A photo of the North American XB-70 Valkyrie, capable of going over 2,000mph and is still the fastest bomber ever built.

Valkyrie. The Aesthetic Revolutionary.

You may know, you may not know, who she was, what she did, and what she could have been. You may know enough of the history of aviation, but have you found her yet? Have you forgotten her? Has the world of aviation forgotten about the Valkyrie?

She was powerful. North American did not wish to compromise when it came to raw speed, and they were set on the Mach 3 target the USAF required them to meet. Her design incorporated the specially-designed General Electric YJ63 engine (which served as the basis for the GE4, the powerplant of the cancelled Boeing 2707), which produced a respectable 130kN ‘wet’ thrust (merely 29kN less than the Pratt & Whitney F119, the powerplant of the Lockheed Martin F-22). However, one was definitely not enough for that kind of aircraft, and so she featured six of them, equalling approximately 780kN of wet thrust, and 588kN of dry thrust, altogether. That made the Valkyrie even more powerful than three F-15s, four F-35As, and two F-22s!

She was fast. Able to sustain a cruise speed of Mach 3.0 (2,000mph, or 3,200km/h) for 3,725nm, at an impressive altitude of 70,000ft. She could even surpass the Mach 3 barrier, and could climb all the way to 77,350ft if she so wished to. It is this staggering efficiency and blistering speed (rivalled only by the SR-71 itself) which could have made her perhaps the most capable bomber of her time, and certainly an incredibly intimidating threat to the USSR as the Cold War reached it’s peak in tensions in the close background of her design.

She was revolutionary. Beautiful. Stunning. Curvy. Every part of her held it’s own exclusive role in the overall design, to an extent that was simply unsurpassed, in reference to the technological feat she was. The hinged wings could be set horizontally on takeoff, landing and subsonic flight, and downwards whilst cruising or at supersonic flight. This gave unprecedented advantages, such as minimising trim drag by reducing the area behind her centre of gravity, decreasing the wingtip drag caused by interaction with the inlets’ shock wave, vastly improved her directional stability at the higher speeds (by ‘supplying more of a vertical surface), and took advantage of the phenomenon known as ‘compression lift’, resulting in a much higher amount of lift as well as a more efficient lift-to-weight ratio. The Valkyrie also incorporated much more expensive and exclusive materials, such as sandwiched honeycomb and titanium, both of which minimised weight whilst conserving structural strength and heat resistance, all factors required for flight, let alone sustained flight, at and above Mach 3. These are only a few aspects of her revolutionary design.

And she was cancelled. After the very unfortunate loss of the second airframe (registration; 62-0207, AV-2) in a midair collision (on the 8th of June 1966, at 18:30 MEZ) with a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, in a close and fatal formation for a photoshoot for General Electric that went horribly wrong, the USAF were down to only the first airframe. Additionally, her actual purpose was constantly dwindling away; she did not feature a bomb bay (even though she was intended to be a bomber), and a weapons payload of bombs and/or missiles would have rendered her too heavy and therefore too slow to be able to outrun threats such as SAMs, and interceptor aircraft. Moreover, the Russian SAM technology was progressing at an unprecedented rate, and they certainly were edging closer to retaining the ability to shoot down the Valkyrie or any high altitude aircraft; a significant concern for the American aviation designers who struggled to keep up. And finally, the focus of nuclear weapons delivery had been passed onto the form of intercontinental ballistic missiles, ICBMs, that could perform strikes deeper into enemy territory, more quickly, at less of a resources drain, manufacturing time, and price of some nuclear-bomb-equipped aircraft such as the Valkyrie. Altogether, she was very expensive, and was slowly becoming inferior, locked in a growing shadow of her former potential.

Regardless, she was a one-of-a-kind aircraft that we will never see anything remotely similar to again, and perhaps could have been an incredibly effective and intimidating asset for the USAF, had she been granted the opportunity.

She remains only a distant memory from the long-gone Cold War days, where the constant tension drove technological development at an unsurpassed rate for both sides. Yet she still exists with us, the first airframe (registration 62-0001, AV-1) restored and residing in the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio.

This is a tribute to the Mach 3+ bomber that could have been, but the most beautiful aircraft there ever was.

Thank you for reading.

Sources: Wikipedia. AviationSafetyNetwork. Quora. Aerospace Legacy Foundation. NASA. General Electric. Pratt & Whitney. Area51SecretProjects. National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Useful Links: Virtual Cockpit: http://www.nmusafvirtualtour.com/cockpits/RD_tour/RD-9.html http://www.nmusafvirtualtour.com/cockpits/RD_tour/RD-10.html Virtual Electronic Equipment Compartment: http://www.nmusafvirtualtour.com/cockpits/RD_tour/RD-11.html

Interview with an XB-70 pilot, and sole survivor of the collision, Al White: https://www.aerosociety.com/news/podcast-the-al-white-interview/

Virtual Aircraft Model (for FSX and FS2004), by Virtavia: https://www.fspilotshop.com/virtavia-valkyrie-p-3051.html

Website of the National Museum of the Air Force, where AV-1 is housed: https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil

Declassified Pilot’s Operations Manual: http://www.lulu.com/shop/united-states-air-force/xb-70-valkerie-pilots-flight-operating-manual-with-declassified-supplement/paperback/product-2611762.html

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