Why NASA Relies On Very Old Planes To Track Modern Spacecraft
YouTube / Scott Manley
NASA operates plenty of cool planes. One of their cutting-edge planes was the WB-57F – NASA’s high-flying camera platform and has origins that date back even before NASA actually existed.
The WB-57 was based on the B-57, which itself is a licensed copy of the English Electric Canberra.
The Canberra’s origins date back to the 1940s, prioritizing high speed and altitudes. As such, it didn’t have any defensive armaments and only relied on flying high and fast to evade its enemies.
Setting Records And Improving
It set all kinds of records in the early 1950s, becoming the first jet-powered plane to cross the Atlantic – as well as winning the last great race, traveling from the UK to New Zealand in under 24 hours.
When the RB-57D variant first flew in 1955, it was already fitted with J57 engines and a longer wingspan at 106 ft. 8 years later, the RB-57F was introduced. This time, its wingspan was lengthened to 122 ft and its engines were replaced with TF33 engines.
NASA’s version, the WB-57F, is an upgraded version of these two and is used for space and earth sciences research.
NASA’s High Flying Camera Platform
So why is NASA flying these much older WB-57Fs?
Its because they have more crew space, carry more payload, and while they can’t get into altitudes of their modern counterparts, they’re much more conventional in terms of takeoff and landing.