XB-70

XB-70 Valkyrie: The Best Bomber That Never Was

The Cold War brought us many unusual and impressive developments in technology. It even put humans on the moon! In regards to aviation, one of the most peculiar, yet impressive aircraft brought to us during the Cold War was the XB-70 Valkyrie. With its extremely unconventional design yet unrivaled capability, the XB-70 is truly a noteworthy aircraft. If you’ve been wanting to learn more about the XB-70, or discovered it via this article, stay tuned. I have everything you need to know!

Development

WS-110A
WS-110A by NASA

 

During the height of the cold war, the United States was in desperate need of more capable aircraft to deliver new, rapidly developing nuclear weapons. The need for a new bomber is ultimately what kicked off the development of the XB-70 Valkyrie. In the early stages of development, Boeing made a partnership with the RAND corporation in order to better understand what type of bomber would best suit the needs of modern nuclear weapons. What Boeing and RAND ultimately decided was that, in order to safely deliver these extremely powerful weapons, the United States needed something that flew very high and very fast. As nuclear weapons were developing very quickly and becoming VERY powerful, any current bomber at the time (such as a B-52) would not be able to survive the blast. This is why the United States needed a new, more advanced nuclear delivery vehicle. The first proposal for this new bomber was not actually the XB-70. The first proposal for the new aircraft was in fact, the WS-110A. If you thought the XB-70 looked strange, the WS-110A looks completely alien. With its forward swept wings and massive canards, if it were to be built, it would be unlike any other aircraft ever produced. That being said, the XB-70 was ultimately what came of Boeing, NASA, and RAND Corps. research. When it comes to its design, the XB-70 is an extremely interesting and unusual aircraft. But what about it is so special?

 

Design

Engines

One of the most prominent design features of the XB-70 is its use of six after-burning engines. Basically the entire back half of the aircraft is its engines. Like I said before, the XB-70 needed to be stupidly fast in order to survive dropping extremely powerful nuclear weapons. The XB-70’s six General Electric YJ93-GE-3 engines packed enough punch for the bomber to reach and maintain speeds up to Mach 3. Not only was speed very important when delivering weapons, but it also granted protection against anti aircraft missiles by allowing the aircraft to out-fly the missiles.

Folding Wings

One of the most unusual design features of the XB-70 is its wings. During takeoff and slow flight, the wings functioned as normal delta wings. At supersonic speeds however, the wings folded downwards to form an anhedral shape. In many cases, anhedral would causes more instability, but in the case of the XB-70, the anhedral provided more directional stability for the aircraft at very high speeds. This is why the wings of the XB-70 fold downwards. Not only does it look really cool, but it serves a very important purpose in regards to the aircraft’s flight characteristics.

Control Surfaces

XB-70
XB-70 Control Surfaces

 

Another interesting thing to note about the XB-70 is its control surfaces. Unlike most aircraft the utilize one or two elevons per wing, the XB-70 uses lots of small elevons across the trailing edge of the wing. This was primarily for better control of the aircraft at supersonic speeds. There isn’t much more to them other than that, but it is interesting!

Canards

Similarly to the elevons at the back of the aircraft, the large canards at the front are also there for added stability. At the time, supersonic flight was still in its early stages and thus, static stability was extremely important as there wasn’t much for fly by wire systems to keep the aircraft stable back then.

Flush Cockpit

Something else that is rather peculiar about the XB-70 is how aerodynamic its design is. On most conventional aircraft you would see a small bump protruding from the fuselage where the cockpit is. To improve the XB-70’s aerodynamics and efficiency, the cockpit was sunk into the fuselage and made flush with the rest of the aircraft.

Capability

For its time, the XB-70 was an extremely capable aircraft, FAR surpassing the abilities of its slower, heavier counterparts like the B-52. The most impressive abilities of this aircraft are the ones that it was designed for. The XB-70 was designed to fly extremely fast and extremely high. With a top speed of Mach 3 and a service ceiling of more than 77,000 feet, the XB-70 was truly a high performance pinpoint strike bomber. But as many of us already know, the XB-70 never entered service. But why? If it was so great why wasn’t it ever used?

The End Of The XB-70

Although the XB-70 was developed to carry the new, rapidly evolving nuclear weapons, the weapons ironically developed faster. With the development of ICBMs the need for long range, high and fast bombers was no more. This is the primary reason for the cancellation of the XB-70. By the time it would have been finished, there just wouldn’t a need for it any longer. That being said, the development of the XB-70 wasn’t completely in vain! A few of the remaining aircraft were kept alive to use for research regarding supersonic flight. Although it never got to carry any weapons, the XB-70 helped tremendously in the development of mainstream supersonic flight.

A Notable Accident

During its testing, there was a major accident resulting in the loss of an XB-70 aircraft. Although this isn’t the primary cause of the XB-70’s failure, it certainly did not help. On June 8, 1966, an XB-70A was flying in formation with fighter aircraft for a photoshoot. An F-104 Starfighter piloted by Joe Walker accidentally drifted into the XB-70’s right wingtip. The F-104 was destroyed and the XB-70 broke apart, entered an uncontrolled spin and crashed. Both the F-104 pilot and the co-pilot of the XB-70 were killed in the accident.

 

Although it was never able to carry any of the weapons it was designed for, the XB-70 Valkyrie is still one of the most impressive and iconic military aircraft of all time. From its peculiar design and extreme capability, it’s hard to find things to hate about this aircraft. All that being said, the XB-70 is a very notable piece of aviation history and hopefully will never be forgotten. If you want to learn even more about the XB-70 there is a great book on it by Peter Davies. You can find it via the link below! I hope you enjoyed today’s article and I’ll see you all in the next one! Fly safe 🙂

 

Want to know more about the Beechcraft Bonanza? Check it out in my lost post here!

 

 

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