Tag Archives: Air Force Plant 42

21 September 1964

North American Aviation XB70A-1-NA 62-001 takes off for the first time, 21 September 1964. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation XB70A-1-NA 62-0001 takes off for the first time, 21 September 1964. (U.S. Air Force)

21 September 1964: The first prototype North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie, serial number 62-0001, flown by Chief Test Pilot Alvin S. White and Colonel Joseph F. Cotton, U.S. Air Force, made its first flight from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, to Edwards Air Force Base.

Originally a prototype Mach 3 strategic bomber, 62-0001 (also known as AV-1) and it’s sister ship, XB-70A-2-NA, 62-0207, (AV-2), were built and used by the Air Force and NASA as high-speed research aircraft. The third Valkyrie, XB-70B-NA 62-0208 (AV-3), was never completed.

Major Joseph F. Cotton, USAF, and Alvin S. White, North American Aviation, with the XB-70A Valkyrie. (Autographed photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, TEST & RESEARCH PILOTS, FLIGHT TEST ENGINEERS)
Colonel Joseph F. Cotton, USAF, and Alvin S. White, North American Aviation, with an XB-70A Valkyrie. (Autographed photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, TEST & RESEARCH PILOTS, FLIGHT TEST ENGINEERS)

The B-70 was designed as a high-altitude Mach 3 strategic bomber armed with thermonuclear bombs. The XB-70A is 196 feet, 6 inches (59.893 meters) long with a wingspan of 105 feet (32.004 meters) and an overall height of 30 feet, 8 inches (9.347 meters) . It weighs 231,215 pounds (104,877 kilograms) empty and has a maximum takeoff weight of 534,792 pounds (242,578 kilograms).

The XB-70A was powered by six General Electric YJ93-GE-3 single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engines, which used an 11-stage compressor and two-stage turbine. The engine required a special heat-resistant JP-6 fuel, and was rated at 22,000 pounds of thrust (97.86 kilonewtons), or 31,000 pounds (137.90 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The YJ93-GE-3 was 19 feet, 7.0 inches (5.969 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.0 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,200 pounds 2,359 kilograms).

A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress flies formation with North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie 62-0001, approaching the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The XB-70A had a maximum speed of Mach 3.1 (2,056 miles per hour, or 3,309 kilometers per hour). At 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), it could reach Mach 1.90 (1,254 miles per hour, or 2,018 kilometers per hour), and at its service ceiling of 75,550 feet (23,012 meters), it had a maximum speed of Mach 3.00 (1,982 miles per hour, or 3,190 kilometers per hour). The planned combat range for the production  bomber was 3,419 miles (5,502 kilometers) with a maximum range of 4,290 miles (6,904 kilometers).

North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie 62-0001 made 83 flights with a total of 160 hours, 16 minutes flight time. 62-0001 is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie 62-0001 lands at Edwards Air Force Base at the end of its first flight, 21 September 1964. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 just before landing at Runway 4 Right, Edwards Air Force Base, ending of its first flight, 21 September 1964. A Piasecki HH-21B rescue helicopter hovers over the adjacent taxiway. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1989

Bruce J. Hinds and Richard Couch. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

17 July 1989: The first Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, took off from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, on its first flight. The crew was Northrop Chief Test Pilot Bruce J. Hinds and Colonel Richard Couch, U.S. Air Force. The top secret “stealth bomber” prototype landed at Edwards Air Force Base 1 hour, 52 minutes later.

After completing the flight test program, -1066 was placed in storage until 1993, awaiting upgrade to the Block 10 operational configuration. In 2000 it was again upgraded to the Block 30 standard. It is now named Spirit of America and assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, the first “stealth bomber,” during a test flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1965

North American Aviation XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207 takes off for the first time at AF Plant 42, 17 July 1965. (U.S. Air Force)

17 July 1965: At Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, the second North American Aviation B-70 Valkyrie prototype, XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207, took off on its maiden flight enroute Edwards Air Force Base where it would continue the flight test program with its sister ship.

The Valkyrie was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber, capable of flight above 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), with intercontinental range. It’s altitude allowed it to avoid interceptors of the time, but improvements in radar-guided surface-to-air missiles increased its vulnerability. Ultimately, though, political decisions ended the B-70 program.

62-0207 was flown just 46 times, for a total of 92 hours, 22 minutes of flight. Changes to the aircraft corrected the deficiencies discovered in testing the Number 1 XB-70A, 62,-201. The most visible change was 5° dihedral added to the wings for improved stability. On 16 April 1966, 62-0207 reached its maximum design speed, Mach 3.08, which it sustained for 20 minutes.

Less than one year after its first flight, 8 June 1966, the Valkyrie was involved in a mid-air collision with a Lockheed F-104N and crashed just north of Barstow, California. North American’s B-70 test pilot, Al White, was seriously injured and co-pilot, Major Carl Cross, USAF, was killed. NASA test pilot Joe Walker, flying the F-104, was also killed.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 May 1964

XB-70A-1-NA 62-0001 rollout at Air Force Plant 42, 11 May 1964. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

11 May 1964: At Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, the first prototype North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie, 62-0001, was rolled out. More than 5,000 people were there to watch.

In August 1960, the U.S. Air Force had contracted for one XB-70 prototype and 11 pre-production YB-70 development aircraft. By 1964, however, the program had been scaled back to three XB-70s. Only two of these would actually be completed.

"Ride of the Valkyrs" by John Charles Dollman, 1909.
“Ride of the Valkyrs” by John Charles Dollman, 1909. In Norse mythology, the valkyries were immortal female figures who chose who among those who had died in battle were worthy of being taken to Valhalla.

The B-70 was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber capable of flying higher than 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). The XB-70A Valkyrie prototype is 185 feet, 10 inches (56.642 meters) long with a wingspan of 105 feet, 0 inches (32.004 meters) and overall height of 30 feet, 9 inches (12.116 meters). The canard span is 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters). The prototype has an empty weight of 231,215 pounds (104,877 kilograms) and gross weight of 521,056 pounds (236,347 kilograms).

The airplane was powered by six General Electric YJ93-GE-3 engines, grouped together in the tail. These were single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojets, which used an 11-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The YJ93-GE-3 was rated at 22,000 pounds of thrust (97.86 kilonewtons), and 31,000 pounds (137.90 kilonewtons) with afterburner. A special high-temperature fuel, JP-6, was required. The engine was 19 feet, 7.0 inches (5.969 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.0 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,200 pounds (2,359 kilograms).

Fuel capacity was 46,745 gallons (176,950 liters), giving the bomber a potential range of 3,750 miles (6,035 kilometers). The B-70 was designed to “surf” on its own supersonic shock wave. The tips of the delta wing folded down as much as 60° for increased stability.

North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, 17 August 1965. (NASA)
A North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, 17 August 1965. (NASA)

XB-70A-1 62-0001 first flew 21 September 1964, and exceeded Mach 3 for the first time on its 17th flight, 14 October 1965. Its final flight was 4 February 1969.

In flight testing, the XB-70 reached a maximum of Mach 3.08 and 2,020 m.p.h. (3,251 kilometers per hour) with a sustained altitude of 74,000 feet (22,555 meters).

The second XB-70A-2-NA , 62-0207, was destroyed in a midair collision. The third Valkyrie, XB-70B-NA 62-0208, was cancelled before completion.

62-0001 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It has made 83 flight with just 160 hours, 16 minutes total flight time.

XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 in cruise at very high altitude, 1968. (NASA)
XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 in cruise at very high altitude, 1968. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 1955

Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter 083-1002, serial number 53-7787, the second prototype, in flight near Edwards AFB. (Lockheed Martin/Code One Magazine)

19 April 1955¹: Lockheed test pilot Herman Richard (“Fish”) Salmon was flying the second prototype Lockheed XF-104 interceptor, 53-7787, conducting tests of the General Electric T171 Vulcan gun system.

At 47,000 feet (14,326 meters), Salmon fired two bursts from the T171. On the second burst, vibrations from the gun loosened the airplane’s ejection hatch, located beneath the cockpit, resulting in explosive decompression.

Lockheed Chief Test Pilot Anthony W. LeVier (left) and Test Pilot Herman R. Salmon. An F-104 Starfighter is behind them. (Lockheed)
Lockheed Chief Test Pilot Anthony W. LeVier (left) and Test Pilot Herman R. Salmon. An F-104 Starfighter is behind them. (Lockheed Martin)

The Associated Press reported:

Test Pilot Leaps From New Jet

     INYOKERN, Calif., April 20 (AP)—Herman R. (Fish) Salmon, former racing pilot and now a top test pilot, bailed safely from one of the Air Force’s hot new F104 jet fighters over the Mojave dessert [sic] Tuesday.

He was  spotted on the desert after a two-hour search by military planes and brought to the Naval ordinance [sic] test station here for a physical examination. A preliminary checkup indicated he was not injured.

     Salmon, 41, was on a routine test flight when he hit the silk. Authorities gave no hint what happened to the supersecret plane to make the bailout necessary. The craft’s height at the time it was abandoned was not given. The plane’s top speed has been unofficially estimated at 1,200 m. p. h.

     Wreckage of the F104, one of two prototypes now being tested by Lockheed Aircraft Corp. for the Air Force, was found several miles south of the China Lake area.

     A Lockheed spokesman said Salmon, of Van Nuys, Calif., was spotted by a search plane and apparently picked up by a Navy helicopter and flown here. Salmon took off on the test flight from Palmdale, about 70 miles south of here.

Reno Evening Gazette, Volume LXXIX, Number 21, Wednesday, 20 April 1955, Page 24 at Columns 5–7.

Fish Salmon was wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and International Latex Corporation (I.L.C. Dover) K-1 helmet for protection in just such an emergency. The capstans are pneumatic tubes surrounded by fabric lacings, running along the arms, torso and legs. As the tubes inflated, the lacings pulled the fabric of the suit very tight and applied pressure to his body as a substitute for normal atmospheric pressure. The partial-pressure garment also enclosed his head, with a fiberglass helmet and a clear visor or face plate providing for vision.

Test pilot Herman R. Salmon with a prototype Lockheed XF-104 parked on Rogers Dry Lake. (Lockheed Martin)
Test pilot Herman R. (“Fish”) Salmon with a prototype Lockheed XF-104, parked on Rogers Dry Lake. (Lockheed Martin)

The sudden loss of cabin pressure and drop to subfreezing temperatures caused Salmon’s face plate to fog over. Inflating air bladders pushed his helmet high on his head.  The cockpit was filled with dust, fiberglass insulation and other debris. All this restricted his visibility, both inside and outside the airplane. The very tight pressure suit restricted his movements.

Fish Salmon cut the throttle, opened the speed brakes and began a descending turn to the left to reach a lower altitude. By the time he had reached 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) he had been unable to find a place on the desert floor to make an emergency landing. It was time to leave the crippled XF-104.

At 250 knots (288 miles per hour/463 kilometers per hour) the ejection seat fired Salmon out of the bottom of the cockpit. He had to open his parachute manually (the seat timer did not operate) and he made a safe landing.

The XF-104 had a downward-firing ejection seat, intended to avoid the airplane's tall vertical tail. Production aircraft used an upward-firing seat. (Lockheed)
The XF-104 had a downward-firing ejection seat, built by Stanley Aviation Inc. It was intended to avoid the airplane’s tall vertical tail. Later production aircraft used an upward-firing Martin-Baker seat. This airplane is the second prototype XF-104, 53-7787. (Lockheed Martin)

The prototype XF-104 impacted the desert approximately 73 miles (117 kilometers) east-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base. It was completely destroyed. Fish Salmon landed about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away. He was found two hours later and rescued by an Air Force helicopter.

Occasionally, a satisfied user thanked the researchers at the Aero Medical Laboratory. One of these was Lockheed test pilot Herman R. “Fish” Salmon. On April 14, 1955,¹ Salmon was flying the second XF-104 (53-7787) at 47,500 feet while wearing a T-1 suit, K-1 helmet, and strap-fastened boots. As he triggered the General Electric M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon for a test firing, severe vibrations loosened the floor-mounted ejection hatch and the cockpit explosively depressurized at the same time as the engine flamed out. The suit inflated immediately. Repeated attempts to restart the engine failed, and Salmon ejected at 15,000 feet. Fish reported, “I landed in a field of rocks ranging from one foot to five feet in diameter. My right arm was injured and my head struck a rock. The K-1 helmet hard shell was cracked, but there was no injury to my head. It took me 10 to 15 minutes to get out of the suit with my injured arm. Rescue was effected [sic] by helicopter approximately two hour after escape.” Salmon reported that the K-1 helmet was excellent for rugged parachute landings, and his only complaint was that the visor may impair vision at extreme altitudes.”

Dressing for Altitude: U.S. Aviation Pressure Suits—Wiley Post to Space Shuttle, by Dennis R., Jenkins, National Aeronautics and Space Administration SP–2011–595, Washington, D.C., 2012, Chapter 4 at Page 141.

Lockheed's Chief Test Pilot, Anthony W. ("Tony") LeVier, is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and K-1 helmet. The first prototype XF-104, 53-7786, is behind him. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed’s Chief Test Pilot, Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier, is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and International Latex Corporation K-1 helmet. The first prototype XF-104, 53-7786, is behind him. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

There were two Lockheed XF-104 prototypes. Initial flight testing was performed with 083-1001 (USAF serial number 53-7786). The second prototype, 083-1002 (53-7787) was the armament test aircraft. Both were single-seat, single-engine supersonic interceptors. The XF-104 was 49 feet, 2 inches (14.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 11 inches (6.680 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The prototypes had an empty weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,700 pounds (7,121 kilograms).

The production aircraft was planned for a General Electric J79 turbojet but that engine would not be ready soon enough, so both prototypes were designed to use a Buick-built J65-B-3, a licensed version of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet engine. XF-104 53-7787 had been built with an afterburning Wright J65-W-7 turbojet, rated at 7,800 pounds of thrust, and 10,200 pounds of thrust with afterburner.

The XF-104 had a maximum speed of 1,324 miles per hour (2,131 kilometers per hour), a range of 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 50,500 feet (15,392 meters).

The General Electric T171 Vulcan was a prototype 6-barrelled 20 mm “Gatling Gun” automatic cannon. The barrels were rotated at high speed by a hydraulic drive. The gun is capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. The initial production version was designated M61. The cannon system was installed in a weapons bay on the left side of the F-104, between the cockpit and engine intakes.

The first prototype Lockheed XF-104, 53-7786, was also destroyed, 11 July 1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot, William C. Park, safely ejected.

¹ Reliable sources give the date of this incident as both 14 April and 19 April. Contemporary news reports, published Wednesday, 20 April 1955, say that the accident took place “yesterday” and “Tuesday,” suggesting that the correct date is 19 April.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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