North American RB-45 Tornado airplane model. At the end of 1944, the US Army issued a design competition for a jet-powered bomber. This urgent requirement given to aircraft manufacturers was precipitated by the discovery of secret documents and actual German jet aircraft captured during World War II. The first two American jet bombers produced were the North American B-45 Tornado and the Convair XB-46. The B-45 filled a critical gap in the US defense posture. As an Air Force bomber, it saw limited service with the Tactical Air Command during the 1950s and served well as a reconnaissance aircraft during the Korean war. The reconnaissance models were designated RB-45Cs and assigned to the Strategic Air Command. The Tornado also performed classified, deep penetration photographic intelligence missions over many cold war communist countries. The reconnaissance version of the B-45 became the forerunner of the U-2 and SR-71 surveillance aircraft.
The Air Force took initial delivery of the RB-45C in June 1950, and the RB-45Cs were earmarked primarily for SAC. The Command's inventory reached a peak of 38 aircraft in 1951, some B-45s being included in this total. However, no B/RB-45 aircraft remained in the SAC inventory by 1953. This did not spell the RB-45's end, as the aircraft went to other commands. By mid-1959 only 1 RC-45C remained in the Air Force inventory.