North American B-45 Tornado


Back to the Virtual Aircraft Museum
  BOMBER, RECONNAISSANCEVirtual Aircraft Museum / USA / North American  

North American B-45 Tornado

In 1943, aware of Nazi Germany's advances in the field of jet propulsion, the Army Air Forces (AAF) asked the General Electric Company to devise a more powerful engine than its prospective axial turboprop. This was a tall order, but it eventually brought about the production of the J35 and J47 turbojets. In 1944, 1 year after the jet engine requirements were established, the War Department requested the aircraft industry to submit proposals for various jet bombers, with gross weights ranging from 80,000 to more than 200,000 pounds. This was another challenge, and only 4 contractors answered the call.

Pressed for time, the AAF in 1946 decided to skip the usual contractor competition, review the designs, and choose among the proposed aircraft that could be obtained first. The multi-jet engine B-45, larger and more conventional than its immediate competitor, won the round, with the understanding that if a less readily available bomber was to prove superior enough to supplant it (which the Boeing XB-47 did), that aircraft would also be purchased.

Testing of the XB-45 prompted pre-production changes. North American Aviation, Incorporated, redesigned the nose panel, increased the aircraft's stabilizer area, and lengthened the tailplane by nearly 7 feet. In August 1948, 22 of the 90 B-45s, ordered less than 2 years before, reached the newly independent Air Force. However, the B-45's increased weight, excessive takeoff distance, and numerous structural and mechanical defects generated scant enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, the B-47's future production had become certain, and in mid-1948 the Air Staff actually began to question the B-45's intrinsic value as well as its potential use. Soon afterwards, as President Truman's budgetary axe slashed Air Force expenditures, the programmed production of B-45s was reduced to a grand total of 142, a decrease of 51 aircraft.

Although continuously plagued by engine problems, component malfunctions, lack of spare parts, and numerous minor flaws, the B-45 regained importance. Like all bombers produced after the end of World War II, the B-45 was designed to carry both conventional and atomic bombs. In mid-1950, when U.S. military commitments to the Korean War reempha-sized the vulnerability of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Europe to Soviet attack, the Air Force made an important decision. Since the U.S. planned to produce large quantities of small atomic and thermonuclear weapons in the near future, the use of such weapons, heretofore a prerogative of the strategic forces, would be expanded to the tactical forces, particularly in Europe.

The program that ensued, under the code name of Backbreaker, entailed difficult aircraft modifications because several distinct atomic bomb types were involved and large amounts of new electronics support equipment had to be fitted in place of the standard components. In addition, the 40 B-45s allocated to the Backbreaker program also had to be equipped with a new defensive system and extra fuel tanks. Despite the magnitude of the modification project, plus recurring engine problems, atomic-capable B-45s began reaching the United Kingdom in May 1952, and deployment of the 40 aircraft was completed in mid-June, barely 30 days behind the Air Staff deadline.

All told, and in spite of its many valuable secondary functions, the B-45 did not achieve great glory. The entire contingent, Backbreaker and reconnaissance models included, was phased out by 1959. Yet, the B-45 retained a place in aviation history as the Air Force's first jet bomber and as the first atomic carrier of the tactical forces.

North American B-45 TornadoA three-view drawing (800 x 1177)

 ENGINE4 x turbo-jet General Electric J47-GE-13/15, 26.7kN
  Take-off weight50222 kg110721 lb
  Empty weight22672 kg49983 lb
  Wingspan29.26 m96 ft 0 in
  Length23.14 m76 ft 11 in
  Height7.67 m25 ft 2 in
  Wing area109.16 m21174.99 sq ft
  Max. speed917 km/h570 mph
  Ceiling12270 m40250 ft
  Range4072 km2530 miles
 ARMAMENT2 x 12.7mm machine-guns, 10000kg of bombs

North American B-45 Tornado

Comments1-20 21-40 41-60
GeorgeGordon, e-mail, 04.03.2020 17:27

I made the last flight of the B-45 when I delivered 49-017 to the SAC Museum at Offitt AFB in June, 1972. I flew it and 48-010 as test beds for PWA when I was a test pilot there.


Bob, e-mail, 27.01.2016 20:24

Gary,I knew the guy,Vernon Morgan, just from seeing him around the squadron. I had met Yvonne Talbot in the pubs in Peterborough. I have a bloke newspaper article about the incident. Because of this and a couple of similar incidents in the other services the enlisted men were no longer allowed to taxi aircraft.


Dave Pinella, e-mail, 20.05.2015 21:21

I was looking at the B-45 at the USAF Museum in Dayton. I'm curious as to some access panel between the two left engines, right in front. In some pictures there is "something" there, no panel. On the right engines, nothing.

What is this? Thanks! Dave P


Malcolm A. Dodd, e-mail, 17.04.2015 20:34

I was walking back to camp from Kings Lynn at about 10.00pm one summer evening in (I think) 1957, when USAF personnel in a pickup towing what I think was a fire pump, stopped and asked if I knew where East Raynham was. Replying that I was stationed at RAF West Raynham, they asked if I would show them the way. They explained that a B45 from Sculthorpe had crashed and took me to a field at the edge of a wood just outside WR's perimeter. Emergency vehicles were in attendance and I stayed for some time to give what help I could. I was told that the gunner should not have been aboard but it was uncertain if he had gone along anyway. Over the years, I have occasionally searched the web for information about this accident but, until today, never found anything about it. Malcolm Dodd, RAF West Raynham 1956 - 58.


Robert J. Veach, e-mail, 17.01.2015 14:23

I was in the 85th Bomb Sqdn at Sculthorpe from 1954 thru 1957, I have a lot of stories from that period, interested?


Gary, e-mail, 06.12.2014 06:08

I was stationed at Alconbury,arriving in 1955. It was being reopened. I left there in Sept 1958. While there an airman was upset with a girl friend and took one of the B45's up and immediately crashed into the ground scattering debris everywhere and of course killing himself. I can't find any information on this incident.


George Haloulakos, CFA, e-mail, 26.06.2014 22:13

My Godfather, Chris Lembesis [design engineer], worked on the B-45 Tornado, an aircraft that was a positive, if not significant contributor in keeping the peace during the early days of the Cold War. This is mentioned in my book.
Aviation as a Teaching Tool for Finance,
Strategy and American Exceptionalism
By George A. Haloulakos, MBA, CFA
ISBN: 9780-1007-2738-0
Order your copy online at:
Or by phone: 858-534-4557
"Partial proceeds support aviation heritage"


Gene Kincaid, e-mail, 18.06.2013 07:09

My older brother Paul Kincaid was stationed at RAF Sculthorpesomewhere around 1953-1956. He was a Jet Engine Mechanic. He told me about how he had to work on this engine that enhaled some poor airman. James(Gene)Kincaid Msgt /1st Sgt retired.


paul scott, e-mail, 16.04.2013 14:23

Wasn't this the aircraft that the Americans gave us Brits to do their dirty work in early reconnaisance over the USSR and take the blame for if we got caught - according to the excellent documentary series, 'Timewatch', episode 'Spies in the Sky'?


Dave Link, e-mail, 23.03.2013 19:12

I was a SHORAN , gen. Radar tech in the 84th bomb squadron at RAF Sculthorpe from apr 56 till sept. 58.My last 6mo. Or so was with the 47th
A&E field maint. Sq. on the N-1 compass sys.The sick B45 John
Langsdale described (05.05.2009) did crash inside of the RAF West
Raynham confines. It claimed the lives of the pilot, our squadron C.O.
The co-pilot and AOB. The gunners life was spared because the gunnery
Sys. Was kaput, and he wasn't on board.
If someone would like a good history of RAF Sculthorpe, the booklet titled
RAF Sculthorpe 50 years of watching &waiting, by Jim Baldwin is a good
Read. # ISBN 0 948899069


CURTIS BERRY, e-mail, 14.03.2013 21:58

Actually, this happened about 1958 NOT 1858. LOL


Curtis Berry, e-mail, 14.03.2013 21:54

Correct E-Mail address


CURTIS BERRY, e-mail, 14.03.2013 21:50

I served at RAF Sculthorpe from 1955-1958 in the Vehicle Maintenance shop. About 1858 while road testing a vehicle on the perimeter track I witnessed a B-45 landing with smoke & fire trailing from an engine. It went off the end of the runway, through the fence & beyond. The nose of the aircraft was badly crumpled, killig the navigator. The only one to arrive before me was the ground safety Officer. In 1994 he was a customer of mine at my Auto Repair shop in Albuquerque, NM. We did not recognize each other but upon talking about our experiences we made the connection. I retired as a MSGT in 1974. I am currently working for Civil Service at age 76 at Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, NM. My work phone is 505-846-1898.


Carty Lawson, e-mail, 26.06.2012 03:22

I was a Q-24 Bomb /Navigation Radar technician with the 84th Bomb Squadron (47th Bomb Wing) at RAF Sculthorpe 1955-1957. In 2000 members of the various squadrons and support organizations of the 47th Bomb Wing (RAF Sculthorpe /RAF Alconbury) formed the 47th Bomb Wing Association (BWA), Ltd. One of the missions of this organization is to publicize the vital role of the B-45 Tornado in the "Cold War" from 1952 to 1958. In 2007 the 47th BWA dedicated a plaque of the B-45 at the Memorial Gardens of the Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Paterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio. May 15, 2009 the 47th BWA dedicated a B-45 Tornado Model and display case at the American Air Museum, (part of the Imperial War Museum), Duxford, Cambridgeshire, England. One of our current endeavors is to get a B-45 Tornado model displayed at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum near Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.
The 47th BWA publishes a newsletter, Contrails, several times a year and sponsors an annual reunion. Interested in becoming a member of the 47th BWA? Contact me at or


Richard E. Swearingen, e-mail, 29.08.2011 08:34

I was assigned to the 47th Bomb Wing, 85TH Bomb Squadron in 1957. I flew as Tail Gunner on the B-45 and also on the B-66 after their arrival. The B-45 armed with twin 50 calibers and the Atomic Bomb in the Bombay, we were ready to deliver. Although the B-45, RB45, B-66 and RB-66 are rarely credited for their service. Each of us who served during that era know we contributed during that COLD WAR period to keeping the peace. I enjoyed the time I was privileged to be part of the 85th Bomb Squadron flying the missions that contributed to keeping the peace.

Anyone who recalls our acquaintance during the time we served at RAF Staion Sculthorpe, please contact me at the above e-mail address.


Jayne Sutton, e-mail, 09.06.2011 21:05

I wondered if anyone out there can help me, I am looking for information /photo's /stories concerning 1st Class Airman Roy Junior Carter on the 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squad, 47th Bombardment Wing, based in Sculthorpe in 1957. Even the smallest amount of info' would be wonderful, Blue Skies to you all out there, Jayne


Arney Hudson, e-mail, 06.06.2011 21:39

I served with the 84th. Bomb Sqdn. for three years (1951-1954) at Langley and Sculthorp as a Radar technican maintaing the Q24 system. Was on flying status for a while flying Radar test flights.I always felt that the B45 was a fine airplane. Would like to hear from any former members of the 84th.


Klaatu, e-mail, 31.05.2011 20:09

This was the U.S. Air force's first operational jet bomber. As such, it deserves to be better remembered than is has been. It also enjoyed a highly successful operational career, although much of what it did was classified. Unfortunately the B-45 has been overshadowed by the Boeing B-47, which quickly succeeded it.

The B-45 was designed for service during World War II, and was a product of WW-II aerodynamic and operational thinking. In contrast, the B-47 was designed with the benefit of post-war technology, and represented a whole new generation.


J Zirin, e-mail, 12.04.2011 22:27

I was part of the modification team from Gentile AFB, sent to Norton AFB to modify the B-45, which included bigger engines, and 20 mm guns in a powered turret in the aft position. I watched the gun installers zero in the 20 mm guns at the calibration stations to ensure accuracy of the guns relative to the sights. The electronics suite was upgraded also to increase survivorability. This work was done Jan - Feb 1952.


Donald Hall, e-mail, 26.01.2011 02:47

I joined the 84th Bomb Squadron at Langley AFB, February 1952, transfering from SAC crewing an RB-36. I served as a radar technician maintaining the Q-24 Bombing System and Shoran set. I was on flight status both at Langley and Sculthorpe, flying test missions. I was at Sculthorpe until I rotated back to the States August 1954. Loved the plane, crews, and the experience in the 84th.


1-20 21-40 41-60

Do you have any comments?

Name    E-mail


All the World's Rotorcraft

All rhe World's Rotorcraft AVIATION TOP 100 -