America bought this British bomber in the 1950s and used it over Afghanistan

The English Electric Canberra is a classic Cold War bomber. Its service with the United Kingdom and a host of other countries began less than five years after World War II, and it stuck around until 2006 with the Royal Air Force, while India flew them until 2007.

But less well-known is the American version of the Canberra, the Martin B-57, which has had the distinction of supporting combat troops almost 40 years after it was retired.

B-57B Canberras in flight. (USAF photo)

Here’s the scoop on this plane. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the Korean War showed the United States that it would need a replacement for the A-26/B-26 Invader in the role of a night intruder.

The Air Force looked at the North American B-45 and A2J Savage, both of which were already in service, but found them wanting. Then, the Air Force looked abroad, and considered the CF-100 from Canada before deciding to license-build the English Electric Canberra.

What won them over was endurance: The Canberra could hang around a target 780 miles away for over two hours. The B-57 could carry up to 7,300 pounds of bombs, could mount eight .50-caliber machine guns or four 20mm cannon, and had a top speed of 597 miles per hour, according to MilitaryFactory.com.

The Air Force liked that long reach, and eventually 403 B-57s were built. The plane served as a bomber in the Vietnam War and some were modified to carry laser-guided 500-pound bombs and called the B-57G under a program called Tropic Moon III. One of the B-57Gs was even equipped with a M61 Vulcan and 4,000 rounds (which is a lot of BRRRRRT!). However, the United States soon realized that the Canberra’s true calling was as a high-altitude reconnaissance bird.

A B-57G assigned to the Tropic Moon III program. (USAF photo)

The definitive reconnaissance version, the RB-57F, could reach an altitude of 65,000 feet. This gave it a very high perch that many fighters in the 1960s could not reach. Even one of today’s best interceptors, the Su-27 Flanker, can only reach a little over 62,000 feet, according to MilitaryFactory.com. Some of the RB-57Fs later were designated WB-57Fs to reflect their use as weather reconnaissance planes.

A WB-57F parked on the ramp at Yokota Air Base in Japan. (USAF photo)

The Air Force retired the B-57s in 1974. However, a number of the WB-57F planes found their way to NASA, where they were used for research. This included monitoring for signs of nuclear tests.

At least two of the NASA birds, though, are reported to have served over Afghanistan in the War on Terror. Spyflight reported one of the NASA birds flew sorties from Kandahar in 2008, officially as a “geological survey” for Afghanistan. Wired.com reported in 2012 that two NASA planes have alternated flying out of Kandahar to help relay data, alongside modified RQ-4 Global Hawk drones and versions of the Bombardier business jet known as the E-11A.

One of NASA’s WB-57F Canberras. (NASA photo)

This means that nearly four decades after officially retiring from service, these B-57s have been serving in wartime – while under NASA’s flag. Not bad for a plane that first took flight in 1949!

TOP ARTICLES
This Marine creates amazing sculptures to remember fallen heroes -- free of charge

Spending nearly 70 hours creating each sculpture, Cliff Leonard carefully carves out the finest details, making each piece a real work of art.

This is why Iran is smuggling boatloads of weapons into Yemen

The top US admiral in the Middle East said that Iran continues to smuggle illicit weapons and technology into Yemen, stoking the civil strife.

This is why Trump wants a massive military parade on Pennsylvania Avenue

President Donald Trump's trip to France for the country's Bastille Day parade in July left him wanting to replicate the experience back home.

The Navy just fired more commanders connected with ship collisions

Just before hearings on Capitol Hill, the US Navy has fired two senior commanders in the Pacific region in connection with recent deadly collisions.

'The man who saved the world' dies at 77

Stanislav Petrov was on the overnight shift in the early morning hours of Sept. 26 when the computers showed US had launched five nuclear missiles.

This is the fictional country the Russians are training to fight

Just like the U.S. trains to fight in Atropia, Centralia, and North Brownland, the Russian military gears up to fight Veishnoriya to protect its interests.

9 struggles infantrymen know all too well about mail drops

While you're deployed, mail becomes a commodity. Emotions can roller coaster as that mail truck rolls in, though — you never actually know what you'll get.

Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

Putin attended the week-long war games with Belarus that have demonstrated the Russian military's resurgent might and made neighboring countries nervous.

This video of a Russian helicopter accidentally firing on observers is crazy

Two people were hospitalized with heavy injuries after a helicopter accidentally fired on observers, likely journalists, of the Zapad '17 exercises.

This is the story behind one of the most successful fighters ever built

The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle was the pinnacle of US air superiority, incorporating advanced technology to create a fierce multi-role fighter aircraft.

THE MIGHTY SURVEY GIVE-AWAY

We want to hear your thoughts. Complete our survey for a chance to win 1 of 5 gaming consoles

COMPLETE SURVEY TO WIN