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NASA's Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress Mothership was retired in a ceremony at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base on Friday December 17, 2004. The NB-52B has been a fixture at Edwards AFB for forty-nine years. It first launched a North American X-15 rocket plane on January 23, 1960. Its final mission was the launch of the third X-43A Hyper-X, which demonstrated that an air-breathing engine can propel a vehicle at Mach-10 on the afternoon of November 16, 2004.
NASA's Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress Mothership was the oldest Stratofortress still flying, yet it had accumulated the fewest flying hours, just 2,443 hours since it first flew in June 1955.
The NB-52B launched the three X-15 hypersonic rocket planes and the Northrop HL-10, Northrop M2-F2/F3, Martin Marietta X-24A and Martin Marietta X-24B lifting bodies. It simulated the steep, power off approach to landing used by the Space Shuttles. It assisted in the collection of data about wake turbulence from large aircraft. It served as an air-to-air gunnery target. It launched 3/8-scale F-15 Remotely Piloted Research Vehicles (RPRV), a Ryan Firebee II drone, Ryan Firebee based Drones for Aeroelastic Structures Testing (DAST), and the Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology (HiMAT) RPRVs. It dropped the 48,000-pound Space Shuttle Reusable Booster Drop Test Vehicle (SRB/DTV) and it released a simulated F-111 crew module from its bomb bay to evaluate new parachute recovery systems. It was the first airplane to launch a satellite into orbit on the Orbital Sciences Pegasus booster. It tested the drag chute used to decelerate space shuttle orbiters. It tested pollution reducing fuel additives with a pair of jet engines mounted under its bomb bay. It launched the X-38 Space Station Crew Return Vehicles and the X-43A Hyper-X Supersonic Combustion Ramjet.
The NB-52B will be placed on permanent display just outside the North Gate of the base, where it will be accessible to the public.
The Air Force Systems Command badge on the left side of the nose has faded badly.
There are ten vents on each side of the bomb bay. The openings of the five forward vents face forward, the five aft vents face to the rear.
The yellow NASA tail band was added to the vertical stabilizer when the NB-52B was loaned from the Air Force to NASA in 1976. The black walkway stripes appear only on the left side of the stabilizer.
The right side of the NB-52B is covered in badges, text, and mission marks.
The last four digits of the NB-52B's Air Force serial number, 0008, appear on each side of the nose. The NB-52B wears the old version of the Air Force Flight Test Center badge, which reads "AD INEXPLORATA" (Latin for "Toward the unknown") rather than saying "AIR FORCE FLIGHT TEST CENTER"
The most recent change to the appearance of the NB-52B is the text reading DRYDEN FLIGHT RESEARCH CENTER and NASA. It was added in the Summer of 2004, so it appeared on the NB-52B on only one launch mission. Aside from the addition of the mission marks, the markings of the NB-52B hadn't changed since 1976. I would rather see the NB-52B preserved as it appeared for 28 years, than as it appeared on only one launch.
The lower deck window was replaced with a metal plate sometime in 1994 - 1995.
The names of the NASA crew chiefs assigned to the NB-52B are stencilled below the lower deck window: G. Hall, D. Gullinger, M. Bondy, and D. Bain.
The nose art depicting a B-52 throwing an X-15 was first painted on the NB-52B by C. A. May in September 1964.
A camera port was installed on the lower deck just above the alternator cooling air intakes. The yellow circle surrounds a static port for sensing air pressure.
Many of the missions flown by the NB-52B are represented by the symbols in the rectangles at the right: 140 X-15 flights, 17 M2-F2 flights, 37 HL-10 flights, 27 X-24A flights, 41 F-15 RPRV flights, 9 SRB/DTV flights, and 29 F-15/SRV flights.
Thirty-five M2-F3 marks appear to the left of the mission tallys. Twenty-five marks include a red triangle indicating a rocket-powered flight. The NB-52B first carried the M2-F3 on May 22, 1970. The last M2-F3 launch occurred on December 20, 1972.
Forty-seven X-24B marks appear to the left of the M2-F3 marks. Although only two X-24B marks include the red triangle indicating a rocket-powered flight, the X-24B flew twelve powered flights. The NB-52B first carried the X-24B on July 19, 1973. The last X-24B launch occurred on November 26, 1975. Floodlights can be seen on either side of the X-24B marks.
The NB-52B has accumulated a collection of stickers below the M2-F3 marks. These include badges from the Experimental Aircraft Association, Tinker Air Force Base, Phoenix Air (illegible) Copperheads, 337th Test Squadron, MAINEiacs, 2953 CLSS, 931st Air Refueling Group at McConnell Air Force Base, Boeing Fire Department, and the 23rd Bomb Squadron. The blue sticker at the lower right is no longer readable, but it is the badge of the 562nd Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, which was based at the former George Air Force Base.
The badge of the 562nd Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, which was based at the former George Air Force Base.
Two B-52 silhouettes at center represent Wake Vortex tests and one represents an F-16 Target Test. Ten marks represent flights by the F-15 Spin Research Vehicles, although the three vehicles were launched twenty-six times. The first F-15 SRV flight was launched on November 29, 1977 and the last was launched on July 15, 1981.
The NB-52B flew past a tower equipped with meteorological instruments near Idaho Falls, Idaho in October and December 1977. I have not determined the date of the F-16 Target Test.
Thirteen marks represent the Shuttle Reusable Booster/Drop Test Vehicle (SRB/DTV). Two horizontal silhouettes at upper right indicate captive carry flights flown on June 10, 1977. Below those silhouettes are two more representing the first series of six drops of the SRB/DTV, which began on June 15, 1977 and ended on September 12, 1978.
The nine SRB/DTV marks to the left represent a second series of drops of the SRB/DTV. Three large stabilizing fins were added to the SRB/DTV. The SRB/DTV silhouettes for the second series of drops show the fins. The first drop was scheduled for February 23, 1983, but the rear hooks on the X-15 pylon failed as the NB-52B was taxiing. The horizontal silhouette with the hook at the front represents that incident. The first of eight drops in the second series was flown on September 16, 1983. The last was flown on March 20, 1985. The parachutes separated from the SRB/DTV on one flight, which is represented by a silhouette with a ground line and Joshua Trees on each side.
This B-52 silhouette also represents the day that the hooks failed on the X-15 pylon. Very small letters underneath the silhouette read "T.F.H.B." (The F***ing Hook Broke).
Thirteen silhouettes at right represent flights of modified Ryan BQM-34 Firebee II drones in support of the Drones for Aeroelastic Structures Testing (DAST) program.
The two marks at the top represent flights of a nearly stock Firebee II. Three captive-carry flights were flown in November and December 1975, and July 1977. The Firebee II was launched from the NB-52B once on July 28, 1977.
The next two marks represent the Firebee II equipped with an instrumented wing called "Blue Streak". The NB-52B made one captive-carry flight and one launch of the Blue Streak in March 1979.
The six lower marks and two to the left represent the Drones for Aeroelastic Structures Testing. The first DAST drone was carried on the NB-52B for the first time on September 14, 1979. It was launched three times, the first time on October 2, 1979 and the last time on June 12, 1980. On the last flight, its right wing failed and the drone crashed in the desert. That flight is represented by the mark directly below the three bomb bay vents.
The second DAST drone was carried on its first captive carry flight on October 29, 1982. It was launched from the NB-52B once on November 3, 1982. DAST II made two more captive-carry flights in early 1983, but all subsequent launches were made from a Navy Lockheed DC-130A Hercules. The bottom silhouette in the left column is said to represent a launch of the DAST II drone from the DC-130A.
Nine marks to the left of the bomb bay vents represent drops of the F-111 Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV) from the bomb bay of the NB-52B. Increases in the weight of the F-111 escape module resulted in a requirement for a new parachute recovery system. The first series of eight PTV drops ran from February 1979 to August 1979.
The black rectangle appears to be a camera housing. There is a photo resolution target in the white rectangle above the camera housing. It looks like there once was a mirror on the X-15 pylon that reflected an image of the photo resolution target to the camera. I do not know the reason.
I have not identified the four bat-like marks below the camera housing.
Five more F-111 PTV marks appear to the left of the camera housing and photo target. A second test series of eleven PTV drops was conducted in 1982. The first drop of the second test series was flown on March 3, 1982. The last drop of the second PTV test series was flown in November 1982.
Thirty-eight silhouettes represent the two Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology (HiMAT) drones. Twenty-seven silhouettes have red flames indicating a powered flight. The NB-52B launched the first HiMAT drone fourteen times and the second HiMAT drone 12 times. The first captive-carry HiMAT flight was flown on July 11, 1979. The first HiMAT launch occurred on July 27, 1979 and the last occurred on January 12, 1983.
Nine marks represent a third series of drops of the SRB/DTV. I do not know the dates of those tests.
Twenty-three more F-111 PTV drop test marks appear below and to the left of the SRB/DTV marks. A third series of twelve PTV drops was conducted from July 7, 1987 to November 9, 1988. A fourth series of eleven PTV drops began in May 1989. The last drop of the fourth test series was flown in February 1990. Seven of the marks appear to show reefed parachutes.
One mark represents a parachute failure that resulted in the PTV impacting in the desert at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station.
Nine Orbital Sciences Pegasus sihouettes represent three captive carry flights and six launches. The NB-52B was the first airplane to launch a satellite into orbit on April 5, 1990. The NB-52B made its last Pegasus launch on August 3, 1994.
The original mission marks for the Pegasus were silhouettes of a winged horse. In June 2001, those marks were removed and replaced with silhouettes of the rocket. Other marks were removed and replaced at that time. Scuff marks can be seen where the old marks were removed.
Thirty four marks represent flights that the NB-52B made with a pair of J85 jet engines mounted on a pallet in the bomb bay to test fuel additives for the reduction of emissions of pullutants during supersonic cruise flight. The fuel additive tests were conducted in 1994 and 1995. The X-15 pylon was removed and a close-out structure was installed in the notch in the trailing edge of the wing for these tests.
Eight space shuttle silhouettes represent tests of the drag chute used to decelerate the orbiters when they land. These tests were high-speed taxi runs at speeds up to 192 knots. Four tests were conducted on Rogers Dry Lake in July and August 1990. Four tests were conducted on Runway 22 in Septebmer and October 1990. The bottom silhouette represents a test in which the drag chute separated from the NB-52B.
Fifteen marks represent more tests of the F-111 PTV. A new 85-foot diameter ring sail parachute system was developed for the F-111 crew module. A fifth series of four drops of the PTV were flown to test the new parachute in February and March 1991. A sixth series of ten drops was conducted from June 1991 to November 1991. A seventh series of five drops began in March 1992.
Five bomb bay vents can be seen in this picture. They open to the rear.
Twenty silhouettes represent twelve captive-carry flights and eight drops of the two X-38 Crew Return Vehicles. The NB-52B first carried the X-38 V-131 on August 2, 1997 and first launched it on March 12, 1998. The NB-52B first launched the X-38 V-132 on March 5, 1999. X-38 V-131 was modified and returned to flight as X-38 V-131R on November 2, 2000. The NB-52B last dropped X-38 V-131R on December 13, 2001.
Six silhouettes represent three captive-carry flights and three launches of the X-43A Hyper-X. The first captive-carry flight was flown on April 28, 2001 and the first Hyper-X stack was launched on June 2, 2001. The silhouette for that flight shows the stabilizers breaking away from the modified Pegasus booster. Each of the successful launches of the X-43A was preceded by a captive-carry flight. The final flight of the NB-52B launched the third Hyper-X stack on November 16, 2004.
T-THA...T-THA...T-THAT'S ALL FOLKS!
NASA Dryden photographer Tony Landis prepared a poster showing the entire array of NB-52B mission marks.
A video camera fairing, a movie camera housing and a floodlight were installed just above the right rear main landing gear door.
Markings in front of the horizontal stabilizer indicate its angle of incidence.
The outboard side of the X-15 pylon has been painted white. It has text reading HYPER-X and X-43. The old NASA meatball also graces the pylon.
The inboard side of the pylon has always been painted matte black.
Interior of the bomb bay looking forward. A rack in the middle of the bay holds a dozen high pressure nitrogen cylinders.
Interior of the bomb bay looking to the rear. This view shows the front end of the rack of nitrogen cylinders.
Interior of the bomb bay looking to the rear.
Bulkhead at the rear end of the bomb bay.
Right side view as of November 2004.
Right side view of fuselage as of November 2004.
Right side view of fuselage as it appeared during the launch of the second X-43A Hyper-X stack in March 2004. Aside from the addition of mission marks, it had not changed appreciably since 1976.
Right side view of fuselage showing modifications.
Left side view of fuselage as of November 2004. It has not changed appreciably since 1976.
|NASA Mission Tally||Missions||Launches|
|North American X-15||161||106|
|F-15 Remotely Piloted Research Vehicle (RPRV)||41||27|
|F-15 Spin Research Vehicle (SRV)||32||26|
|Shuttle Reusable Booster/Drop Test Vehicle (SRB/DTV)||22||14|
|Drones for Aeroelastic Structures Testing (DAST)||13||5|
|F-111 Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV)||57||57|
|Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology (HiMAT)||40||26|
|Orbital Sciences Pegasus||13||6|
|X-38 Crew Return Vehicle||21||8|
Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress Mothership.
The X-Planes: X-1 to X-45: 3rd Edition by Jay Miller
Flying Without Wings : Nasa Lifting Bodies and the Birth of the Space Shuttle by Milton O. Thompson
Test Colors: The Aircraft of Muroc Army Airfield and Edwards Air Force Base by Rene Francillon
X-Planes at Edwards (Enthusiast Color Series) by Steve Pace
Edwards Air Force Base : Open House at the USAF Flight Test Center 1957-1966 : A Photo Chronicle of Aircraft Displayed (Schiffer Military History) by Robert D. Archer
Angle of Attack : Harrison Storms and the Race to the Moon by Mike Gray. The biography of Harrison Storms, who was instrumental in the development and operation of the X-15.
At the Edge of Space : The X-15 Flight Program by Milton O. Thompson. The story of test flying the X-15 from the point of view of the pilot.
Send a message to Brian.
Go to home page of the Goleta Air and Space Museum.