North American XB-70 Valkyrie

North American XB-70 Valkyrie
XB-70 Valkyrie
White delta-wing aircraft overflying mountains. At the front of aircraft are canards. Tips of wings are drooped down.
XB-70 of Dryden Flight Research Center in 1968
Role Strategic bomber
Supersonic research aircraft
Manufacturer North American Aviation
First flight 21 September 1964
Retired 4 February 1969
Status Retired
Primary users United States Air Force
Number built 2
Program cost US$1.5 billion[1]
Unit cost $750 million (average cost)

The North American Aviation XB-70 Valkyrie was the prototype version of the proposed B-70 nuclear-armed deep-penetration strategic bomber for the United States Air Force's (USAF) Strategic Air Command. Designed by North American Aviation in the late 1950s, the Valkyrie was a large six-engined aircraft able to fly Mach 3+ at an altitude of 70,000 feet (21,000 m), which would have allowed it to avoid interceptors, the only effective anti-bomber weapon at the time.

The introduction of effective high-altitude surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), the program's high development costs, and changes in the technological environment with the introduction of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs) led to the cancellation of the B-70 program in 1961. Although the proposed fleet of operational B-70 bombers was canceled, two prototype aircraft were built as the XB-70A and used in supersonic test flights from 1964 to 1969. One prototype crashed following a midair collision in 1966; the other is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio.




As an offshoot of Boeing's MX-2145 manned boost-glide bomber project, the company partnered with RAND Corporation in January 1954 to explore what sort of aircraft would be needed to deliver the various nuclear weapons then under development. Providing for a long range and high payload were obvious requirements, but they also concluded that after bomb-release the plane would need supersonic speed to escape the weapon's critical blast-radius. An aircraft capable of carrying a reasonable bomb load to the Soviet Union from the continental United States had to carry a large fuel load (and thus be very large itself) due to the unrefueled range required.[2][3] The need for supersonic performance would only increase this, dramatically.

The aviation industry had been examining this problem for some time. There was considerable interest in the use of nuclear powered aircraft in the bomber role from the mid-1940s.[4][5][N 1] This would allow the aircraft to have effectively unlimited range without requiring unlimited fuel loads, as jet fuel would only be needed for high-speed flight. Another possibility was the use of boron-enriched "zip fuels", which improved the energy density of the fuel by about 40%,[6] and could be used in versions of existing jet engine designs.[6]

The U.S. Air Force followed these developments closely, and in October 1954 issued General Operational Requirement No. 38 for a new bomber with the intercontinental range of the B-52 and the Mach 2 top speed of the Convair B-58 Hustler.[7] The new bomber was expected to enter service in 1963.[8][N 2] Both nuclear and conventional designs would be considered. The nuclear-powered bomber was placed under "Weapon System 125A" and pursued simultaneously with the jet-powered version, "Weapon System 110A".[9]

NAA's original proposal for WS-110A. The "floating panels" are large fuel tanks the size of a B-47.[10]

The USAF Air Research and Development Command's (ARDC) requirement for WS-110A asked for a chemical fuel bomber with Mach 0.9 cruising speed and "maximum possible" speed during a 1,000 nautical miles (1,609 km) entrance and exit from the target. The requirement also called for a 50,000 pound (22,670 kg) payload and a combat radius of 4,000 nautical miles (4,600 mi, 7,400 km).[1] The Air Force formed similar requirements for an WS-110L intercontinental reconnaissance system in 1955, but this was later canceled in 1958 due to better options.[11][12][13] In July 1955 six contractors were selected to bid on WS-110A studies.[9] Boeing and North American Aviation (NAA) submitted proposals, and on 8 November 1955 were awarded contracts for Phase 1 development.[12]

In mid-1956, initial designs were presented by the two companies.[14][15] Zip fuel was to be used in the afterburners to improve range by 10% to 15% over conventional fuel.[16] Both designs featured huge wing tip fuel tanks that could be jettisoned when their fuel was depleted before a supersonic dash to the target. The tanks also included the outer portions of the wing, which would also be jettisoned to produce a smaller wing planform suitable for supersonic speeds.[14]

The two designs had takeoff weights of approximately 750,000 pounds (340,000 kg) with large fuel loads. The Air Force evaluated the designs, and in September 1956 deemed them too large and complicated for operations.[17] The USAF ended Phase 1 development in October 1956 and instructed the two contractors to continue design studies.[15][17][18] Curtis LeMay was dismissive, declaiming that "This is not an airplane, it's a three-ship formation."[19]

New designs

During the period that the original proposals were being studied, advances in supersonic flight were proceeding rapidly. The "long thin delta" was establishing itself as a preferred planform for supersonic flight, replacing earlier designs like the swept wing and compound sweep as seen on designs like the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (and the earlier NAA design for WS-110). Engines able to cope with higher temperatures and widely varying inlet air speeds were also under design, allowing for sustained supersonic speeds. By March 1957, engine development and wind tunnel testing had progressed such that the potential for all-supersonic flight appeared feasible – the cruise-and-dash approach that had resulted in huge designs was no longer needed.[17]

The project decided that the aircraft would fly at speeds up to Mach 3 for the entire mission, instead of a combination of subsonic cruise and supersonic dash of the aircraft designs in the previous year. Zip fuel was to be burned in the engine's afterburner to increase range.[17][20] Both North American and Boeing returned new designs with very long fuselages and large delta wings. They differed primarily in engine layout; the NAA design arranged its six engines in a semi-circular duct under the rear fuselage, while the Boeing design used separate podded engines located individually on pylons below the wing.[16]

NAA's final WS-110A proposal, built as the XB-70

North American had scoured the literature to find any additional advantage. This led them to an obscure report by two NACA wind tunnel experts who wrote a report in 1956 entitled "Aircraft Configurations Developing High Lift-Drag Ratios at High Supersonics Speeds".[21] Known today as compression lift, the idea was to use the shock wave generated off the nose or other sharp points on the aircraft as a source of high pressure air.[22] By carefully positioning the wing in relation to the shock, the shock's high pressure could be captured on the bottom of the wing and generate additional lift. To take maximum advantage of this effect, they redesigned the underside of the aircraft to feature a large triangular intake area far forward of the engines, better positioning the shock in relation to the wing.[23]

North American improved on the basic concept by adding a set of drooping wing tip panels that were lowered at high speed. This helped trap the shock wave under the wing between the downturned wing tips, and also added more vertical surface to the aircraft to improve directional stability at high speeds.[22] NAA's solution had an additional advantage, as it decreased the surface area of the rear of the wing when they were moved into their high speed position. This helped offset the rearward shift of the center of pressure, or "average lift point", with increasing speeds. Under normal conditions this caused an increasing nose-down trim, which had to be offset by moving the control surfaces, increasing drag. When the wing tips were drooped the surface area at the rear of the wings was lowered, moving the lift forward and counteracting this effect, reducing the need for control inputs.[24]

The buildup of heat due to skin friction during sustained supersonic flight had to be addressed. During a Mach 3 cruise the aircraft would reach an average of 450 °F (230 °C), although there were portions as high as 650 °F (340 °C). NAA proposed building their design out of a sandwich panels, consisting of two thin sheets of stainless steel brazed to opposite faces of a honeycomb-shaped foil core. Expensive titanium would be used only in high-temperature areas like the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer, and the nose.[25] For cooling the interior, the XB-70 pumped fuel en route to the engines through heat exchangers.[26]

On 30 August 1957, the Air Force decided that enough data was available on the NAA and Boeing designs that a competition could begin. On 18 September, the Air Force issued operational requirements which called for a cruising speed of Mach 3.0 to 3.2, an over-target altitude of 70,000-75,000 ft (21,300-22,700 m), a range of up to 10,500 mi (16,900 km), and a gross weight not to exceed 490,000 lb (222,000 kg). The aircraft would have to use the hangars, runways and handling procedures used by the B-52. On 23 December 1957, the North American proposal was declared the winner of the competition, and on 24 January 1958, a contract was issued for Phase 1 development.[13]

In February 1958, the proposed bomber was designated B-70,[13] with the prototypes receiving the "X" experimental prototype designation. The name "Valkyrie" was the winning submission in spring 1958, selected from 20,000 entries in a USAF "Name the B-70" contest.[27] The Air Force approved an 18-month program acceleration in March 1958 that rescheduled the first flight to December 1961.[13] But in the fall of 1958 the service announced that this acceleration would not be possible due to lack of funding.[28] In December 1958, a Phase II contract was issued. The mockup of the B-70 was reviewed by the Air Force in March 1959. Provisions for air-to-surface missiles and external fuel tanks were requested afterward.[29] At the same time North American was developing the F-108 supersonic interceptor. To reduce program costs, the F-108 would share two of the engines, the escape capsule, and some smaller systems with the B-70.[30]

Reconnaissance/Strike to search and knock out rail-based ICBMs[31] used refueling from tankers (at left) for two profiles.
• 7,748 nmi: high altitude USSR overflight descends for Diego Garcia landing (spirals depicted at right)
• 6,447 nmi: lands in Turkey after 1,200 nmi flight from target (mushroom clouds)
• 5,312 nmi: 856 nmi (1½ hr) Mach 0.95 "on-the-deck"approach to target

The "missile problem"

The B-70 was planned to use a high-speed, high-altitude bombing approach that followed a trend of bombers flying progressively faster and higher since the start of manned bomber use.[32] Anti-aircraft artillery with the ability to reach jet bomber altitudes of 50,000 ft and above were extremely expensive, and had almost no chance of a hit as the aircraft quickly flew out of range. Interceptor aircraft were the only effective anti-bomber weapons by the early 1950s, but high altitudes were an issue for them as well; Soviet interceptors during the late 1950s could not intercept the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft which routinely flew past them.[33] Adding speed made the interception problem that much more difficult, giving the defenders less time to launch their fighters.

The introduction of the first effective anti-aircraft missiles by the late 1950s had seriously upset this equation.[34] Missiles could stand ready for rapid launch directly at the bombers, and had greater altitude capability than any aircraft. The US was aware of Soviet work in the field, and had reduced the expected operational lifetime of the U-2, expecting that it would become vulnerable to these missiles as they were improved.[35] This eventuality came to pass in the 1960 downing of the U-2 flown by Gary Powers.

Faced with this problem, military doctrine had already started shifting away from high-altitude supersonic bombing toward low-altitude penetration. As radar operates on the line-of-sight, aircraft could dramatically shorten detection distances by flying close to the Earth and hiding behind terrain.[36] Missile sites spaced to overlap in range when attacking bombers at high altitudes would leave large gaps between their coverage for bombers flying at lower levels. With an appropriate map, the bombers could fly around the defences. Additionally, early missiles generally flew unguided for a period of time before the radar systems were able to track the missile and start sending it guidance signals. With the SA-2 Guideline missile this minimum altitude was roughly 2,000 feet.[37]

Flying at low level provided protection against interceptors as well. Radars of the era did not have the ability to "look down"; if aimed down to detect targets at a lower altitude, the reflection of the ground would overwhelm the signal returned from a target. An interceptor flying at normal altitudes would be effectively blind to bombers below it. The interceptor could descend to lower altitudes to increase the amount of visible sky above it, but doing so would limit its radar range in the same way as the missile sites, as well as greatly increasing fuel use and thus reducing mission time. The Soviet Union would not introduce an interceptor with look-down capability until 1972 with the High Lark radar, which had very limited capability.[38] A truly effective look-down/shoot-down system did not appear until the introduction of the Flash Dance radar on the Mikoyan MiG-31 in the 1980s.[39]

Strategic Air Command found itself in an uncomfortable position; bombers had been tuned for efficiency at high speeds and altitudes, performance that had been purchased at great cost. Before the B-70 was to replace the B-52 in the long-range role, SAC had introduced the B-58 Hustler to replace the B-47 Stratojet in the medium-range role. The Hustler was expensive to develop and purchase, and required enormous amounts of fuel and maintenance in comparison to the B-47. It was estimated that it cost three times as much to operate than the much larger and longer-ranged B-52.[40] Flying at lower altitudes, where the air density is much higher, drag on the aircraft was significantly higher and limited its range and speed. At low altitudes, the Hustler ended up with performance that was only a small improvement over the B-47 it was meant to replace.

The B-70, designed for even higher speeds, altitudes and range than the B-58, suffered even more in relative terms. The B-70 was limited to only Mach 0.95 at low altitudes, only modestly higher than the B-52 at the same altitudes. It also had a smaller bombload and shorter range.[10] Its only major advantage would be its ability to use high speed in areas without missile cover, especially on the long journey from the USA to USSR. The value was limited; the USAF's doctrine stressed that the primary reason for maintaining the bomber force in an era of ICBMs was that the bombers remained in the air at long ranges from their bases and were thus immune to sneak attack.[41] In this case, the higher speed would only be used for a short period of time between the staging areas and the Soviet coastline.

Adding to the problems, the zip fuel program was canceled in 1959.[6] After burning, the fuel turned into liquids and solids that increased wear on moving turbine engine components.[N 3] Although the B-70 intended to use zip only in the afterburners, and thus avoid this problem, the enormous cost of the zip program for such limited gains led to its cancellation. This by itself was not a fatal problem, however, as newly developed high-energy fuels like JP-6 were available that made up some of the difference. By filling one of the two bomb bays with a fuel tank, range was reduced only slightly, although payload space suffered.[43] Also, the F-108 program was canceled in September 1959, which ended the shared development that benefited the B-70 program.[30]

Downsizing, upswing, cancellation

At two secret meetings on 16 and 18 November 1959, General Twining recommended the Air Force's plan for the B-70 to reconnoiter and strike rail-mobile Soviet ICBMs, but General White admitted the Soviets would "be able to hit the B-70 with rockets" and requested the B-70 be downgraded to "a bare minimum research and development program" at $200 million for fiscal year 1960. President Eisenhower responded that the reconnaissance and strike mission was "crazy" since the nuclear mission was attacking known production and military complexes, and emphasized he saw no need for the B-70 since the ICBM is "a cheaper, more effective way of doing the same thing". Eisenhower also identified that the B-70 would not be in manufacturing until "eight to ten years from now" and "said he thought we were talking about bows and arrows at a time of gunpowder when we spoke of bombers in the missile age."[31] In December 1959 the Air Force announced the B-70 project would be cut to a single prototype, and most of the planned B-70 subsystems would no longer be developed.[44]

Then interest increased due to the politics of presidential campaign of 1960. A central plank of John F. Kennedy's campaign was that Eisenhower and the Republicans were weak on defense, and pointed to the B-70 as an example. He told a San Diego audience near NAA facilities that "I endorse wholeheartedly the B-70 manned aircraft."[45] Kennedy also made similar campaign claims regarding other aircraft: near the Seattle Boeing plant he affirmed the need for B-52s and in Fort Worth he praised the B-58.[46]

The Air Force changed the program to full weapon development and awarded a contract for a XB-70 prototype and 11 YB-70s in August 1960.[44][47] In November 1960, the B-70 program received a $265 million appropriation from Congress for FY 1961.[48][49] Nixon, trailing in his home state of California, also publicly endorsed the B-70, and on 30 October Eisenhower helped the Republican campaign with a pledge of an additional $155 million for the B-70 development program.[50]

On taking office in January 1961, Kennedy was informed that the missile gap was an illusion.[51][N 4] On 28 March 1961,[52] after $800 million had been spent on the B-70 program, Kennedy canceled the project as "unnecessary and economically unjustifiable"[50] because it "stood little chance of penetrating enemy defenses successfully."[53] Instead, Kennedy recommended "the B-70 program be carried forward essentially to explore the problem of flying at three times the speed of sound with an airframe potentially useful as a bomber."[50]

After Congress approved $290 million of B-70 "add-on" funds to the President's 12 May 1960 modified FY 1961 budget, the Administration decided on a "Planned Utilization" of only $100 million of these funds. The Department of Defense subsequently presented data to Congress that the B-70 would add little performance for the high cost.[54] However, after becoming the new Air Force Chief of Staff in July 1961, Curtis LeMay increased his B-70 advocacy, including interviews for August Reader's Digest and November Aviation Week articles, and allowing a 25 February General Electric tour at which the press was provided artist conceptions of, and other info about, the B-70. Congress had also continued B-70 appropriations in an effort to resurrect bomber development. After the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara explained again to the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on 24 January 1962 that the B-70 was unjustifiable, LeMay subsequently argued for the B-70 to both the House and Senate committees—and was chastised by McNamara on 1 March. By 7 March 1962, the HASC—with 21 members having B-70 work in their districts—had written an appropriations bill to "direct"—by law—the Executive Branch to use all of the nearly $500 million appropriated for the RS-70. McNamara was unsuccessful with an address to the HASC on 14 March, but a 19 March 1962 11th hour White House Rose Garden agreement between Kennedy and HASC chairman Carl Vinson retracted the bill's language[55] and the bomber remained canceled.[56]

Experimental aircraft

The two experimental XB-70As completed, were used for the advanced study of aerodynamics, propulsion, and other subjects related to large supersonic transports. These were named Air Vehicle 1 and 2 (AV-1 and AV-2). The production order was reduced to three prototypes in March 1961[57] with the third aircraft to incorporate improvements from the previous prototype.[58] The crew was reduced to only the pilot and co-pilot for the XB-70; the navigator and bomb-aimer were not needed.[59] XB-70 #1 was completed on 7 May 1964,[60] and rolled out on 11 May 1964 at Palmdale, California.[61] One report stated "nothing like it existed anywhere".[62][63] AV-2 was completed on 15 October 1964. The planned third prototype (AV-3) was canceled in July 1964 while under construction.[63] The first XB-70 had its maiden flight in September 1964 and flight testing followed.[64]

The XB-70 flight test data and materials development aided the later Rockwell B-1 Lancer supersonic bomber program, the US supersonic transport program and, through intelligence, the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144.[65][N 5][N 6] The development of the US U-2 and SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft along with the B-70 bomber led the Soviet Union to design and develop the MiG-25 interceptor.[66][67]


Labelled planform diagram of delta-wing aircraft with canards.
Compression lift design of the XB-70 Valkyrie

The Valkyrie was designed to be a high-altitude bomber-sized Mach 3 aircraft with six engines. Harrison Storms shaped the aircraft[68] with a canard surface and a delta wing, which was built largely of stainless steel, sandwiched honeycomb panels, and titanium. The XB-70 was designed to use supersonic technologies developed for the Mach 3 Navaho, as well as a modified form of the SM-64 Navaho's all-inertial guidance system.[69]

The XB-70 used compression lift, which was generated from a prominent wedge at the center of the engine inlets that created a shock wave below the aircraft. The wing included inboard camber to more effectively use the higher pressure field behind the strong shock wave (the airflow at the XB-70 wing's leading edge was subsonic).[70] The compression lift increased the lift by five percent.[71] Unique among aircraft of its size, the outer portions of the wings were hinged, and could be pivoted downward by up to 65 degrees. This increased the aircraft's directional stability at supersonic speeds, shifted the center of lift to a more favorable position at high speeds, and strengthened the compression lift effect.[72] With the wingtips drooped downwards, the compression lift shock wave would be further trapped under the wings.

The XB-70 was equipped with six General Electric YJ93-GE-3 turbojet engines, designed to use JP-6 jet fuel. The engine was stated to be in the "30,000-pound class", but actually produced 28,000 lbf (124.6 kN) with afterburner and 19,900 lbf (88 kN) without afterburner.[73][74] The Valkyrie used fuel for cooling; it was pumped through heat exchangers before reaching the engines.[26] To reduce the likelihood of auto ignition, nitrogen was injected into the JP-6 during refueling, and the "fuel pressurization and inerting system" vaporized a 700 lb (320 kg) supply of liquid nitrogen to fill the fuel tank vent space and maintain tank pressure.[75]

Operational history

White delta-wing aircraft taking off with landing gears retracting. At the front of aircraft are canards.
XB-70A Valkyrie on takeoff

Flight test program

The XB-70 flight test program was conducted from the maiden flight on 21 September 1964 through 6 August 1966. The first aircraft was found to suffer from weaknesses in the honeycomb panels, primarily due to inexperience with fabrication and quality control of this new material.[7]

The first flight test was marred: one engine had to be shut down; an undercarriage indication malfunction meant that the flight was flown with the undercarriage down, limiting speed to about half that planned.[76] On landing, the left-side rear wheels locked, the tires ruptured, and a fire started.[77]

XB-70 Performance[78]
Longest flight: 3:40 hours (on 6 January 1966)
Fastest speed: 2,020 mph (3,250 km/h) (on 12 January 1966)
Highest altitude: 74,000 ft (23,000 m) (on 19 March 1966)
Highest Mach number: Mach 3.08 (on 12 April 1966)
Sustained Mach 3: 32 minutes (on 19 May 1966)
Mach 3 total: 108 minutes/10 flights

The Valkyrie first became supersonic (Mach 1.1) on the third test flight on 12 October 1964, and flew above Mach 1 for 40 minutes during the following flight on 24 October. The wing tips were also lowered partially in this flight. XB-70 #1 surpassed Mach  3 on 14 October 1965 by reaching Mach 3.02 at 70,000 ft (21,300 m).[79]

Honeycomb panel deficiencies discovered on AV-1 were almost completely solved on the second XB-70, which first flew on 17 July 1965. On 3 January 1966, XB-70 #2 attained a speed of Mach 3.05 while flying at 72,000 ft (21,900 m). AV-2 reached a top speed of Mach 3.08 and maintained it for 20 minutes on 12 April 1966.[80] On 19 May 1966, AV-2 reached Mach 3.06 and flew at Mach 3 for 32 minutes, covering 2,400 mi (3,840 km) in 91 minutes of total flight.[81]

Flight research programs

After completion of the flight test program on 6 August 1966, flight research programs were conducted using the XB-70 with NAA support. The first was a joint NASA/USAF research program conducted from 3 November 1966 to 31 January 1967 for measuring the intensity and signature of sonic booms for the National Sonic Boom Program (NSBP). In 1966, AV-2 was selected for the program and was outfitted with test sensors. It flew the first sonic boom test on 6 June 1966, obtaining a speed of Mach 3.05 at 72,000 ft (21,900 m).[82] Sonic boom testing was planned to cover a range of overpressures on the ground similar but higher than the proposed American SST.[83] AV-2 crashed following a mid-air collision with an F-104 while flying a multi-aircraft formation.[84]

Sonic boom and later testing continued with XB-70A #1.[85] The second flight research program (NASA NAS4-1174) investigated "control of structural dynamics" from 25 April 1967 through the XB-70's last flight in 1969.[86][87] At high altitude and high speed, the XB-70A experienced unwanted altitude changes (porpoising).[88] NASA testing from June 1968 included two small vanes on the nose of AV-1 for measuring the response of the aircraft's stability augmentation system.[87][89]

Following the loss of AV-2, 33 research flights were completed by AV-1.[90] The XB-70's last supersonic flight took place on 17 December 1968. On 4 February 1969 AV-1 took its final flight to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for museum display (now the National Museum of the United States Air Force).[91] Flight data was collected on this subsonic trip.[92] North American Rockwell completed a four-volume report on the B-70 that was published by NASA in April 1972.[93]


Prototype of B-70. Two were built.
  • AV-1, NAA Model Number NA-278, USAF S/N 62-0001, completed 83 flights spanning 160 hours and 16 minutes.[94][95]
  • AV-2, NAA Model Number NA-278, USAF S/N 62-0207, flew 46 times over 92 hours and 22 minutes, before it crashed in June 1966.[96]
AV-3, NAA Model Number NA-274, USAF S/N 62-0208, Originally to be first YB-70A in March 1961, this advanced prototype was canceled while in manufacturing.[63][97]
Preproduction version with improvements based on XB-70s.[44][47]
Planned bomber production version of Valkyrie.[7] A fleet of up to 65 operational bombers was planned.[98]
Proposed reconnaissance-strike version with a crew of four and in-flight refueling capability.[10]

Incidents and accidents


On 7 May 1965, the divider separating the left and right halves of the engine inlet on XB-70A AV-1 broke off in flight and was ingested into the engines, damaging all six beyond repair.[62]

On 14 October 1965, AV-1 surpassed Mach 3, but heat and stress damaged the honeycomb panels, leaving 2 ft (0.6 m) of the leading edge of the left wing missing. These construction problems resulted in the imposition of a speed limit of Mach 2.5 on the first aircraft.[99]

Mid-air collision

The formation of aircraft shortly after the collision on 8 June 1966

On 8 June 1966, XB-70A #2 was in close formation with four other aircraft (an F-4, F-5, T-38, and F-104) for a photoshoot at the behest of General Electric, manufacturer of the engines of all five aircraft. With the photoshoot complete, the F-104 drifted into contact with the XB-70's right wing, flipped over and rolled inverted over the top of the Valkyrie, striking the vertical stabilizers and left wing of the bomber. The F-104 exploded, destroying the Valkyrie's rudders and damaging its left wing. With the loss of both rudders and damage to the wings, the Valkyrie entered an uncontrollable spin and crashed into the ground north of Barstow, California. NASA Chief Test Pilot Joe Walker (F-104 pilot) and Carl Cross (XB-70 co-pilot) were killed. Al White (XB-70 pilot) ejected, sustaining serious injuries, including one arm crushed by the closing clamshell-like escape capsule moments prior to ejection.[100]

The USAF summary report of the accident investigation stated that, given the position of the F-104 relative to the XB-70, the F-104 pilot would not have been able to see the XB-70's wing, except by uncomfortably looking back over his left shoulder. The report said that Walker, piloting the F-104, likely maintained his position by looking at the fuselage of the XB-70, forward of his position. The F-104 was estimated to be 70 ft (21 m) to the side of, and 10 ft (3 m) below, the fuselage of the XB-70. The report concluded that from that position, without appropriate sight cues, Walker was unable to properly perceive his motion relative to the Valkyrie, leading to his aircraft drifting into contact with the XB-70's wing.[89][101] The accident investigation also pointed to the wake vortex off the XB-70's right wingtip as the reason for the F-104's sudden roll over and into the bomber.[101]

Area 51 radar operator Barnes was monitoring the flight and recording the air traffic at the time of the accident and reports that Walker radioed just before the accident "I'm opposing this mission. It is too turbulent and it has no scientific value." Barnes says the vortex sucked him in. The recording was requested by Bill Houck of NASA and has since disappeared.[102]

Aircraft on display

Valkyrie AV-1 (AF Ser. No. 62-0001) is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft was flown to the Museum on 4 February 1969, following the conclusion of the XB-70 testing program.[103] Over the years the Valkyrie became the Museum's signature aircraft, appearing on Museum letterhead, and even appearing as the chief design feature for the Museum's restaurant, the Valkyrie Cafe.[104] As of 2011, the XB-70 was in the Museum's Research & Development Hangar where it is displayed alongside other experimental aircraft in the Museum's collection.[105]

Specifications (XB-70A)

Data from Pace,[106] USAF XB-70 Fact sheet[95]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 189 ft 0 in (57.6 m)
  • Wingspan: 105 ft 0 in (32 m)
  • Height: 30 ft 0 in (9.1 m)
  • Wing area: 6,297 ft² (585 m²)
  • Airfoil: Hexagonal; 0.30 Hex modified root, 0.70 Hex modified tip
  • Empty weight: 128,000 lb (58,100 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 534,700 lb (242,500 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 550,000 lb (250,000 kg)
  • Powerplant: 6 × General Electric YJ93-GE-3 afterburning turbojet
  • Internal fuel capacity: 300,000 lb (136,100 kg) or 46,745 US gallons (177,000 L)


See also

  • Aircraft in fiction, XB-70 Valkyrie
  • Pye Wacket
Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists


  1. ^ Quote by Theodore von Kármán (1945): "The size and performance of the craft driven by atomic power would depend mainly on... reducing the engine weight to the limiting value which makes flight at a certain speed possible."[4]
  2. ^ The NB-58 Hustler was used for XB-70 engine testing, and the TB-58 was used for XB-70 chase and training.
  3. ^ Quote: "deleterious to metallic components".[42]
  4. ^ Wiesner… a member of Eisenhower's permanent Science Advisory Committee, explained that the missile gap was a fiction. The new president greeted the news with a single expletive "delivered more in anger than in relief". … Herken 1961, p. 140. This quote taken from Herken's interview with Wiesner conducted 9 February 1982.
  5. ^ In response to the British/French treaty of 29 November 1962 which would produce the supersonic Concorde airliner, US President Kennedy started the national Supersonic transport (SST) project in June 1963.[53] North American entered a design with some elements from the B-70, but it was eliminated from the SST airframe competition in June 1964.[53]
  6. ^ Following the 1963 formation of the National Supersonic Transport program, the 1964 Oklahoma City sonic boom tests "influenced the 1971 cancellation of the Boeing 2707 supersonic transport and led to the United States' complete withdrawal from SST design."
  1. ^ a b Knaack 1988, pp. 560–561.
  2. ^ York 1978, p. 70.
  3. ^ "B-70 Valkyrie." Retrieved: 24 May 2011.
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