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A Bad Luck Crash and a Complex Design Doomed the XB-70 Bomber

The Mach 3+ Valkyrie Was One of Those Programs That Outran Available Technology

North American XB-70A Valkyrie. Image via USAF

The ability to travel Mach 3 is a difficult feat. At those speeds, the aircraft must disperse the heat that builds up on the skin. Aircraft at that speed also have to deal with shifting CG at supersonic speeds, along with stability and compressibility challenges. With all those challenges in mind, it’s even more amazing that large air breathing bomber, reconnaissance and transport jets flew supersonic in the 1960s.

XB-70 at Edwards AFB. Image via USAF

Powered by 6 General Electric YJ-93-3 afterburning turbojet engines putting out a combined 119.000 pounds of thrust (172,000 horses in afterburner), the XB-70 Valkyrie was a beast. The bomber flew higher than 60,000 thousand feet regularly and with the ability to maintain greater than Mach 2.5 throughout the whole duration of the flight. The aircraft was expected to be one the most lethal assets since the enemy could not fly either as fast or as high. At Mach 2.5+, it would be very difficult to shoot down such a speedy jet.

North American XB-70A Valkyrie with Convair TB-58A chase aircraft. Note singed paint from sustained supersonic speeds. Image via USAF

Designed for the United States Air Force(USAF) by North American Aviation, the XB-70 was designed to be the next generation bomber. Made of mostly stainless steel and boasting a unique delta wing and canard surface design, the aircraft was both advanced and a potential game changer during the Cold War.

XB-70A. Image via USAF

Unfortunately, the XB-70 never reached its full potential. The jet faced a number of teething problems. One was its sheer size. The jet was also very complex with challenging fuel and flight control systems. Those problems reached a crescendo when one test vehicle was lost to bad luck during a mid-air collision with a Northrop T-38 Talon trainer chase plane that occurred during a photo flight. With high operating costs and a limited mission, the project was abandoned in the late 1960s. America would not have another supersonic bomber until the B-1 program was revived in the early 1980s. There is currently one XB-70 on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

XB-70 at the USAF Museum in Dayton. Image via USAF

This video report about the XB-70 test program was uploaded to YouTube by PeriscopeFilm. Enjoy.


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Written by Avgeekery

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