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Museum Makes Monumental Move of Massive XB-70 Mach-3 Mega-Bomber for Maintenance

November 1, 2020
Tom Demerly

Only Surviving XB-70 Valkyrie Gets Brief Day in Sun at Air Force Museum.

While she once flew at Mach 3, the last time the only remaining XB-70 Valkyrie super bomber was in motion she moved at less than a walking pace. At the beginning of October the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, had to briefly move the only remaining North American XB-70 Valkyrie outside for display maintenance.

The museum’s media staff shot some exciting video of the breathtaking aircraft as she was gently towed outside while museum workers rearranged some displays in the museum’s newest fourth building gallery, the Research and Development (R&D) Gallery.

The North American XB-70 Valkyrie was the most ambitious super-bomber project of the Cold War, but was plagued by issues until it was eventually consigned to service as a research aircraft until it was retired to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in February of 1969. The massive six-engine bomber was initially displayed outside, but was moved to an indoor gallery in October 2015 for display in the new building in early 2016.

Public Affairs liaison for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Mr. Rob Bardua, told that, “The museum is in the process of redesigning several galleries in the fourth building in order to create a more cohesive and open space for new temporary exhibits, and more compelling exhibit storylines. As part of this redesign, the XB-70 was pushed out to the edge of the ramp and pulled right back in on the same day – it was only outside for a few hours and no preparations or maintenance was done.”

The move clearly created some very rare and spectacular visuals of the XB-70, and the museum’s media team did a fantastic job of making these videos showing the towing of the massive bomber outside and a bonus look at the interior of the aircraft.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the largest military aviation museum in the world, with over 360 fascinating vehicles, aircraft and missiles in addition to thousands of unique artifacts on display over a massive 19 acres of indoor exhibits. The museum is free to enter and hosts approximately one million visitors each year.


Although some museum aircraft can land here right next to the museum, the XB-70s final flight probably ended at nearby Patterson AFB with a two-mile long runway.

Posts: 14995 | Location: Eastern Iowa | Registered: May 21, 2000Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I got to see one at, I believe, Wright Patterson when I was a kid and it was huge.

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Every time I see the XB-70 I always think that it was probably the most elegant bomber ever designed.
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Originally posted by nhtagmember:
Every time I see the XB-70 I always think that it was probably the most elegant bomber ever designed.

Or maybe even the most elegant plane ever designed. Lucky that I saw it may years ago when it was still displayed outside. Inside a hangar I just can't see getting far enough away from it to take it all in.

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Posts: 11319 | Location: Eagle River, AK | Registered: September 12, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I'm lucky enough to live just 45 minutes away from the museum. It's a true national treasure.



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Great videos! As a kid in the 50s and 60s, I thought the XB-70 was the coolest bomber ever. Those interior views were awesome, we did some great stuff before computers and digital.

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That and the B-36 were my favorites.


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Posts: 15809 | Location: New Mexico | Registered: October 14, 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Thanks for sharing. I had not seen those videos before.

I grew up in Ohia, and as a child the AF Museum was the highlight of my year the several times we went there. I wanted to join the USAF just so I could work at the museum.

It's funny how the museum evolved, and how it didn't. For example, when I was there in the 1980s, there were only two large hangars (well, actually one complete hangar, and one hangar split in the middle so they could include a gift shop), and one had to take a bus over to the Annex, where they had the Presidential planes, and the 'overflow' display aircraft. Then, they had large swathes of pavement with other aircraft outside. This was cool, as the lighting inside the museum has always been poor (it is MUCH darker than the Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola), and I had always had difficulty getting good photos inside. However, outdoor display is/was bad for the aircraft in the long-term. As an example, they had a Junkers JU-88 setting outside. Even in the 1980s, this was a 40+ yr old aircraft, and should have been inside for protection.

Now, they have 4 hangars with (I think) plans for a 5th. They eventually will get a C-5 to put inside, along with (probably) a VC-25 (presidential 747) when the new planes come on line. It is an outstanding museum; probably the best museum in the entire world (and I've been to the Louvre). . . (of course, I'm an airplane nut, so I'm biased). Yet, the last time I was there (about 2 yrs ago), the early part of the museum is more or less the same as I remembered it. The 'early flight' stuff is the same (showing displays of Icarus and Daedalus), and many of the aircraft haven't budged an inch for the last several decades (such as the B-36, B-24, and others, IIRC.

As for the XB-70, it's funny how they say "the only remaining XB-70," since there were ever only 2 of them. One was destroyed after another aircraft collided with it during a photo shoot. It was the second prototype, and the loss was in no way due to the XB-70 or its two pilots.

If I had to pick one "Favorite Plane," then this would have to be it. It was 'awesome but impractical,' especially after the Soviets built SAMs that could reach the extreme high altitudes at which it flew (SA-2 maybe, SA-4, SA-5). It was essentially obsolete before it would have ever entered service, but it is still a magnificent beast.

I love that interior video - I never saw any photos of the crawlspace inside the 'neck' of the aircraft.

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Posts: 21278 | Location: Hobbiton, The Shire, Middle Earth | Registered: September 27, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Originally posted by cslinger:
I got to see one at, I believe, Wright Patterson when I was a kid and it was huge.

I think (I was 6 in 1969) I saw one fly over our house when I was a kid,

jets were frequent in RVA, since we were between several bases here and there (as far as flight path)

I remember hearing a jet, looking up, and noticing the canard wings (which I had no idea of what they were called) and remembered seeing a similar silhouette in a book,
Posts: 9128 | Location: Beach VA,not VA Beach | Registered: July 17, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Saw it as a kid outside. Coolest thing I saw on that trip. We were suppose to go to Kings Island amusement park, and were rained out. Far better choice, even then I thought so.

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Posts: 4817 | Location: southern Mn | Registered: February 26, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Very cool! Thanks for sharing. For such a beautiful aircraft on the outside, the interior is quite utilitarian.

I wish I would have had the chance to visit the museum when I was in the Air Force.
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More on the B-70. The link has LOTS of photos and illustrations.

All The Crazy Proposed Variants Of The B-70 Valkyrie Super Bomber

The different adaptations of the B-70 included recon planes, tankers, transports, and even motherships to launch hypersonic vehicles and spacecraft.

NOVEMBER 23, 2020

The Air Force's supersonic B-70 Valkyrie bomber, designed and built by North American Aviation, already holds a place of great prominence in discussions about advanced military aircraft that never made it into service and what might have happened if they did. Now, the service has published a fascinating review of proposed variants of the B-70 for use in various roles, including as a reconnaissance platform, an aerial refueling tanker, a supersonic transport, and as a mothership for launching ballistic missiles, hypersonic test vehicles, and to help get payloads into space, among others.

Air Force Material Command's (AFMC) History Office released the document, titled NAA B-70 Valkyrie Variants: A Future That Never Was..., on Nov. 23, 2020. This office regularly publishes works that provide a more in-depth look at past advanced aviation developments and other historical topics.

"Like flying cars, human colonies on Mars and so many other futuristic ideas, the 1950’s vision of the tomorrow was filled with grand ideas that are just now coming to fruition," the B-70 variant historical monograph offers by way of introduction. "As expected, aircraft engineers of the time had similar visions as they began taking their ideas from their minds, placing them on paper, then asking manufactures to bend steel and other exotic materials to create the planes of the future."

"Engineers hoped that one vehicle, one that they perceived as the last manned bomber, could change the future of aerial bombardment," it continues. "Yet, politics, money, and technological advancements put an end to the B-70 Valkyrie, a Mach 3+, nuclear-capable super-bomber. Those varying factors killed the dream even before the first vehicle rolled out of the North American Aviation assembly plant."

Some of the concepts the Air Force historians put into their compendium were put forward in support of the B-70's primary mission as a long-range strike platform. One of these is a self-contained "Alert Pod" that go underneath the rear fuselage and obviate the need for various heavy ground equipment to get the aircraft started ahead of a mission. This would have been useful, as the name implies, for aircraft sitting on short-notice alert or if Valkyries were to be dispersed to other locations with more limited support assets.

There's artwork included in the document of a B-70 fitted with an Alert Pod and also armed with a pair of Skybolt air-launched ballistic missiles, a weapon you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone feature. Another concept shows a Valkyrie carrying no less than 14 "General Purpose Missiles," a proposed common missile design that looks like a mini-B-70 and that could have accommodated different kinds of warheads optimized for different target sets.

There's a diagram showing a B-70 fitted with rotary bomb racks in its bomb bay, something that became standard on Air Forces bombers, including the B-52, B-1, and B-2, decades later. This same proposed variant, dubbed the RSB-70, with RSB standing for "reconnaissance/strike bomber," would have also had an integral reconnaissance camera package, enabling it to collect bomb damage assessment imagery itself after striking a target.

Another graphic depicts the installation of a terrain avoidance system for B-70 bombs "as surface-to-air missile capabilities of hostile countries improved, the high and fast mission of the bomber fleet became obsolete. Low-level terrain-following missions had become the new standard," according to the document. This shift in bomber concepts of operation very much went on to inform the development of the subsequent B-1.

The document also has a picture of a wind tunnel model of a B-70 fitted with a retractable parasail, a device that the Air Force, as well as other branches of the U.S. military, explored as a way to improve the short takeoff and landing capabilities of various aircraft. The parasail in this case looks much like a wing-shaped parachute, which would have provided extra lift at low speeds.

The document covers a number of non-bomber variants, as well. Some of these make good sense, at least in principle, such as a tanker version, which would have been able to top up other fuel-hungry B-70s during missions. Robert Hopkins, an Air Force veteran, author, and contributor to the War Zone, with flying time on numerous C-135 variants, including KC-135 tankers, tweeted out "Not sure, however, if I'd want to try A/R [aerial refueling] at M=3.0 [Mach 3]" after seeing this new Air Force history. "Remember Pitch X Mach = VVI [Vertical Velocity Indicator], so a sneezing while refueling would be catastrophic!"

There were also proposals for passenger and cargo transports, including a medical version "configured to include a nurses station along with patient litters for forty-eight wounded personnel." This is hardly surprising given the interest in supersonic airliners and similar aircraft at the time, which eventually gave rise to various commercial projects, including Boeing's SST and the Anglo-French Concorde.

AFMC's historians note that it's not clear if the technology at the time would have made it cost-effective to turn the B-70 into an airlifter. "In an attempt to sell a pure cargo variant, engineers truly embellished their findings by attempting to show that the cargo capacity of their supersonic transport was equal to, or better than, larger transports such as the C-133 or KC-135," the document says. "Loading of cargo through a swinging nose similar to a Lockheed C-5 or Super Guppy, or the use of access doors in the bottom and sides were just some of the problems to be overcome. The use of a detachable pod appeared to be the most logical solution."

The document also notes that the B-70 was proposed as an engine testbed to support the development of other supersonic transports or other advanced designs. One graphic shows how various kinds of engines could be mounted in the bomb bay, ranging from ramjets and pulsejets to solar, ionic, and even nuclear-powered jet engines.

The Air Force monograph also covered a number of more radical proposed variations of the B-70 design that were focused on turning into a mothership for launching various kinds of payloads inside modified bomb bays, underneath the fuselage behind specialized fairings, on top of the fuselage, or under the wings.

One such concept envisioned turning the bomber into an airborne launch platform for the Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

It's worth noting that the Air Force actually did a real-world test of this basic idea in 1974, dropping a Minuteman missile out of the back of a C-5 Galaxy airlifter. After the missile left the C-5's cargo bay, parachutes caused it to fall into a near-vertical orientation, at which point its rocket motors fired in midair and sent it hurtling on its way to a mock target in the Pacific Ocean.

The B-70s could have been used to launch multiple kinds of hypersonic vehicles, including test platforms, such as variants of the X-15. At the same time as the Valkyrie was in development, the Air Force was also looking at hypersonic aircraft designs, such as the X-20 Dyna-Soar, that it hoped would be capable of performing various mission types in an actual operational environment.

One of these mothership proposals was interestingly referred to as the M-70 Hypersonic Experimental Launch Platform (HELP), a nomenclature similar to the M-21 version of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. Lockheed developed the M-21 to launch the D-21 high-speed spy drone, which you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone piece.

The air-launched mothership version of the B-70 was also considered as a way to potentially launch payloads into space, a concept also known as two-stage-to-orbit, a role that was also proposed for the SR-71's predecessor, the A-12 Oxcart. You can read more about this general concept and the proposed AP-12 variant of the Oxcart in these past War Zone pieces, respectively. The AFMC monograph includes artwork showing modified versions of the Valkyrie launching rockets carrying spy satellites, as well as a Gemini space capsule.

"Some fanciful proposals went so far as to propose launching NASA’s Gemini manned missions from the Valkyrie mothership," the document says. "It appears engineers were desperate to come up with a mission for the aircraft and if a space-bound vehicle was small enough to be carried in this fashion, then a report was created to launch it from the B-70."

It's worth pointing out that there have been persistent rumors for decades that some form of follow-on aircraft to the B-70 was also developed for this role. This is something the War Zone has previously explored in depth.

AFMC's History Office also notes that the B-70 appears to have had at least some influence on various supersonic transport designs that came afterward, as well as other proposed hypersonic vehicle or space-launch motherships. The document highlights very broad similarities between the B-70 and concept art of an unmanned hypersonic aircraft that Boeing released more recently. North American Aviation had merged with Rockwell in 1967 to form North American Rockwell, which eventually morphed into Rockwell International. Boeing acquired various components of Rockwell International, including its aviation division, in 1996.

The Valkyrie program, as already noted, was ultimately canceled due to a wide array of factors, including technological challenges, cost growth, the Soviet Union's expanding surface-to-air missile arsenal, and subsequent changes in Air Force bomber doctrine. The Air Force only ever acquired two prototype examples of this impressive aircraft, officially designed XB-70As, one of which was infamously lost in a tragic fatal midair collision with NASA F-104 Starfighter. The remaining aircraft was subsequently used for experimental aerospace research by both the Air Force and NASA, before its retirement in 1969. It is now on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Altogether, this historical monograph is a fascinating overview of the high hopes and ambitious plans the Air Force, as well as North America's engineers, once had for what has gone down as one of the most fascinating aircraft of all time, the B-70.

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Posts: 14995 | Location: Eastern Iowa | Registered: May 21, 2000Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Final flight (to the AF Museum) was Feb 4, 1969:
Posts: 14995 | Location: Eastern Iowa | Registered: May 21, 2000Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Originally posted by qxsoup:
I'm lucky enough to live just 45 minutes away from the museum. It's a true national treasure.
I'm lucky enough to have one of my photos engraved in granite on a monument in one of the gardens. It's a monument honoring all the troops who operated remote radar sites worldwide, and 27 countries had 1 site each chosen to be displayed, and the site in the US chosen for the honor was one I'd been assigned at, and one of my photos was chosen as the one to commemorate it. I haven't been there yet to see it, but plan to do so soon.

Here's the monument (one side)--my photo is the center of the top row:
This is the photo they used:
196306dd Ops Area (127-h).jpg by David Casteel, on Flickr


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Posts: 25470 | Location: Dallas, TX | Registered: May 08, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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When I was going to school at W-P AFB in the mid-80s the XB-70 was an outside display. Glad it got a re-furb'd and placed inside out of the elements.

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Posts: 8079 | Location: Northern Virginia | Registered: November 04, 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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LOTS more photos from the AF Museum:
Posts: 14995 | Location: Eastern Iowa | Registered: May 21, 2000Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Thanks Ron for the thread!

Wondered about some other things so I searched and found this... neat photos of in flight Mach 3 too!

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Posts: 13053 | Location: Black Hills of South Dakota | Registered: June 20, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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When I was a kid (dating myself) I would skip school and ride my bike to the AF Museums original building in WPAFBs Area A in Fairborn. Also would ride my bike to the Wright Bros. Memorial which overlooked the WPAFB active runway. Vietnam was in full swing at that time and the runway was very busy.
If any of you find yourselves in Dayton, the AF Museum is a must see.

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Posts: 12168 | Location: Marquette MI | Registered: July 08, 2014Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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The XB-70 is such an amazing aircraft. I think the government got it right, though in cancelling it.

There are some great YouTube docs on it (Dark Skies, Dark Docs, and Curious Droid channels come to mind).
Posts: 4090 | Location: Iowa | Registered: February 24, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Slight thread drift:

Below is a 78 page well-illustrated report on the Fairfield Air Depot at Wright Field, now the site of NMUSAF.

More on Wright Field:

Posts: 14995 | Location: Eastern Iowa | Registered: May 21, 2000Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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