Tag Archives: Strategic Bomber

29 September 1965

The Strategic Air Command’s very first operational Boeing B-52, Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711. (Angelfire)

29 September 1965: Ten years after it entered service, the first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, was retired to the Strategic Aerospace Museum, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)
The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)

52-8711 had arrived at Castle Air Force Base, California, 29 June 1955, and was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy). It later served with the 22nd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) at March Air Force Base, California.

Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), March AFB, 1965. Compare this photograph to the image above. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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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-70’s delta wing had a total area of 6,297 square feet (585.01 square meters). it had a sweep of 58.0° at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 0° and the wing incorporated 3.0° negative twist. There was no dihedral. (The second XB-70 had 5° dihedral.) The outer wing panels could be lowered as much as 60° to increase longitudinal stability in high speed flight.

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. It had a maximum continuous power rating of 28,000 pounds of thrust (124.55 kilonewtons) at 6,825 r.p.m. The YJ93-GE-3 was 19 feet, 8.3 inches (6.002 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.15 inches (1.375 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,220 pounds (2,368 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)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 September 1958

Avro Vulcan VX770.
The first of two prototypes, Avro Type 698 VX770. (BAE Systems)

20 September 1958: The first prototype Avro Vulcan strategic bomber, VX770, piloted by Rolls-Royce test pilot Keith Roland Sturt, was on a test flight from the Rolls-Royce Flight Test Establishment, RAF Hucknall, when it diverted to make a scheduled fly-past for an air show being held at RAF Syerston in Nottinghamshire. Also aboard were Co-Pilot Ronald W. Ward of Fairey Aviation; Rolls-Royce Flight Engineer William E. Howkins; and Navigator, Flight Lieutenant Raymond M. (“Polly”) Parrott, Royal Air Force.

VX770 approched RAF Syerstone at 12:57 p.m. (GMT) and flew east along Runway 07–25 at about 250 feet (76 meters). As the Vulcan passed the control tower at an estimated speed of 350 knots, it began a right turn.

Seen from below, VX770 shows the full delta wing of the prototype. Production aircraft used a modified wing with curved leading edges in order to delay compressibility effects at high speeds. (Unattributed)
Seen from below, VX770 shows the full delta wing of the prototypes. Production aircraft used a modified wing with curved leading edges in order to delay compressibility effects at high speeds. (Unattributed)

Witnesses saw a “kink” form in the leading edge of the Vulcan’s right wing, which then began to disintegrate from the leading edge aft. Wing surface panels could be seen being stripped off before the wing spar failed completely. Clouds of fuel from ruptured tanks trailed as the bomber rolled to the left. The top of the vertical fin came off, the nose pitched upward toward vertical, then straight down, and with both wings on fire, the airplane crashed near the east end of the runway.

All four crew members were killed, as were three RAF fire/rescue personnel on the ground. Several others were injured.

The right wing of Avro Vulcan VX770 disintegrates.
The right wing of Avro Vulcan VX770 disintegrates. (© Mary Evans/The National Archives, London, England)
Clouds of vaporized fuel trail the doomed bomber.
Clouds of vaporized fuel trail the doomed bomber. (Unattributed)
Vulcan VX770 crashed at the east end of Runway 07-25.
Vulcan VX770 crashed at the east end of Runway 07-25. Debris spread over 1,400 feet (427 meters). (MEV-10473694 © Mary Evans/The National Archives, London, England)

A short video clip of the fly-by and crash can be seen on You Tube:

The cause of the Vulcan’s wing failure was not determined. Metal fatigue was suspected. The airplane had been used in flight testing for six years and it is possible that it’s design limits may have been exceeded during that period. There was also speculation that vibrations from the new Rolls-Royce Conway “bypass turbojet” engine, which is now called a turbofan, may have weakened the wing.

According to the investigative report, Keith Sturt was considered to be an “above average” and “capable and careful” pilot. He had accumulated 1,644 hours of flight time over six years. He had flown VX770 for 91 hours, 40 minutes. Sturt was a former Flight Lieutenant of the Royal Air Force, having been inducted into the service in 1945.

VX770 was the first of two Type 698 prototypes built by A.V. Roe & Co., Ltd., at Woodford, Cheshire. It made its first flight 30 August 1951 with Chief Test Pilot R.J. “Roly” Falk. Originally equipped with Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.3 turbojet engines, these were soon replaced with more powerful Armstrong Siddely Sapphire A.S.Sa.6 engines. During modification in 1953, fuel cells were added to the wings. As production airplanes were built with Bristol Olympus Mk.102 engines, VX770 was modified accordingly. During its final flight, it was powered by Rolls-Royce Conway RCo.10 turbofans.

Keith Roland Sturt was born in Guildford, Surrey, England, 20 April 1929, the son of George Sturt and Daisy May Raveney Sturt. On 20 June 1957, Sturt married Mrs. Colin Weal Coulthard (née Norah Ellen Creighton) in Surrey.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 September 1962

Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Convair B-58A Hustler Mach 2+ strategic bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

14 September 1962: At Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California, Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., United States Air Force, with Captain William R. Payne, USAF, and civilian flight test engineer C.R. Haines, flew a Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2456, to a record 26,017.93 meters (85,360.66 feet) while carrying a 5,000 kilogram payload. This set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in both the 2,000 kilogram (4,409.25 pounds) ¹ and 5,000 kilogram (11,023.11 pounds) ² classes.

Left to right, Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., USAF, Captain William R. Payne, USAF, and civilian flight test engineer C.R. Haines. (FAI)
Left to right, Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., USAF, Captain William R. Payne, USAF, and civilian flight test engineer C.R. Haines. (FAI)
Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., 1942.

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., was born 6 June 1925 at Blakeley, Georgia. He was the son of Fitzhugh Lee Fulton and Manila T. Fulton. He graduated from Columbus High School, Columbus, Georgia, in 1942. He later studied at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, and the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma (just south of Oklahoma City). he graduated from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California.

Fitz Fulton married Miss Erma I. Beck at Tucson, Arizona, 16 December 1945.

He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943. He flew the Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport during the Berlin Airlift and Douglas B-26 Invaders during the Korean War. Fulton graduated from the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1952. He served as project test pilot for the Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber. At Edwards AFB, he flew the B-52 “motherships” for the X-15 Program. He flew the North American XB-70A Valkyrie to more than Mach 3. When Fulton retired from the Air Force in 1966, he was a lieutenant colonel assigned as Chief of Bomber and Transport Test Operations.

Fitz Fulton continued as a test pilot for NASA, flying as project pilot for the YF-12A and YF-12C research program. He flew all the early test flights of the NASA/Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and carried the space shuttle prototype, Enterprise. By the time he had retired from NASA, Fulton had flown more than 16,000 hours in 235 aircraft types.

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., died at Thousand Oaks, California, 4 February 2015, at the age of 89 years.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2456 with a full weapons load. Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, U.S. Air Force, flew this Mach 2+ strategic bomber to an altitude of 16.2 miles (26 kilometers) over Edwards Air Force Base, California, 14 September 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude Mach 2 strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator located in individual cockpits. The aircraft is a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and an overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wing’s leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and the fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder, and there are no flaps.

The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. This was a single-shaft engine with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine, rated at 10,300 pounds of thrust (45.82 kilonewtons), and 15,600 pounds (69.39 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J79-GE-5 was 16 feet, 10.2 inches (5.136 meters) long and 3 feet, 2.0 inches (0.965 meters) in diameter.

The bomber had a cruise speed of 610 miles per hour (981.7 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,325 miles per hour (2,132.4 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 64,800 feet (19,751 meters). Unrefueled range is 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers). Maximum weight is 168,000 pounds (76,203.5 kilograms).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of a W-39 warhead, and/or Mk.43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The W-39 warhead, the same used with the Redstone IRBM or Snark cruise missile, was carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel for the aircraft. The smaller bombs were carried on underwing hardpoints. For defense, there was a General Electric M61 Vulcan 20×102 mm six-barreled rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of linked ammunition, controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456 was assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Wing at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas until 1969 when it was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 9 December 1969. The record-setting strategic bomber was scrapped 1 June 1977.

FAI altitiude record setting Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456, showing the bomber's weapons capability. (U.S. Air Force)
FAI altitude record setting Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456, showing the bomber’s weapons capability. Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, U.S. Air Force, flew this Mach 2+ strategic bomber to an altitude of 16.2 miles (26 kilometers) over Edwards Air Force Base, California, 14 September 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 14656

² FAI Record File Number 14652

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 August 1946

Convair XB-36 Peacemaker 42-13570 engine run-up
The prototype Consolidated-Vultee XB-36, 42-13570, stands at the end of the runway with all six engines running. (U.S. Air Force)

8 August 1946: At Fort Worth, Texas, the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation XB-36 prototype, 42-13570, made its first flight. Convair test pilots Beryl Arthur Erickson and G.S. “Gus” Green, along with Chief Flight Test Engineer James D. “J.D.” McEachern, were in the cockpit. Six other crew members were aboard.

Chief Test Pilot Beryl Arthur Erickson. (Convair)

In a 1992 interview published in Code One Magazine, Erickson said that he and his crew had been ready to take off at 5 a.m., but they didn’t get their release until noon. The Texas summer temperature was 100 degrees (37.8 °C.), but inside the cockpit, the temperature was 140° F. (60 °C.) The engines were overheating and the oil pressure was low. When they pushed the throttles forward, the XB-36 accelerated smoothly and lifted off at 110 knots (126.6 miles per hour, 203.7 kilometers per hour). The retired test pilot said, “The XB-36 controlled nicely in the takeoff run and in the transition to steady climb. We flew conservatively with the gear down. The flight was uneventful and lasted thirty-eight minutes.”

Chief Test Pilot Beryl Arthur Erickson at the aircraft commander’s station of the Consolidated-Vultee XB-36 long-range heavy bomber. (Code One).

The B-36 was the largest and heaviest airplane built up to that time. It was designed as a long-range heavy bomber, able to reach targets on the European continent from the United States and return, should England fall to Nazi Germany during World War II. With the end of the war, its purpose was changed to that of a long range strategic bomber, carrying large nuclear weapons that weren’t even imagined when the design process had begun.

A size comparison between the Convair XB-36 prototype and a Boeing B-29 Superfortress.
A size comparison between a Boeing B-29-55-BA Superfortress, 44-84017, and the Consolidated-Vultee XB-36 prototype, Carswell AFB, June 1948. (U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency)

The XB-36 had a wing span of 230 feet (70.104 meters), nearly 90 feet longer than that of the B-29 Superfortress that it would replace. It was 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long and 46 feet, 8 inches (14.224 meters) to the tip of the vertical fin. The prototype’s empty weight was 131,740 pounds (59,756 kilograms), and it had a maximum gross weight of 276,506 pounds (125,421 kilograms).

The XB-36 was powered by six air-cooled, supercharged, 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.489 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major TSB1P-G (R-4360-25) 28-cylinder four-row radial engines, with a normal power rating of 2,500 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 3,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. They were mounted inside the wings. The engines were arranged in a “pusher” configuration with intake and cooling air entering through inlets in the wing leading edge. They drove three-bladed propellers with a diameter of 19 feet (5.8 meters) through a 0.381:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-25 was 9 feet, 1.75 inches (2.788 meters) long 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,483 pounds (1,580 kilograms).

The airplane’s maximum speed was 346 miles per hour (557 kilometers per hour) and cruising speed was 216 miles per hour (348 kilometers per hour). It had an estimated range of 9,500 miles (15,290 kilometers) with a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load.

The prototype Convair XB-36, 42-13570, lifts off the runway at Fort Worth, Texas. (U.S. Air Force)
The prototype Consolidated-Vultee XB-36, 42-13570, lifts off the runway at Fort Worth, Texas. (U.S. Air Force)

After testing, improvements were incorporated into the second prototype, YB-36 42-13571. In June 1948, the XB-36 was modified with R-4360-41 engines, and the main landing gear was changed from a single-wheel design to a 4-wheel bogie. With these and other changes the XB-36 was redesignated YB-36A. It was used for continued testing for the next several years, but was eventually stripped of its engines and equipment and used for firefighter training at the adjacent Carswell Air Force Base.

The YB-36 was selected for production as the B-36A Peacemaker. The B-36 series was produced in both bomber and reconnaissance versions and was in front line service from 1949 to 1959. Beginning with the B-36D, four turbojet engines were mounted beneath the wings in pods similar to those on the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, greatly increasing the bomber’s performance. A total of 384 were built. Only five still exist. The Peacemaker was never used in combat.

The Convair XB-36 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
The Consolidated-Vultee XB-36 prototype, 42-13570, in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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