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XB-70 Valkyrie Bomber

Updated on March 2, 2013

XB-70 Valkyrie

XB-70 taking off
XB-70 taking off | Source

XB-70 Overview

The XB-70 Valkyrie could fly three times the speed of sound at an altitude of 15 miles. The development of the aircraft was developed by the U.S. to deliver nuclear attacks over great distances. The aircraft had six massive engines that allowed for such great distances during missions, but its radar and heat signatures were huge and blatantly obvious. The aircraft could outrun any other aircraft in terms of distance, but the Soviet MiGs were still quicker over short distances. The vast distance the XB-70 could quickly cover worried Soviet generals due to tensions during the Cold War era. The XB-70 project cost around $500 million before the project and production came to an end after an aerial disaster in 1966.

XB-70 in Formation

XB-70 flying in formation
XB-70 flying in formation | Source

XB-70 Valkyrie Specs

TYPE: Prototype supersonic strategic bomber
POWER: Six 31,000-lb thrust General Electric YN93-GE-3 afterburning turbojets
MAX SPEED: Max reached was 2,019 mph
RANGE: 7,600 miles without fueling
MAX ALTITUDE: Height reached was 73,980 ft.
WEAPONS: Payload of 50,000 lbs of free-fall nuclear or conventional bombs
DEFENSES: None
WEIGHT: 551,150 lbs max takeoff
WINGSPAN: 105 ft.
LENGTH: 196 ft.
HEIGHT: 30 ft

Key Features of XB-70

The aim of the XB-70 Valkyrie was obvious - speed & altitude. The idea was to fly a plane so high in the atmosphere at such a high rate of speed that no enemy could intercept it by the time the payload was released. Six massive engines allowed the aircraft to travel over Mach 3 while carrying up to 14 free-falling thermonuclear weapons. The huge engines made radar and heat detection easy, but its speed and advanced electronics were the only defensive measure against enemies.

The delta wing had a unique design that allowed the aircraft to "coast" on shock waves which increased lift. Stainless steel and titanium were used on the fuselage and wing structures since most other metals couldn't handle the kinetic heating at such height and speed. The wings and fins had movable sections that were adjusted when reaching high speeds.

Pilots had a very limited view due to the location of the cockpit and design of the aircraft, but little could be viewed using the human eye at such high altitudes anyways. The crew consisted of four members, two pilots & two systems operators, that all fit into the cockpit capsule and all members could emergency eject if needed. The cockpit capsule was specially made to allow survival of the crew when ejecting at such great altitudes.

XB-70 Valkyrie Disaster

Moment after a F-104 impacted the XB-70
Moment after a F-104 impacted the XB-70 | Source

"...Driving a bus."

  • Colonel Joe Cotton once said the XB-70 Valkyrie was like "driving a Greyhound bus around the racetrack at Indianapolis."

Downfall and Retirement of XB-70

The entire project cost around $500 million dollars and was abandoned in 1966. Tragedy struck during a test flight in June of 1966. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was flying in formation with the XB-70 Valkyrie during a photo shoot when disaster struck. The F-104 piloted by Joe Walker was sucked into the massive vortex created by the down turned wingtip of the XB-70. The F-104 crashed into a wing of the XB-70 and exploded. The XB-70 remained on course for a few seconds before it began to tumble out of control. The aircraft crashed into the Mojave Desert with only one survivor who managed to eject before ground impact.

Public outcry and a political storm led to the ceasing of the Valkyrie project. Also, Soviet air defenses had increased significantly over a few years and were capable of bringing down high-altitude bombers. The future of bombers shifted to stealth technology and low-level penetration featured in the XB-70 successor, the F-117 Nighthawk.

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