8 June 1966

XB-70A-2-NA Valkyrie 62-0207 leading a formation of aircraft powered by General Electric engines. Joe Walker’s F-104 is just below the B-70’s right wing tip. (U.S. Air Force)

8 June 1966: During a publicity photo formation flight, a Lockheed F-104N Starfighter, N813NA, flown by NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph A. Walker, was caught in the wingtip vortices of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie, 62-0207, the second prototype Mach 3+ strategic bomber. The Starfighter rolled up and across the Valkyrie. The two airplanes collided, with the F-104 taking off the Valkyrie’s vertical fins, then exploding.

Lockheed F-104N N813NA collided with North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 and exploded, 8 June 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

The Valkyrie continued to fly straight and level for 16 seconds before it began to roll inverted. The B-70’s pilot, Alvin S. White, was able to eject, though he was severely injured. Joe Walker and B-70 co-pilot Major Carl S. Cross, United States Air Force, were killed.

The B-70 is out of control and going down in this photograph. Fuel is spraying out of damaged tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
The B-70 is out of control and going down in this photograph. A large section of the left wing is missing. JP-8 fuel is spraying out of damaged tanks. (U.S. Air Force)

Still photographs and motion picture film of the formation were being taken from Clay Lacy’s Gates Lear Jet. The photos were for a General Electric publicity campaign showing U.S. military aircraft that were powered by GE engines. Air Force procedures for requesting and approval of publicity flights were not properly followed and it is likely this flight would not have been approved had they been.

XB-70A-2 Valkyrie has rolled inverted and pitched nose down. (U.S. Air Force)
The XB-70A-2 Valkyrie has rolled inverted and pitched nose down. The outer section of the left wing is missing. The trailing edge and tip tank of the Lear Jet photo plane’s right wing are in the foreground. (U.S. Air Force)

Reportedly, just prior to the collision, Walker radioed, “I’m opposing this mission. It is too turbulent and it has no scientific value.”

The wreckage of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 burnds on the desert floor, north of Barstow, california, 8 June 1968. (U.S. Air Force)
The wreckage of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 burns on the desert floor at N. 35° 03′ 47″, W. 117° 01′ 27″, north of Barstow, California, 8 June 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 thoughts on “8 June 1966

  1. Hi Bryan,

    I work in the marketing department for Clay Lacy and I came across your post above. Thanks so much for mentioning Clay Lacy.

    We really appreciate it, and were wondering if you could include a link to our website http://www.claylacy.com, so your readers can learn about Clay’s work more easily.

    Thanks very much!

    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Rachel Levinson

    Marketing Department
    Clay Lacy Aviation
    7435 Valjean Avenue
    Van Nuys, CA 91406
    [email protected]


    1. Ms. Levinson, I would be happy to include the link. I began my civilian aviation career at VNY (way back in the last century) adjacent to Mr. Lacy’s hangar at the northwest corner of the airport. My employer’s helicopters were parked on the ramp next to the #64 P-51 racer and Miss America. . . Mr. Lacy is a legend in Southern California aviation.

    2. I always remember that crazy French Canadian riding on top of Clay’s DC 8 at airshows!

  2. What a tragic and unnecessary loss of life. All to keep GE’s bigwigs happy for the sake of the almighty dollar. I hope GE got the publicity they were looking for.

    1. In 1966 the knowledge base of wingtip vortices and wake turbulence was still in its infancy. Assuredly NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph A. Walker would have kept greater separation from the XB-70’s right wing tip given today’s exhaustive research.

  3. Unless I’m mistaken–and Ms. Levinson could answer this for certain–Lacy’s LearJet was down for some reason and he had to borrow one for the photo mission. The one he borrowed belonged to Frank Sinatra.

    1. A photograph at check-six.com is apparently the camera crew boarding a Lear Jet on the morning of 8 June 1966. The aircraft is registered N175FS. That N-number is currently assigned to a 1965 Learjet Inc. Model 24A, s/n 031. The current FAA-registered owner is Artemis Aviation Group LLC, Wilmington, Delaware. That address is a Delaware corporation service, the Delaware Registry, Ltd. There are no prior owners listed. . . That said, a website for Sun Lakes Aero Club does indicate that Sinatra owned the airplane until June 1967 when he traded it for a Gulfstream GII. The article describes a succession of owners, and further states that this was the photo plane.

  4. Al White’s daughter was in my 6th grade class at Practice St. Elementary School. I will always remember when the Principle came to our classroom to pull her out of class. We didn’t she her again .. ..

    .. .. we “graduated” a week later ?

  5. I’ve been lifelong friends with Joe Walker’s widow Grace, a wonderful lady. I also went to school with Joe Walker’s son.

  6. I’ve heard the wing tip vortex theory before, but it never sounded right to me. Other sources (via Wikipedia) say that Walker actually drifted into the XB-70’s wing first (due to inability to maintain separation with visual cues, because of his position), and that the vortex possibly contributed to the subsequent impact with the vertical stabilizers.

  7. Tragic story both for the human side and for the loss of the Valkyrie and the demise of the program. Wing tip vortices’ as you said, were not well understood at that time

  8. In 1966, we were still calling it “prop wash” because of the swirling that followed the Connies and DC-6/7s. I don’t think anyone had examined wake vorticies at that time or realized the swirling winds were coming from the wingtips.

  9. I can’t imagine anything in flying that’s more fear filled than the loss of control due to unseen vortices and turbulence, especially when you’re in close proximity to another object that you’re zooming towards…..

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