One of the three NASA (U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration) WB-57F high altitude research aircraft was recently spotted (via a commercial satellite photo) in a Franco-American special operations base in northeast Africa (Djibouti). It is believed that the WB-57F is providing communications or photo reconnaissance services for special operations troops who operate out of Djibouti.
NASA has been using the WB-57F got high altitude research since the 1960s mainly because of its ability to operate at very high altitudes and for long periods of time. The aircraft also has plenty of space for sensors. The WB-57F has been in great demand since September 11, 2001 and in 2011 it was decided that a third WB-57 was required and one of the 40 B-57s retired (in the 1970s) to the American desert storage area (the “boneyard”) was restored to service by 2013. One reason for this was the use of the two NASA WB-57s in Afghanistan over the last decade (one at a time) to provide high altitude communications relay (sort of an artificial communications satellite) and other undisclosed missions. It is believed that it was a WB-57F that produced the many aerial maps and other senor data that cataloged the immense untapped mineral resources in Afghanistan.
Britain, the country that created the B-57 as the Canberra, their first jet bomber finally retired in 2006 after 55 years of service. The two engine jet, although designed as a bomber, was quickly adapted to reconnaissance and electronic warfare missions. So successful was the Canberra at this that even the United States bought some 400 of them (as the B-57) for that role. The American Canberra's served from 1955 to 1981. Towards the end, the B-57 served mainly as an electronic warfare aircraft (as EB-57) and a strategic reconnaissance aircraft (as RB-57). The RB-57 was gradually replaced by the U-2 and the EB-57 by four engine jet transports.
In all, 1,352 Canberras were built. One reason for their popularity as recon aircraft was their ability to fly high (up to 21.5 kilometers/70,000 feet.) The 24 ton aircraft had a crew of three, and could stay in the air up to six hours per sortie. The internal bomb bay could hold 2.7 tons. This provided plenty of capacity for cameras, or electronic warfare equipment. Fifteen nations used Canberras, mostly as bombers. While one of the most versatile and long serving warplanes, it is also one of the least known. The last combat assignment for Canberras was flying recon missions over Iraq. Since 2006 B-57s continue to serve in the Pakistani and Taiwanese air forces as well as for several non-military U.S. government agencies.