This Day in Aviation History
September 21st, 1964
First flight of the North American XB-70 Valkyrie.
The North American Aviation XB-70 Valkyrie is the prototype of the B-70 nuclear-armed, deep-penetration strategic bomber for the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command. North American Aviation designed the Valkyrie bomber as a large, six-engined aircraft capable of reaching Mach 3+ while flying at 70,000 feet (21,000 m).
At these speeds, it was expected that the B-70 would be almost immune to interceptor aircraft, the only effective weapon against bomber aircraft at the time. The bomber would spend only a few minutes over a particular radar station, flying out of its range before the controllers could vector their fighters into a suitable location for an interception. Its high speed also made the aircraft difficult to see on the radar displays, and its high altitude flight could not be matched by any contemporary Soviet fighter.
The introduction of the first Soviet surface-to-air missiles in the late 1950s put the B-70’s near-invulnerability in doubt. In response, the US Air Force began flying its missions at low level, where the missile radar’s line of sight was limited by local terrain. In this role, known as penetration, the B-70 offered little more performance over the B-52 it was meant to replace. It was, however, far more expensive and had shorter range. A number of alternate missions were proposed, but these were of limited scope. As the strategic role passed from bombers to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) during the late 1950s, manned bombers were increasingly seen as an anachronism.
The USAF eventually gave up fighting for its production, and the B-70 program was canceled in 1961. Development was then turned over to a research program to study the effects of long-duration high-speed flight. As such, two prototype aircraft were built, and designated XB-70A; these aircraft were used for supersonic test-flights during 1964–69. In 1966, one prototype crashed after colliding in mid-air with a smaller jet aircraft; the remaining Valkyrie bomber is in the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in Ohio…..
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