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North American B-45 Tornado: The first operational Jet Bomber of USAF

The aircraft for today is the early jet-powered bomber aircraft of the US Air Force that was designed as well as manufactured by the aircraft company named North American Aviation. The aircraft holds the title of being the very first operational jet-powered bomber of the USAF (United States Air Force). In addition to this, the aircraft is also known to be the first multiengine jet bomber of the world that was refueled during flight.

The origin of the North American B-45 Tornado comes from the initiative of the US War Department during World War II which could oppose the bombers of German Air Force like the Arado Ar 234. The company chosen for this task was North American Aviation for their prototype design named NA-130 and the work on 3 early prototypes was also started. But after the war concluded, the program with many other military programs was shut down. The program was once more revived in 1947 when the confrontation with the Soviet Union increased.

This time the North American Aviation had to compete for the contract with CONVAIR and won the contract with their prototype designated as XB-45 which had its first flight back on February 24th, 1947.

Despite the aircraft suffering from many problems, mainly in its engines on low-level flights, the aircraft proved to be a useful asset during the Korean War. The aircraft was mostly sued for aerial reconnaissance as well as a conventional bombing run missions. The very first jet-powered bomber to be shot down by a jet fighter in the world is also the North American B-45 Tornado when it was flying in the airspace of China.

Back in the early 1950s, many of the North American B-45 Tornados were also modified to serve the roles of nuclear bombers to be the nuclear deterrent for the Soviets. This role was then taken over from North American B-45 Tornado by the Boeing B-47 Stratojet.

Origins of North American B-45 Tornado:-

As World War II was in full blow, the US War Department saw the rapid need for better aviation technologies, especially after the emergence of the German jet-powered bomber aircraft like Arado Ar 234. The US War Department laid down a requirement for a new bomber back in 1944 for a bomber which would be powered with jet engines. It was to be a light bomber and the company chose for the task was North American Aviation.

3 early prototypes of North American B-45 Tornado:-

The design of North American Aviation was designated as NA-130 back on September 8th, 1944, 3 prototypes of the NA-130 underwent manufacturing. This aircraft was thought to be a simple bomber aircraft that was fitted with only jet engines. This was at the time the most effective first jet bomber aircraft of the world.

Program canceled after World War II and Revival:-

However, World War II concluded in the win for the Allied Forces and following that victory, many of the World War II-era military programs were canceled by the US government and the North American B-45 Tornado program was among one of them. However, soon after in 1946, the tensions between the Soviet Union and the US grew and the USAAF once more laid down requirements for a better jet bomber aircraft.

This time, there were two aircraft manufacturing companies fighting for the contract; the North American Aviation with their design of XB-45 and the Convair with their design XB-46. Two other companies also were pursuing the contract bid with their in-house projects. These companies were Boeing with the design of XB-47 and Martin with XB-48.

Out of the designs of Convair and North American, USAAF went ahead with the design of North American XB-45 and a contract was awarded to them back on January 2nd, 1947.

First Flight:-

The first prototype of North American B-45 Tornado was manufactured in Inglewood and was delivered to Muroc Field where the aircraft was reassembled and then prepared for its first flight. This flight took place on March 17th, 1947. Pilots and crew members of this aircraft reported technical problems and many setbacks but the political pressure led to the frantic serial production of the aircraft.

Power & Performance:-

For power, the North American B-45 Tornado relied on its 4 General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engines. Each of these engines would generate a thrust of about 5200 lbf which allowed for the aircraft to have a top speed of 566 mph with the combat range being 1192 miles. As for the aircraft cruise speed, it was 365 mph for a ferry range of 2170 miles. The aircraft could achieve a maximum service ceiling of about 46000 feet with rate-of-climb being 5200 ft/min.


For standard armament configuration, the North American B-45 Tornado was fitted with 2 of the 13mm M3 machine guns for defense. These machine guns were fitted in the tail turret of the aircraft. As for aircraft’s bomb-carrying capacity, it could carry a total of 22000lbs worth of bombing ordnance.

Service during the Korean War:-

Soon after the serial production started, the Korean War was there and the North American B-45 Tornado was launched into action in the 1950s. The aircraft proved to be of exceptional service, despite its problems in the theater, for doing reconnaissance and bomber missions.

First Jet Bomber shot down by a Jet Fighter:-

Back on December 4th, 1950, the very first jet-powered bomber was shot down by a jet fighter. This jet bomber was the North American B-45 Tornado which had been shot down by a MiG-15. From the shot down B-45, only one crewmember survived who also was presumed dead after he landed in the Chinese region.

Reconnaissance roles after the Korean War:-

Following the conclusion of the Korean War, the specially manufactured RB-45Cs were then assigned to the Reconnaissance Wings and Squadrons of USAF. These aircraft went on to fly for many reconnaissance missions over the Soviet airspace. During one of those missions, one of the North American B-45 Tornado also made its first non-stop trans-Pacific flight back on 29th July 1952. That flight was from Alaska to Japan for a time period of 9 hours and 50 minutes.


By the end of the 1950s, nearly all of the North American B-45 Tornados were retired from the active service of USAF. Still, a few of them were used as test aircraft until the 1970s.

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