000 feet with a 4,500 lb (2041 kg) payload, the WB-57 has a range of 2,500 miles (4023 km).
Registered as N928NA, NASA 928 was built as a B-57B and entered USAF service with the serial 63-13298. During the conversion of the aircraft to WB-57F standard, only the fuselage, landing gear and horizontal tail surfaces were kept from the original aircraft. Although the original Canberra design had excellent high-altitude performance, it was significantly improved by the addition of wing extensions and extra engine thrust. Two Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofans were fitted, each rated at 18,000 lb (80.05kN) static thrust, almost doubling the power of the original B-57. The wing was replaced by a completely new three-spar structure, incorporating honeycomb construction with a marked anhedral, and of almost double the original span at 122 ft 5 in (37.31 m). The fuselage fuel tank was deleted to allow a pallet system containing various sensors to be carried, with all fuel now carried in the wings, outboard of the engines. More ARES Canberra missions may launch from the UK in the future.
Large nacelles house the WB-57F’s Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofans. The engines are similar to those of the KC-135E tanker.
Colourful tail markings were applied to WB-57F ‘928’. Note that the last two’ of its NASA number appear on the fin.
Right: The aircraft’s forward fuselage shows its USAF serial number.
Above: One of the underwing ‘collectors’.
Much of the original B-57B airframe was scrapped in the creation of the WB-57F high-altitude research aircraft.
Kit: ВАС TSR.2 Scale: 1:72
Kit type: Injection moulded Decal options: (three) XR219, XR220, XR222 UK price: £16.99 Website: www. airfix. com
Slightly delayed – allegedly by Wallace and Gromit – this kit has already progressed from shop shelves to ebay. Nevertheless if you have one or two in your pending tray you may be interested in my thoughts on what is, in my view, a return to the good Airfix kit of days gone by.
It is, thank goodness, moulded in white, an essential base colour for those examples that were built and a useful one for all those alternative colour schemes of your choice. The cockpit holds a couple of ejection seats, a control column and a pair of instrument panels, for which, and for the side consoles, decals are provided. As always the colours indicated on the instruction sheet are only given Humbrol numbers, but fortunately this year’s Airfix catalogue has a complete, and coloured, listing. For the interior they specify 164 Dark Sea Grey, but judging by the photograph in this year’s RAF Museum calendar (an excellent source of interior information) this is rather too dark. I used Xtracolor X403, and I suspect even that should be lightened a little. The ejection seats represent Martin-Baker’s Mark 8, a seat unique to the TSR.2, and have a representation on their back of that seat’s ‘triple-barrelled’ appearance. The outer tubes are part of the framework rather than, as I had thought, extra power for the low-level exit, but are all a fetching shade of metallic green, for which I used Metalcote Matt Aluminium overlaid with Humbrol Clear Green. Regrettably virtually all side and back seat detail is lost once the cockpit area is assembled, but to aid those for whom these things are important I did take a picture of the seat at Cosford, which is, I believe, in the correct colours of the original. Aeroclub is redesigning its earlier white metal Mark 8, which, because of the plinths on the Airfix cockpit floor, do not fit this kit. Perhaps by the time this appears the revised seats will be available, though the model does not need weight in the nose. There are rumours of full resin interiors in preparation as well.
After cockpit construction the next stage is the assembly of the intakes to the fuselage
halves, and after trying three different ways I’ve concluded that the sequence on the instruction sheet is probably the simplest method. The forward-looking, semi-circular faces on parts 17 and 22 can be seen through the intakes, and should be painted accordingly. I used Tamiya’s acrylic NATO Black, which gives a slightly shadowy appearance. Once these are in place, and the nosewheel and main undercarriage bays ready, the fuselage halves can be joined, and the fit is good; I was advised by ‘One Who Knows’ before I started, to fit the main undercarriage legs in place prior to enclosing their bay in the fuselage and adding part 34, the base around the bomb bay doors. I did this on my first model, with the consequence that the legs were, to some extent, in the way of the slight rubbing down that I did along the ‘edges’ of the underside. On my next attempt I completed the fuselage structure and its rubbing down first and then added the legs; it is possible, but requires a certain amount of finagling to fix the legs in their proper seating.
There is a need for a little filler and consequent rubbing down around the rear of the intakes, and at least some of this should be done before fitting the wing (when there will be more sanding needed at the join of piece 42)
The wing itself is a simple two-piece structure, and it fits very snugly into place, to the point that it needs a little gentle trimming to fit precisely. I thought it might be easier to fix part 23 to the upper rear fuselage, followed by the wing and then part 42, but for my third model I went more or less back to the suggested sequence. You will again need a little filler along the joins, although these will be to some extent concealed by the ‘wing-walk’ decals. The trailing edge is a little thick, and benefits from some thinning along its edge.
The very prominent and unusual undercarriage is very well done, but it does present small problems which need a little attention, not least to ensure that all the wheels touch the ground at the same time. In fact I would advise leaving the main wheels off until the underfuselage decals are on; positioning these round the wheels can be awkward. On this review model I fitted the airbrakes, bomb doors and all the undercarriage doors open, which was simple; on the advice of my man at the Air Ministry I painted the covering at the top of the bomb bay Humbrol 100 rather than the suggested 18. The weapon supplied, which I painted as a blue inert round, is reputed to be a Red Beard, though this would have been more applicable to the early V-bombers. On my second pair the weapons bay and main undercarriage doors fitted well, but I had problems with their nosewheel rear doors, and I had to remove and reposition the nosewheel support struts, part 47, and ensure that the tip fitted directly on to the back of the main nose leg. I also fitted the airbrakes closed, and the upper pairs were slightly ‘cracked’, as often seems the case in photos of XR219. It can’t have helped that I fitted parts 24 and 25 back to front (you realise that I go all through this learning process for the general good as well as my own!). The instructions specify white as the colour of
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