There have only been a few instances where the USAF adopted a combat aircraft design from the US Navy, and the Douglas B-66 Destroyer was one of them, albeit not an unqualified success. The Air Force had found itself in need of a new tactical bomber once the fighting in Korea had started, to replace the limited number of aging Douglas Invaders. Procurement of the English Electric Canberra as the B-57 was one solution, while another was to buy a de-navalized version of the Douglas A3D Skywarrior. It was intended that the Air Force version, designated B-66, would have minimal changes, but these intentions would soon go by the side. The B-66 eventually matured as a virtually new aircraft, retaining only the A3D’s general lines, and to enjoy none of the “Whale’s” long lifespan.
Virtually the only improvement the Destroyer had over the Skywarrior was the installation of ejection seats; the Allison J71 engines selected for the Air Force version were definitely inferior to the A3D’s P&W J57s, and were to be a handicap throughout the B-66’s career. With all of the “improvements” the B-66 did not fly until 1954, and did not enter service for another two years after that. By that time the type was looking rather poorly when compared to supersonic aircraft then entering or nearing service, and the B-66’s strike role was to be short-lived. The airframes were adapted to electronic warfare roles, and as radar-guided threats increased in Southeast Asia, EB/RB-66s served as the USAF’s only jamming aircraft, protecting strike formations against SA-2 Guideline SAMs. However, the converted Destroyers could not keep up with fighter-bombers, and were quite vulnerable to interception by North Vietnamese MiG-21s, forcing the jammers to orbit away from target areas, reducing their effectiveness.
Despite their drawbacks and the effort of supporting increasingly elderly airframes and engines, the B-66s were what the USAF had for the mission, and the type was retained until 1974. Today, little more than a handful of Destroyers survive, among them RB-66B 53-0475 at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Dayton.
Magazine Articles and Photos:
Photo: “Latest Model RB-66 Tested” Aviation Week April 8, 1957 p.123
Photo: “JRB-66 Tail Cone Now Interchangeable” Aviation Week February 17, 1958 p.81
“USAF Expands East German Buffer Zone” Aviation Week & Space Technology April 6, 1964 p.19
Rene Francillon, Mick Roth “Aerofax Minigraph 19: Douglas B-66 Destroyer“ Aerofax, Inc. 1988 ISBN 0-942548-38-8
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases