Aviation History

60 Years Ago Today, the Surface-To-Air Missile Scored the First Ever Successful Shoot-Down of an Aircraft

On Oct. 7, 1959 an S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile was fired by China’s People’s Liberation Army 2nd surface-to-air missile battalion and shot down a Martin RB-57D Canberra high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

On Oct. 7, 1959 an S-75 Dvina (NATO designation SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missile (SAM) was fired by China’s People’s Liberation Army 2nd surface-to-air missile battalion in Beijing and shot down a Martin RB-57D Canberra high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, #5643, over Tong County Zhangjiawan. It was the first time that a surface-to-air missile had brought down an aircraft.

The pilot of the RB-57D, Lt. Wang Ying Chin from the Republic of China Air Force was killed.

It seems that Chin had made a premature descent while returning to Taiwan.

The pilot was flying over China as part of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program known as Diamond Lil.

CIA started to sponsor the program in 1958 and Chinese National pilots were trained to fly Martin RB-57D reconnaissance aircraft.

Six Black Cat Squadron Taiwanese pilots were trained on the B-57C at Laughlin AFB, Texas, then two RB-57Ds were ferried to Taoyuan Air Base, near Taipei, Taiwan in early 1959. During early 1959, they carried out deep penetration reconnaissance flights over the Chinese mainland, photographing airfields, military establishments and ports. They flew in Republic of China Air Force markings, being painted white on top and black on the bottom with lettering stenciled in red.

The program ended around 1964, when fatigue problems with the RB-57D wing spars forced the retirement of the surviving aircraft, which was returned to the USA. They were replaced by four Lockheed U-2s, all of which were subsequently lost in operations over the Chinese mainland.

Entering service in 1956, the same year as the more famous U-2, the RB-57D helped fill the U.S. Air Force’s need for a strategic reconnaissance aircraft that could fly high enough to avoid interception.

Martin built 20 RB-57Ds in three variants: 13 single-seat photoreconnaissance aircraft (seven of which could be refueled in mid-air), one single-seat radar mapping aircraft, and six two-seat electronic reconnaissance aircraft.

Remarkably, there was an even larger B-57 reconnaissance version, the 122-foot wingspan RB-57F. Beginning in 1963, General Dynamics converted 21 B-57 airframes (four of them RB-57Ds) into RB-57Fs. These aircraft performed missions similar to the RB-57D, and the last USAF-operated RB-57F was retired in the early 1970s.

Photo credit: U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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