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Valkyrie: North American’s Mach 3 Superbomber
The most many of us know about the B-70 program is that it was a supersonic bomber being developed for the Air Force that got axed by an unsympathetic Congress after a tragic accident that destroyed one of the two prototypes. The authors Jenkins’ and Landis’ in-depth account of the Valkyrie program clearly covers it genesis, development, and its remarkable accomplishments, and why the program was ultimately ended.
In December 1957 North American Aviation was awarded a contract to build the B-70, which could fly at 70,000 feet at Mach 3 speed, carry a 25,000 pound payload, could reach any target in the Soviet Union from bases in the United States, and then proceed on to bases in friendly territory. But the story of the Valkyrie doesn’t begin there.
In 1950 the B-36 was the backbone of the Strategic Air Force, and the B-47 and B-52 would soon be in service, but none had the capabilities the Air Force envisioned it needed for a bomber in the future. They wanted a bomber that could fly higher (70,000 feet), faster (Mach 3), and further than anything being developed then. It was a time when anything seemed possible.
There was the development of atomic-powered aircraft that could provide virtually unlimited range. While the concept was good, this aircraft was never built, although much was learned about building nuclear-powered engines and the structural, environmental, and safety problems associated with it. The authors have provided a wealth of information and photos about this particular program.
Then there was the development of the B-58 Hustler in order to have a bomber with supersonic speed – not Mach 3, but a step in that direction. At the same time, development of a fighter that could achieve the elusive Mach 3 speed was in the works. Reaching that magic speed proved to be a greater challenge than first envisioned. But out of this series of programs came the SR-71 Blackbird.
Every aircraft design program involves more than just the airframe design. New materials are needed, new manufacturing techniques are developed, and multiple peripheral programs are necessary for the electronics package, the ordnance capabilities, and creation of such important items as a workable escape capsule for the aircraft crew. The book includes a detailed report with pictures of the tragic crash of the second prototype B-70. The appendices include a listing of the flights flown, the pilots and their perspective of the aircraft, plus more.
The authors seem to have covered it all, from concept to the B-70’s last flight, as well as the peripheral programs it spawned – even the design of special noise-abatement baffles so that the noise from running up the aircraft engines didn’t upset the local turkey farmers too much. This book is recommended for anyone interested in this extraordinary aircraft. Oh, and if you look on page 17 you will find the real reason why the B-70 never went into production.