|Douglas B-66 Destroyer|
|Manufacturer||Douglas Aircraft Company|
|Designed by||Ed Heinemann|
|Primary user||United States Air Force|
|Unit cost||US$2.55 million (RB-66B)|
The Douglas B-66 Destroyer was a Strategic Air Command light bomber based on the United States Navy's A3D Skywarrior, and intended to replace the Douglas A-26 Invader. A RB-66 photo-reconnaissance version was ordered simultaneously and their airframes became the basis for the EB-66 electronic-warfare variant.
At first, the Air Force thought the conversion would be an easy matter of removing the carrier-specific features, so no prototypes were ordered, just five pre-production RB-66A models (the reconnaissance mission was deemed higher priority). The list of modifications grew, and before long, the easy conversion became a substantially new aircraft. Many of the changes were due to the Air Force's requirement for low-level operations, while the Navy plane was a high-altitude bomber, including conventional ejection seats.
The first RB-66A preproduction aircraft flew in 1954, while the first production RB-66B aircraft flew in early 1955. Deliveries to the USAF began in 1956, and 145 of this model were produced. They were used as the major night photo-reconnaissance aircraft of the USAF during this period.
Meanwhile, 72 of the B-66B bomber version were built, 69 fewer than originally planned. Thirteen B-66B aircraft were modified into EB-66B electronic countermeasures aircraft for the Vietnam War. Unlike the A-3 which performed some bombing missions, the Destroyer was not used as a bomber in Vietnam.
The RB-66C was a specialised electronic reconnaissance and ECM aircraft with a crew of seven; 36 were built. The additional crewmembers occupied what was the camera/bomb bay of other variants. RB-66C aircraft had distinctive wingtip pods. They were used over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and later over Vietnam. In 1966, they were redesignated EB-66C.
The final B-66 variant was the WB-66D weather reconnaissance aircraft, 36 of which were constructed.
The Northrop X-21A modified the WB-66D with an unusual wing to conduct Laminar Flow Control studies. Laminar-flow control was thought to potentially reduce drag by as much as 25%. Control would be by removal of a small amount of the boundary-layer air by suction through porous materials, multiple narrow surface slots, or small perforations. The B-66 fuselage was modified with a large hump on the top of the fuselage, with additional modifications to the wings, engines, laminar flow exhausts, and tail cone. Slots were incorporated in the wing's surface to inject air into the boundary layer. However, rain, dirt, dust and other particulates clogged the slots. Northrop began flight research in April of 1963 at Edwards Air Force Base, but with all of the problems encountered, and money going into the war, the X-21 would be the last experiment with this idea.
B-66 in the media
The story depicts the controversial rescue of Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, the navigator of an EB-66 (call sign "Bat 21"), and only survivor after the plane was struck by a surface to air missile on April 2, 1972. Lt. Col. Hambleton landed in an area containing over 30,000 North Vietnamese forces that were about to be ambushed and attacked by South Vietnamese forces. As a result, the attack was canceled while efforts were made to secure the rescue of Lt. Col. Hambleton. The delay resulted in the loss of an indeterminent but sizeable number of South Vietnamese soldiers as their positions were overrun, before American advisors initiated artillery attacks on the enemy forces in defiance of orders. Lt. Col. Hambleton was finally rescued by American and South Vietnamese SEAL soldiers Thomas R. Norris and Nguyen Van Kiet eleven and a half days later, but not before five aircraft and crews were shot down while attempting to rescue him, including a Bell UH-1H Huey (Blue Ghost 39) shot down on April 2 with the loss of three of five crewmen (and two POW's), an A-1 Skyraider shot down on April 4 with the loss of its crew, a Sikorsky HH-53 "Jolly Green Giant" (Jolly Green 67) that attempted to rescue Lt. Col. Hambleton and was shot down on April 6, resulting in the loss of all six crewmen, an OV-10 Bronco (Nail 38) that was lost on April 3, with the pilot captured, and another OV-10 Bronco (Covey 282) shot down on April 7, resulting in the weapons officer being captured and later executed. Nine additional aircraft and helicopters were badly damaged during the rescue attempts, most never to fly again.
- Crew: 3
- Length: 75 ft 2 in (22.9 m)
- Wingspan: 72 ft 6 in (22.1 m)
- Height: 23 ft 7 in (7.2 m)
- Wing area: 780 ft² (72.5 m²)
- Empty weight: 42,540 lb (19,300 kg)
- Loaded weight: 57,800 lb (26,200 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 83,000 lb (38,000 kg)
- Powerplant: 2× Allison J71-A-11 or -13 turbojets, 10,200 lbf (45 kN) each
- Maximum speed: 631 mph (548 knots, 1,020 km/h)
- Combat radius: 900 mi (780 nm, 1,500 km)
- Ferry range: 2,470 mi (2,150 nm, 3,970 km)
- Service ceiling: 39,400 ft (12,000 m)
- Rate of climb: 5,000 ft/min (25 m/s)
- Wing loading: 74.1 lb/ft² (361.4 kg/m²)
- Thrust/weight: 0.35
- APS-27 and K-5 radars
- Knaack, Marcelle Size (1988). Post-World War II bombers, 1945-1973. Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-16-002260-6.
-  B66.info
- B-66 "Destroyer" Website History of U.S. Tactical Warfare Website by former B-66 crews
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