NASA’s WB-57F BACN “flying gateway” once again heading to Afghanistan

At the end of last year, we reported about the return of a NASA WB-57 Canberra from operations in Afghanistan, where the civil-registered plane act as Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN).

BACN is technological “gateway” system that, acting as a sort-of middleware, interconnects different radio systems and datalinks and makes them able to transfer information and communicate.


The WB-57 bridges the gap between different kinetic platforms, such as U.S. Navy F/A-18s and USAF B-52 or B-1 bombers that are equipped with incompatible systems. Needless to say, its capability to link ground patrols, Forward Air Controllers (FACs)/Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and planes providing Close Air Support, is particularly important in Afghanistan, a theater where Line Of Sight communication can not always be established among the interested parties.

Consequently, WB-57s are frequently deployed in Asia.


One of them, NASA 928, flew there via Bermuda, Lajes and RAF Mildenhall last week. Its ferry flight could be easily tracked on Flight Aware, as the following screenshot shows.

wb-57 flight aware

The following picture show the WB-57 conducting final preps prior to the Afghan deployment. The ball turret system mounted on the nose houses houses an optical bench, providing installation of both HDTV and infrared cameras. According to the NASA website, optics consist of an 11-inch-diameter, 4.2 meter fixed-focal-length lens. The system can be operated in both auto track and manual modes.

BACN WB-57F side

A 32-inch-ball turret system was part of the WB-57 Ascent Video Experiment (WAVE) that enabled better observation of the Space Shuttle on days of heavier cloud cover.

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.