The B-52 Stratofortress was the US Air Force’s mainstay throughout the Cold War but planned to create a new bomber with greater altitude and speed had been discussed as early as the late 1950s.
The Strategic Air Command (SAC) commissioned the XB-70 Valkyrie because it yearned for a high-altitude bomber capable of three times the speed of sound.
The six-engine XB-70 Valkyrie was designed to fly at 70,000 feet (21,000 m), making it almost resistant to interceptor aircraft. It could cruise thousands of kilometers at Mach 3+.
The XB-70A was supposed to reach a top speed of Mach 3.1 with the help of its six General Electric YJ93 30,000-pound thrust engines, each equipped with afterburners (2,056 miles per hour or 3,309 kilometers per hour).
Its maximum speed was Mach 3.00 at its service ceiling of 75,550 feet (23,012 meters) and Mach 1.90 (1,254 miles per hour, or 2,018 kilometers per hour) when flying at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) (1,982 miles per hour, or 3,190 kilometers per hour).
The combat range for the XB-70 was estimated at 3,419 miles (5,502 kilometers), with a maximum of 6,904 kilometers (4,290 miles).
But, a new danger emerged in the early 1960s with the advent of more advanced surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). The bomber’s development coincided with the introduction of cheaper, nuclear-capable ICBMs. This resulted in the cancellation of the B-70 bomber program prior to the completion of the first flight of even a single Valkyrie.
This is where the narrative ought to have ended.
High-speed test platform
The United States Air Force had hoped it would be a bomber, but instead, it was used to evaluate the aerodynamics, propulsion, and other aspects of big supersonic aircraft.
NASA and the Air Force were doing SST research, and the XB-70 Valkyrie design proved to be an ideal test bed for their efforts. It was the same size and was built using the same materials as the predicted SST designs, including welded stainless steel honeycomb and titanium.
Although two prototypes were constructed as research aircraft, only one is still in existence today due to budgetary constraints.
An accidental midair collision claimed the life of co-pilot Major Carl Cross and destroyed the second of two Valkyrie prototypes in June 1966, less than a year after its creation. A third Valkyrie was planned, but the project was ultimately scrapped.
The original XB-70A, however, was a huge hit. In September of 1964, he took off from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, and landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) thanks to the efforts of Chief Test Pilot Alvin S. White and Air Force Col. Joseph F. Cotton of the United States.
In October 1965, the plane flew faster than Mach 3 for the first time. Until its final research flight on February 4, 1969, the prototype continued to fly and collect useful test data for the research effort. The fact that the XB-70 “Valkyrie,” a plane that seems like something out of the future, soared to the sky only sixty years after the Wright brothers’ first flight is even more astonishing.
The Valkyrie AV-1 (AF Ser. No. 62-0001) prototype is on exhibit at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB), Dayton, Ohio, in the Research and Development Gallery of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
It is a representation of the Air Force’s attempts to advance aviation technology and one of the largest planes in the museum’s current collection.