There is no denying that American airpower played a crucial role in bringing Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan to their proverbial knees. American bombers including the B-17 and B-24 dominated the skies over Germany and Japan – but by war’s end, both were clearly aging technologies. Even the B-29, which carried the atomic bombs were used on Japan, was designed before the United States entered the war.
In 1944, the U.S. Army Air Corps faced a threat from the German jet aircraft including a jet bomber and issued a design competition for a jet-powered bomber. The U.S. War Department set forth a number of requirements for the bomber, but the war ended before much progress was made. Efforts to develop a jet bomber were further delayed by post-war cutbacks, but as tensions with the Soviet Union mounted it became apparent that a jet bomber was necessary.
The North American Aviation B-45, which made its first flight in March 1947, achieved a slew of firsts.
It was the first four-engine jet bomber to fly, the first American production jet bomber, the first jet bomber capable of carrying an atomic bomb and the first multi-jet reconnaissance aircraft to refuel in mid-air.
North American built 142 B-45 bombers including 10 long-range B-45Cs, which featured wingtip fuel tanks, and 33 RB-45Cs that were configured for high-altitude photo-reconnaissance and aerial refueling