Douglas B-66 Destroyer

The Douglas B-66 Destroyer is a light bomber designed and produced by the American aviation manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company.

The B-66 was developed for the United States Air Force (USAF) and is heavily based upon the United States Navy's A-3 Skywarrior, a heavy carrier-based attack aircraft. Originally, officials intended for the aircraft to be a simple development of the earlier A-3, taking advantage of being strictly land-based to dispense with unnecessary naval features. However, due to the USAF producing extensive and substantially divergent requirements, it became necessary to make considerable alterations to the design, leading to a substantial proportion of the B-66 being original rather than derived from the A-3. The B-66 retained the three-man crew arrangement of the US Navy's A-3; differences included the incorporation of ejection seats, which the A-3 had lacked.

Performing its maiden flight on 28 June 1954, the aircraft was introduced to USAF service during 1956. The standard model, designated B-66, was a bomber model that was procured to replace the aging Douglas A-26 Invader; in parallel, a dedicated photo reconnaissance model, designated RB-66, was also produced alongside. Later on, further variants of the type were developed, leading to the aircraft's use in signals intelligence (SIGINT), electronic countermeasures (ECM) and weather reconnaissance roles. Aircraft would commonly be forward deployed to bases in Europe, where they could more easily approach the airspace of the Soviet Union. Multiple variants would be deployed around Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. They would also see use during the American intervention in the Vietnam War, typically operating as support aircraft for other assets that were active over the skies of North Vietnam. The last examples of the type were withdrawn during 1975.

B-66 Destroyer
B-66 Destroyer
A Douglas B-66B (53-506) in flight
Role Light bomber
National origin United States
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
First flight 28 June 1954
Introduction 1956
Retired 1975[1] (USAF)
Primary user United States Air Force (USAF)
Number built 294[2]
Unit cost
US$2.55 million (RB-66B)[3]
Developed from Douglas A-3 Skywarrior
Developed into Northrop X-21

Design and development


Early on in the United States Navy's A-3 Skywarrior's development, several officials within the United States Air Force (USAF) had been sceptical of the design, some regarding its relatively low take-off weight of 68,000lb as being impossible to achieve.[4] In one instance, USAF general Hoyt Vandenberg ridiculed the proposed A-3 as "making irresponsible claims".[5] This hostile climate may be a result of the A-3 being intended to be operated from the planned United States-class "supercarriers," to which numerous high-ranking officials within the USAF were frequently critical of and were campaigning for the latter's cancellation, which eventually happened.[6]

However, as the flight test programme only validated its performance, it was recognised that the A-3 was capable of carrying out the same mission profile of the USAF's much larger Boeing B-47 Stratojet over an unrefuelled combat radius of almost 1,000 miles. Coupled with the development costs having already been paid by the navy, the cost and performance of a land-based A-3 derivative was quite promising, especially in light of the USAF's pressing needs from the Korean War.[4] Accordingly, during the early 1950s, the service openly expressed interest in procuring its own version of the A-3 to perform land-based missions for the USAF.[4]


USAF officials had originally intended the conversion to be a relatively straightforward matter of removing the carrier-specific features and fitting USAF avionics, but otherwise adhering as closely as possible to the original A-3 design.[4] For this reason, no prototypes were ordered when the USAF issued its contract to Douglas in June 1952, instead having opted for five pre-production RB-66A models to be supplied, the aerial reconnaissance mission being considered to be a high priority for the type. However, this contract would be amended, involving multiple new variants that were added and swapped about.[4] Likewise, the list of modifications sought quickly expanded; to meet the changing requirements, the supposedly easy conversion would become what was essentially an entirely new aircraft.[4]

A percentage of the changes made were a result of the USAF's requirement for the B-66 to perform low-level operations, the complete opposite of the US Navy's A-3, which had been developed and operated as a high-altitude nuclear strike bomber. However, Gunston and Gilchrist attribute many of the design changes to have been made "merely to be different", being driven by an intense rivalry between the two services; they conclude that "an objective assessment might conclude that 98 per cent of the changes introduced in the RB-66A were unnecessary".[7] Both the fuselage and wing were entirely redesigned from scratch, rather than simply de-navalised.[8] The A-3 was powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engines, whereas the B-66 used two Allison J71 engines; Gunston and Gilchrist note that this engine swap "offered no apparent advantage", generating less thrust and being more fuel-hungry than the original J57 unit, which was also already in USAF use.[8]

Due to the engine change, this necessitated a complete redesign of the power systems as well, repositioning all hydraulic pumps and generators onto the engines themselves instead of being fed with bleed air from within the fuselage.[8] The pressurized crew compartment was given a different structure, adopting a very deep glazed front position for the pilot. The landing gear was also redesigned, even implementing a completely different door geometry.[9] An impactful difference was the decision to equip the B-66 with ejection seats, a feature which the A-3 had lacked entirely.[8] Aviation authors Bill Gunston and Peter Gilchrist observe of the B-66 that: "The history of the aviation is sprinkled with aircraft which, to save money, were intended to be merely a modified version of an existing type. In very few cases it actually happened like this... the B-66 is a classic example".[4]

Into flight

On 28 June 1954, the first of the RB-66A pre-production aircraft conducted its maiden flight, development being only slightly behind schedule despite the substantial redesign work involved.[10] The test programme conducted with the five pre-production aircraft heavily contributed to improvements introduced upon the subsequent production aircraft. On 4 January 1955, the first production B-66B aircraft, which featured an increased gross weight and numerous other refinements, performed its first flight.[10] Deliveries of the B-66B commenced on 16 March 1956. However, the USAF decided to curtail the bomber variant's procurement, cancelling a further 69 B-66Bs and largely relegating the model for use in various test programmes.[10]

Once in service, the aircraft's design proved to be relatively versatile. The principal production model was the RB-66B, which incorporated the bomber version's upgrades.[10] Furthermore, it was either produced or retrofitted into a variety of other versions, including the EB-66, RB-66, and the WB-66. Likewise, many variants of the US Navy's A-3 Skywarrior were also produced.

Operational history

Douglas RB-66B 54-506 19 TRS Scul BWD 18.05.57 edited-2
RB-66B of 19 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron based at RAF Sculthorpe England in 1957

During 1956, deliveries to the USAF commenced. A total of 145 RB-66Bs would be produced. In service, the RB-66 would function as the primary night photo-reconnaissance aircraft of the USAF during this period; accordingly, many examples served with tactical reconnaissance squadrons based overseas, typically being stationed in the United Kingdom and West Germany. A total of 72 of the B-66B bomber version were built, 69 fewer aircraft than had been originally planned. A total of 13 B-66B aircraft later were modified into EB-66B electronic countermeasures (ECM) aircraft, which played a forward role in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and were stationed at RAF Chelveston with the 42nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, who performed the conversion during the early 1960s. They would rotate out of an alert pad in Spain during the time that the 42nd had them.

These aircraft, along with the RB-66Cs that the 42nd received, would subsequently see combat service during the Vietnam War when the US chose to intervene in the conflict between the capitalist South Vietnam and the communist North Vietnam. Unlike the US Navy's A-3 Skywarrior, which performed bombing missions in the theatre, the Destroyer was never once used to perform bombing missions in Vietnam.

The RB-66C was a specialized electronic reconnaissance and electronic countermeasures (ECM) aircraft; according to Gunston and Gilchrist, it was the first aircraft designed from the onset for electronic intelligence (ELINT) missions.[1] It was operated by an expanded crew of seven, which included the additional electronics warfare specialists. A total of 36 of these aircraft were constructed; the additional crew members were housed in the space that was used to accommodate the camera/bomb bay of other variants, these aircraft were outfitted with distinctive wingtip pods that accommodated various receiver antennas, which were also present upon a belly-mounted blister.[1] Several RB-66Cs were operated in the vicinity of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, they would also be deployed over Vietnam. During 1966, these planes were re-designated as EB-66C.

Unarmed EB-66B, EB-66C and EB-66E aircraft flew numerous missions during the Vietnam War. They helped gather electronic intelligence about North Vietnamese defenses, and provided protection for bombing missions of the F-105s by jamming North Vietnamese radar systems. Early on, B-66s flew oval "racetrack" patterns over North Vietnam, but after one B-66 was shot down by a MiG, the vulnerable flights were ordered to fly just outside North Vietnamese air space.

On 10 March 1964, a 19th TRS RB-66C flying on a photo-reconnaissance mission from the Toul-Rosières Air Base in France, was shot down over East Germany by a Soviet MiG-21 after it had crossed over the border due to a compass malfunction. The crew ejected from the aircraft and, following a brief period of detention, were repatriated to the United States.

The final Douglas B-66 variant was the WB-66D weather reconnaissance aircraft; 36 were built.

By 1975, the last EB-66C/E aircraft had been withdrawn from USAF service. Most aircraft were scrapped in place, others were temporarily stored while awaiting eventual scrapping.


(Douglas Model 1326) All-weather photo-reconnaissance variant, five built.
(Douglas Model 1329) Variant of the RB-66A with production J71-A-13 engines and higher gross weight, 149 built.
(Douglas Model 1327A) Tactical bomber variant of the RB-66B, 72 built.
One B-66B used for testing and a RB-66B used for F-111 radar trials.
Electronic reconnaissance variant of the RB-66B, included an additional compartment for four equipment operators, 36 built.
Four RB-66Cs with uprated electronic countermeasures equipment.
Electronic weather reconnaissance variant with the crew compartment modified for two observers, 36 built with two later modified to X-21A.
Specialized electronic reconnaissance conversion of the B-66B.

Northrop X-21

Douglas EB-66E Destroyer in flight 061103-F-1234P-006
Douglas EB-66E Destroyer in flight. Aircraft of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, 41st or 42nd TEWS based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base over Southeast Asia on 30 March 1970.

The Northrop X-21 was a modified WB-66D with an experimental wing, designed 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. Northrop began flight research in April 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 involving this concept.[11]


 United States

United States Air Force

Spangdahlem Air Base, West Germany 1957-59
RAF Alconbury, England 1959-66
  • 9th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (RB/WB-66)
Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina 1956-66
  • 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (RB-66)
Yokota Air Base, Japan 1956-60
RAF Sculthorpe, England 1956-59
Spangdahlem Air Base, West Germany 1959
RAF Bruntingthorpe, England 1959-62
Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France 1962-65
Chambley-Bussieres Air Base, France 1965-66
Shaw AFB, South Carolina 1966-67
Shaw AFB, South Carolina 1967-68
Itazuke Air Base, Japan 1968-69
Kadena Air Base, Japan 1969-70
Sembach Air Base, West Germany 1957-58
Spangdahlem AB, West Germany 1969-72
  • 39th Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron (EB/RB-66)
Shaw AFB, South Carolina 1969-74
  • 41st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (EB/RB-66)
Shaw AFB, South Carolina 1956-59
Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand 1965-67
  • 41st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (EB/RB-66)
Takhli Air Base, Thailand 1967-69
  • 42d Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (B/EB/RB/WB-66)
Spangdahlem AB, West Germany 1956-59
RAF Chelveston, England 1959-62
Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France 1962-63
Chambley-Bussieres Air Base, France 1963-66
  • 42d Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (EB/RB-66)
Takhli Air Base, Thailand 1968-70
Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand 1970-74
  • 43d Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (RB-66)
Shaw AFB, South Carolina 1956-59
  • 4411th Combat Crew Training Group (B/EB/RB/WB-66)
Shaw AFB, South Carolina 1959-66
  • 4416th Test Squadron (EB/RB-66)
Shaw AFB, South Carolina 1963-70
  • 4417th Combat Crew Training Squadron (EB/RB-66)
Shaw AFB, South Carolina 1966-69

Aircraft on display

Douglas RB-66B Destroyer

Specifications (B-66B)

Data from McDonnell Douglas aircraft since 1920 : Volume I[18]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 3 (Pilot, Navigator and EWO)
  • Length: 75 ft 2 in (22.91 m)
  • Wingspan: 72 ft 6 in (22.10 m)
  • Height: 23 ft 7 in (7.19 m)
  • Wing area: 780 sq ft (72 m2)
  • Empty weight: 42,549 lb (19,300 kg)
  • Gross weight: 57,800 lb (26,218 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 83,000 lb (37,648 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Allison J71-A-11 (later Allison J71-A-13) turbojet engines, 10,200 lbf (45 kN) thrust each


  • Maximum speed: 548 kn (631 mph, 1,015 km/h) at 6,000 ft (1,800 m)
  • Cruise speed: 459 kn (528 mph, 850 km/h)
  • Combat range: 782 nmi (900 mi, 1,448 km)
  • Ferry range: 2,146 nmi (2,470 mi, 3,974 km)
  • Service ceiling: 39,400 ft (12,000 m)
  • Rate of climb: 5,000 ft/min (25 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 74.1 lb/sq ft (362 kg/m2)


  • Guns: 2 20 mm M24 cannon in radar-controlled/remotely operated tail turret
  • Bombs: 15000 lb (6,803.9 kg)


  • APS-27 and K-5 radars

Notable appearances in media

The shooting down of an EB-66 over North Vietnam and the subsequent rescue of one of its crew became the subject for the book Bat*21 by William Charles Anderson, and later a film version (1988) starring Gene Hackman and Danny Glover.

See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists



  1. ^ a b c Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 164.
  2. ^ "Douglas B-66 Destroyer." Archived November 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved: 5 August 2010.
  3. ^ Knaack, Marcelle Size. Post-World War II Bombers, 1945-1973. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1988. ISBN 0-16-002260-6.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 161.
  5. ^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 129.
  6. ^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 128.
  7. ^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, pp. 161-162.
  8. ^ a b c d Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 162.
  9. ^ Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, pp. 162-163.
  10. ^ a b c d Gunston and Gilchrist 1993, p. 163.
  11. ^ "B-66 Information." Archived 14 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved: 5 August 2010.
  12. ^ "B-66 Destroyer/53-0466.", Retrieved: 4 June 2015.
  13. ^ "Douglas RB-66B Destroyer." National Museum of the US Air Force, Retrieved: 24 August 2015.
  14. ^ "B-66 Destroyer/54-0465.", Retrieved: 4 June 2015.
  15. ^ "B-66 Destroyer/55-0390.", Retrieved: 4 June 2015.
  16. ^ "B-66 Destroyer/55-0392." Museum of Aviation, Retrieved: 18 December 2017.
  17. ^ "B-66 Destroyer/55-0395." Pima Air & Space Museum, Retrieved: 4 June 2015.
  18. ^ Francillon, René J. (1988). McDonnell Douglas aircraft since 1920 : Volume I. London: Naval Institute Press. pp. 498–505. ISBN 0870214284.


  • Baugher, Joe. "Douglas B-66 Destroyer." USAAC/USAAF/USAF Bomber Aircraft: Third Series of USAAC/USAAF/USAF Bombers, 2001. Retrieved: 27 July 2006.
  • Donald, David and Jon Lake, eds. Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft. London: AIRtime Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-880588-24-2.
  • Gunston, Bill and Peter Gilchrist. Jet Bombers: From the Messerschmitt Me 262 to the Stealth B-2. Osprey, 1993. ISBN 1-85532-258-7.
  • "Douglas RB-66B 'Destroyer'." National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved: 27 July 2006.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Douglas A-3 Skywarrior." Military Aircraft of the Cold War (The Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2006. ISBN 1-84013-929-3.

External links

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122d Fighter Squadron

The 122d Fighter Squadron is a unit of the Louisiana Air National Guard 159th Fighter Wing located at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Louisiana. The 122d is equipped with the F-15C/D Eagle.

The squadron is a descendant organization of the 122d Observation Squadron, established on 30 July 1940. It is one of the 29 original National Guard Observation Squadrons of the United States Army National Guard formed before World War II.

17th Bombardment Group

The 17th Bombardment Group is an inactive United States Air Force unit. The group was last stationed at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

The Group is a direct successor to the 17th Pursuit Group, one of the 15 original combat air groups formed by the Army before World War II. The 17th's heritage traces back to World War I, when the 95th Aero Squadron played a key role in the St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, and other Allied campaigns. These battles are symbolized by the seven pattee crosses on the 17th's shield, and it was from the 95th, together with the 34th and 73d Pursuit Squadrons, that the 17th first was formed.

The Group's aircraft and many of its aircrews took part in the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Imperial Japan came from the 17th Bombardment Group. During World War II the 17th Bomb Group was the only combat organization to fight all three of the Axis powers (Japan, Italy, and Germany) on three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe).

39th Flying Training Squadron

The 39th Flying Training Squadron is part of the 340th Flying Training Group and is the reserve associate to the 12th Flying Training Wing based at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

The squadron was first activated as the 39th Pursuit Squadron in the buildup of the United States Army Air Corps in response to the War in Europe. It moved to the Pacific Coast in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and briefly flew antisubmarine patrols before deploying to the Southwest Pacific Theater, earning two Distinguished Unit Citations (DUC)s and a Philippine Presidential Unit Citation for its actions during the war.

The squadron remained in the Far East and as the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron was part of the air defenses of Japan when North Korea invaded South Korea. The 39th earned two more DUCs and a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation during combat in Korea. Following the 1953 truce, the squadron returned to Japan, serving as an air defense unit until inactivating in December 1957.

The squadron was activated as the 39th Tactical Reconnaissance Training Squadron in 1969 when Tactical Air Command replaced its Command controlled (4 digit) units with Air Force controlled units. It trained Douglas B-66 Destroyer aircrews until inactivating in 1974.

The squadron has been a flying training unit since 1990, except for a brief stint as a test squadron.

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Allison J71

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Douglas B-66 Destroyer

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Douglas A-3 Skywarrior

The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior was a jet-powered strategic bomber developed and produced by the Douglas Aircraft Company.

It was designed by Douglas on behalf of the United States Navy, which sought a carrier-capable strategic bomber. During July 1949, Douglas was awarded the contract to produce its design, having bested eight other aircraft company's submissions. Unlike rival designs, which had aimed for a 100,000lb maximum take-off weight, the Skywarrior was developed for a 68,000lb take-off weight, facilitating its use from the navy's existing Midway-class aircraft carriers. Large portions of the aircraft were produced by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, including its early Westinghouse J40 turbojet engines, which failed to meet promises and were replaced by the rival Pratt & Whitney J57 engine by mid-1953. On 28 October 1952, the prototype XA3D-1 performed the type's maiden flight.

On 31 March 1956, the Skywarrior entered squadron service with the Navy. Initially used as the nuclear-armed strategic bomber role, the emergence of effective ballistic missiles led to this mission being deprioritised by the early 1960s. Throughout the majority of its later service life, the Skywarrior was tasked with various secondary missions, which included use as an electronic warfare platform, tactical reconnaissance aircraft, and high capacity aerial refueling tanker. It was among the longest serving carrier-based aircraft in history, having entered service during the mid-1950s and withdrawn from use in 1991. Throughout its service, the Skywarrior was the heaviest operational aircraft to operate from an aircraft carrier, which contributed to its nickname of "Whale".

The Skywarrior is one of only two U.S. Navy attack aircraft intended as a strategic bomber to enter full-scale service, the other being its predecessor, the North American AJ Savage. The carrier-based supersonic North American A-5 Vigilante was also originally designed for strategic nuclear strike missions and initially, very briefly, supplanted the A-3 in that role beginning in the early 1960s. A modified derivative of the Skywarrior, the B-66 Destroyer, served in the United States Air Force, where it was operated as a tactical bomber, electronic warfare aircraft, and aerial reconnaissance platform up until its withdrawal during the 1970s.

Douglas Aircraft Company

The Douglas Aircraft Company was an American aerospace manufacturer based in Southern California. It was founded in 1921 by Donald Wills Douglas Sr. and later merged with McDonnell Aircraft in 1967 to form McDonnell Douglas, when it then operated as a division of McDonnell Douglas. McDonnell Douglas later merged with Boeing in 1997.

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List of United States bomber aircraft

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McDonnell F3H Demon

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It was withdrawn before it could serve in Vietnam when both it and the Crusader were replaced on Forrestal-class and similar supercarriers by the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. McDonnell's Phantom, which was equally capable against ground, fighter, and bomber targets, bears a strong family resemblance, as it was conceived as an advanced development of the Demon. The supersonic United States Air Force F-101 Voodoo was similar in layout, but was derived from the earlier XF-88 Voodoo, which also influenced the Demon's layout.

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The Yakovlev Yak-28 (Russian: Яковлев Як-28) is a swept wing, turbojet-powered combat aircraft used by the Soviet Union. Produced initially as a tactical bomber, it was also manufactured in reconnaissance, electronic warfare, interceptor, and trainer versions, known by the NATO reporting names Brewer, Firebar, and Maestro respectively. Based on the Yak-129 prototype first flown on 5 March 1958, it began to enter service in 1960.

Douglas military aircraft
Ground attack
Training aircraft
USAAS/USAAC/USAAF/USAF bomber designations, Army/Air Force and Tri-Service systems
Original sequences
Main sequence
Long-range Bomber
Tri-Service sequence
United States military reconnaissance aircraft designations, Army/Air Force and Tri-Service systems
Army/Air Force main sequence
Reconnaissance-strike sequence
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