All too often when planes are sent to long-term storage by the military it’s just a pause along their path to the grave. While the US has the advantage of desert storage facilities that slow the decomposition process, more often than not the planes are picked apart for parts or just stay a while before being scrapped. One plane that has escaped this fate is a Martin WB-57F Canberra which NASA pulled out of storage where it had been languishing for around four decades and brought it back to life. The Canberra took to the air earlier this month on its first flight since Nixon was president.
This plane started its life as a Martin B-57B Canberra, a licence-built and modified variant of the English Electric Canberra. The plane served in the United States Air Force under serial number 53-3918 with the 13th Bomber Squadron, later it was one of several planes converted for high altitude flight by General Dynamics, becoming a WB-57F in 1964 and serving as a weather reconnaisance plane, operated by the 58th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron out of Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The plane was retired to “The Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona in 1974, where she sat for approximately 40 years before NASA decided to acquire her in May 2011. The plane was disassembled and shipped overland to Colorado where aerospace contractor, Sierra Nevada Corporation refurbished the craft.
NASA currently has two other WB-57F Canberras flying in its fleet, NASA 926 and NASA 928. Uses for these planes have varied from filming the Space Shuttle’s launch and re-entry, aerial surveys and collecting cosmic dust from the upper atmosphere in addition to missions supporting US military operations overseas, the details of which are rather murky. Whether bringing this plane out of mothballs is in anticipation of the retirement of one of the existing NASA Canberras or an addition to the fleet is as yet unknown.