NB-52B Stratofortress Mothership - X-38 Space Station Crew Return Vehicle


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Flight test preparations

NASA's first X-38 lifting-body vehicle X-38, V-131 Space Station Lifeboat parachute recovery system demonstrator, referred to as Vehicle 131, arrived at Dryden in 1997 for the flight-research portion of the program. The X-38 is a technology demonstrator for the proposed crew return vehicle, which is designed as an autonomous "lifeboat" for the International Space Station. NASA will use a crew return vehicle to evacuate crew members to Earth in cases of injury or illness. Also, the six-person vehicle could return the crew to Earth if an orbiter was unavailable or if the Space Station became disabled. These photographs were taken on July 28, 1997.

X-38 captive-carry flights NB-52B Stratofortress Mothership with X-38, V-131 on July 28, 1997 under the wing of Dryden's venerable NB-52B began in late 1997. The first parachute drop test of V-131 was conducted on March 12, 1998. The unanticipated behavior of the parafoil as it deployed prompted a ten-month hiatus in the X-38 flight tests while the parafoil was tested at Yuma Marine Corps Air Station. The X-38 was dropped from the NB-52B for the second time on February 6, 1999.

X-24A with NB-52B at 1970 Edwards AFB Open House The initial X-38 shape was derived directly from the Martin Marietta X-24A, seen here on static display with the NB-52B at the 1970 Edwards AFB Open House. The aerodynamics of the X-24A have already been thoroughly explored. Unlike the X-24A, which landed at over two hundred miles per hour, the X-38 lands gently under a large, wing-shaped parachute. Photographer: Richard Lockett

Edwards Air Force Base Open House, October 18-19, 1997

X-38, V-131 at the 1997 Edwards AFB Open House The first X-38 Space Station Crew Return Vehicle was displayed hanging from the pylon on the wing of the NB-52B at the 1997 Edwards AFB Open House on October 18 and 19.

Captive Carry Flight, November 19, 1997

X-38 Crew Return Vehicle, V-131 aloft on a captive carry mission on November 19, 1997. Photo ec97-44319-8 courtesy NASA Dryden. X-38 Crew Return Vehicle, V-131 aloft on a captive carry mission on November 19, 1997

Link to a March 20, 1998 Dryden X-Press article about the first free flight of V-131 on March 12, 1998.

First Free Flight, March 12, 1998

X-38, V-131 descends under its parafoil on its first free flight on March 12, 1998. Photo EC98-44452-9 courtesy NASA Dryden. X-38, V-131 descends under its parafoil on its first free flight on March 12, 1998

Link to a March 20, 1998 Dryden X-Press article about the first free flight of V-131 on March 12, 1998.

Edwards Air Force Base Open House, Saturday, October 3, 1998

X-38, V-131 at the 1998 Edwards AFB Open House X-38 Crew Return Vehicle V-131 sat on a trailer next to the NB-52B at the 1998 Edwards AFB Open House. This image can be viewed in 3-D. V-131 was subsequently modified by Scaled Composites to more closely represent the configuration of the orbital V-201.

Link to a January 29, 1999 Dryden X-Press article about the upcoming second free flight of V-131.

Second Free Flight, February 6, 1999.

The parafoil of the X-38 has deployed during its second free flight on February 6, 1999. Photo EC99-44888-44 courtesy NASA Dryden. The parafoil of the X-38 has deployed during its second free flight on February 6, 1999

Link to a February 12, 1999 Dryden X-Press article about the second free flight of V-131 on February 6, 1999.

Third Free Flight, March 5, 1999

X-38, V-132 touches down at the end of its first flight on March 5, 1999. Photo EC99-44923-157 courtesy NASA Dryden. X-38, V-132 touches down at the end of its first flight on March 5, 1999

Link to a March 12, 1999 Dryden X-Press article about the first free flight of V-132 on March 5, 1999.

Link to a June 11, 1999 Dryden X-Press article about the upcoming second free flight of V-132.

Fourth Free Flight, July 9, 1999

NB-52B launches X-38, V-132 on July 9, 1999. Photo EC99-45080-25 courtesy NASA Dryden.NB-52B launches X-38, V-132 on July 9, 1999

X-38, V-132 after launch on July 9, 1999. Photo EC99-45080-21 courtesy NASA Dryden.X-38, V-132 after launch on July 9, 1999

X-38, V-132 landing on Rogers Dry Lake on July 9, 1999. Photo EC99-45080-101 Courtesy NASA Dryden. X-38, V-132 landing on Rogers Dry Lake on July 9, 1999

Edwards Air Force Base Open House, Saturday, October 9-10, 1999

X-38, V-132 at the 1999 Edwards AFB Open House The second X-38 Space Station Lifeboat, V-132 is equipped with functional flight control surfaces which allow it to perform extended glides before deploying the recovery parafoil. It made its first flight on March 5, 1999, its second flight on July 9, 1999, and its third flight on March 30, 2000. It was displayed at the International Aerospace Exhibition in Berlin from June 6 to June 12, 2000. It has been placed on static display at the Johnson Space Center.

Link to a October 15, 1999 Dryden X-Press article about an upcoming captive carry flight of V-132.

Link to a November 26, 1999 Dryden X-Press article about the November 18, 1999 captive carry flight of V-132.

Link to a December 17, 1999 Dryden X-Press article about the development of the X-38.

Link to a February 22, 2000 Dryden X-Press article about a test of the parafoil for the X-38 at Yuma MarineCorps Air Station on January 19.

Fifth Free Flight, March 30, 2000

X-38, V-132 landing on Rogers Dry Lake at the conclusion of the fifth free flight on March 30, 2000. Photo EC00-0096-65 Courtesy NASA Dryden.  X-38, V-132 landing on Rogers Dry Lake on March 30, 2000

Link to an April 14, 2000 Dryden X-Press article about the fifth flight of the X-38 on March 30, 2000.

Link to an August 25, 2000 Dryden X-Press article about the delivery of the X-38, V-131R on July 11, 2000.

Link to an August 25, 2000 Dryden X-Press article about the first captive flight of V-131R on August 4, 2000.

Edwards Air Force Base Open House, October 21, 2000

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress Mothership, NASA 008 on static display at the 2000 Open House Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress Mothership, NASA 008 on static display at the 2000 Open House.

Sixth Free Flight, November 2, 2000

The sixth flight of the X-38 was launched on Thursday, November 2, 2000. It was the first flight of the modified V-131R configuration. It demonstrated the full-size 7,500-square-foot parafoil to be used on the actual Space Station Lifeboat. Previous X-38 flights used a 5,000-square-foot parafoil.

Goodyear Eagle Cam, Cessna 337 Skymaster A short while before the NB-52B took off with V-131R, the red Eagle Cam Cessna 337 Skymaster, N337WA with a Gyron 935 gyro-stabilized video system took off from mid-field. It transmitted live television of the parachute descent of the X-38. It is registered to Gyron Eagle, Ltd of Pasadena, California. It is operated by Wolfe Air and is regularly scheduled for MTV’s ‘Senseless Acts of Video.

Link to Wolfe Air's fleet page.

Shortly before 8:00 A.M. the NB-52B lined up with the main runway.

NASA F/A-18B chase plane A white and blue NASA F/A-18B Hornet chase plane, N846NA took off. It made one circuit of the pattern and lined up with the runway to catch the NB-52B as it took off.

Visit the NASA Dryden F-18 chase aircraft Fact Page and F-18 chase aircraft Photo Gallery.

The tower radioed clearance for the NB-52B to take-off. The shrill whine of the eight J57 turbojets increased in volume and a dense cloud of black smoke billowed up behind the Stratofortress.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership with X-38 Space Station Lifeboat The NB-52B lifted off after rolling nearly 8,000 feet.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership with X-38 Space Station Lifeboat


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Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership with X-38 Space Station Lifeboat

You can buy an 8-inch by 10-inch print of this picture and some of my other B-52 Stratofortress pictures through the Lockett Photography web site.

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Visit the NASA Dryden B-52 Stratofortress Mothership Fact Page.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership with X-38 Space Station Lifeboat X-38, V-131R is an 80%-scale testbed of the Space Station Crew Return Vehicle.

Forty years earlier, the NB-52B takes off with the X-15-1 from runway 04 in September 1960. Photo courtesy AFFTC/HO. NB-52B takes off with X-15, September 1960

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership with X-38 Space Station Lifeboat Mission symbols for the five previous X-38 parachute recovery system tests can be seen on the side of the fuselage of the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership with X-38 Space Station Lifeboat

Departure of the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft carrying the Space Shuttle Discovery, November 2, 2000 Shortly after the NB-52B take-off, the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft departed with Shuttle OV-103, Discovery. Link to a page with more pictures of the Discovery at Edwards Air Force Base.

The NB-52B carries X-38, V-131R over the Mojave Desert on November 2, 2000. Photo ec00-0317-154 courtesy NASA Dryden. NB-52B carries X-38, V-131R over the Mojave Desert on November 2, 2000

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership with X-38 Space Station Lifeboat High overhead, contrails streamed from the engines of the NB-52B as it flew around a racetrack pattern with its F/A-18B chase plane.

The X-38 was dropped from the NB-52B at an altitude of 36,500 feet. It made an unplanned 360-degree roll after launch. After twenty-four seconds of gliding flight, it deployed an 80-foot diameter drogue chute. It deployed the 7,000 square foot parafoil at an altitude of 19,000 feet.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership A smoke generator has been installed on the left wing of the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership to assist in tracking the airplane.

X-38 descending over Edwards AFB A Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter flew near the X-38 to transmit live television of the test. The parafoil turned slowly in a half circle as it descended to the lakebed.

X-38, V-131R descends toward Rogers Dry Lake on November 2, 2000. Photo EC00-0317-41 courtesy NASA Dryden. X-38, V-131R descends toward Rogers Dry Lake on November 2, 2000

X-38 descending to land on Rogers Dry Lake The trailing edge of the parachute curled downward to flare the chute for landing.

X-38 landing on Rogers Dry Lake The skids of the X-38 hit the lakebed and kicked up a cloud of brown dust as the lifting body pitched forward for a moment.

X-38 landing on Rogers Dry Lake The parafoil settled to the ground alongside the X-38, reflected in the lakebed mirage.

X-38, V-131R on Rogers Dry Lake following the sixth free flight on November 2, 2000. Photo EC00-0317-41 courtesy NASA Dryden. X-38, V-131R on Rogers Dry Lake following the sixth free flight on November 2, 2000

The NB-52B landing after launching the X-38 on November 2, 2000. Photo ec00-0318-1 courtesy NASA Dryden.NB-52B landing after launching the X-38 on November 2, 2000

Link to the NASA Dryden press release about the X-38 parachute test on November 2.

Attempt to launch the seventh X-38 mission, June 29, 2001

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 with X-38 V-131R on the flightline at Edwards AFB Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 with X-38 V-131R on the flightline.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 with X-38 V-131R on the flightline at Edwards AFB The ground crew works to prepare the X-38 V-131R for the seventh test drop of the program.

X-38 V-131R under the wing of Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 on the flightline at Edwards AFB There had been a problem with some of the radio gear, so it was being switched out. 

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 with X-38 V-131R on the flightline at Edwards AFB Gordon Fullerton was walking around the NB-52B doing the pilot's pre-flight check.  Fullerton was one of the first Space Shuttle test pilots. Now he flies NASA's 747 shuttle carrier and the NB-52B. He stood out from the ground crew in his tan coveralls..

X-38 V-131R under the wing of Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 on the flightline at Edwards AFB The man in the tan coveralls is Gordon Fullerton, the pilot of the NB-52B.

X-38 V-131R under the wing of Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 on the flightline at Edwards AFB The ground crew wraps up the launch preparations for the X-38 V-131R.

Mission marks on the side of the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 Some of the mission symbols on the side of the fuselage of the NB-52B have been revised.  The stylized flying horse symbols for the Pegasus satellite launches have been replaced with sihouettes of the actual rocket booster.

X-38 V-131R under the wing of Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 on the flightline at Edwards AFB X-38 V-131R is fully prepared for launch.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 with X-38 V-131R on the flightline at Edwards AFB The ground crew fires up the ground power unit to start the engines of the NB-52B.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 with X-38 V-131R on the flightline at Edwards AFB Gordon Fullerton prepares to taxi the NB-52B to runway 22.

NASA Boeing-McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18B Hornets, N852NA and N846NA take off from runway 22 at Edwards AFB NASA Boeing-McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18B Hornet chase planes, N852NA and N846NA take off from runway 22 at Edwards AFB.

NASA Boeing-McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18B Hornet chase plane at Edwards AFB The Hornet chase planes circled and lined up with the runway to catch the NB-52B as it took off.  Both Hornets were on our side of the runway.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 takes off with X-38 V-131R At 9:20, the Stratofortress belched a cloud of unburned hydrocarbons from its eight J57 turbojet engines and started rolling toward us.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 takes off with X-38 V-131R The nose gear of the NB-52B has just lifted off the ground.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 takes off with X-38 V-131R The NB-52B lifted off the ground just as it came past us.  At the same time, one Hornet passed directly over us and the other passed just behind us, just a few hundred feet off the ground.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 takes off with X-38 V-131R Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 takes off with X-38 V-131R.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 takes off with X-38 V-131R Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 departs to the west with X-38 V-131R.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 takes off with X-38 V-131R The trio of planes turn to the north and climb to the launch altitude of 37,500 feet.  There would be about an hour before the launch of the X-38. We returned to NASA Dryden to watch the proceedings on closed circuit TV.

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 flies over Edwards AFB with X-38 V-131R About five minutes before the drop they turned on a smoke generator on the left inboard engine nacelle of the NB-52B. I stepped outside and could see the smoke trail approaching from the east.  The temperature outside was getting a bit hot.

I tracked the NB-52B and its Hornet chase planes as it crossed over the Air Force Base.  I watched carefully to see the X-38 fall away from the Stratofortress and deploy its parafoil.  The parafoil is larger in area than the wing of a 747.

The smoke trail curved to the right and then stopped.  I searched the sky for the X-38 and its huge parafoil, but I couldn't find it.

I went back inside and was informed that "they called an abort at about T-minus nothing."  They had suffered a failure of the FTS.  It would take a half hour to cool down before they could attempt the launch again.  I went outside again to watch for the return of the Stratofortress. 

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-0008 flies over Edwards AFB with X-38 V-131R The NB-52B flies over Edwards AFB with X-38 V-131R following the launch abort. The small white object at the right is a weather balloon that was released about an hour earlier.

A short while later I learned that they had called an abort for the day.  The launch systems were going to take so long to reset that the Hornets wouldn't have enough fuel to follow the X-38 after launch.

Link to the NASA Dryden press release about the X-38 launch abort on June 29.

Visit the NASA Dryden X-38 Project page.

Link to the NASA Dryden X-38 Photo Gallery.

Link to the NASA Dryden X-38 Fact Sheet.

Link to the NASA Human Spaceflight X-38 Crew Return Vehicle page.


More NB-52B Displays

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress dislays Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress Mothership.


You can buy a 5-inch by 7-inch photo note cards and 8-inch by 10-inch prints featuring my photographs of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress at the Lockett Photography Store.

Lockett Photography catalog

The card set includes a photo of the NB-52B, 52-0008 taking off with X-38 Crew Return Vehicle, V-131R.

Go to the Lockett Photography Store


Books about Lifting Bodies, Edwards Air Force Base, and the X-38 available from

The X-Planes: X-1 to X-45: 3rd Edition by Jay Miller 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 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 Test Colors: The Aircraft of Muroc Army Airfield and Edwards Air Force Base by Rene Francillon

X-Planes at Edwards by Steve Pace X-Planes at Edwards (Enthusiast Color Series) by Steve Pace

Edwards Air Force Base : Open House at the USAF Flight Test Center 1957-1966 by Robert D. Archer 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.


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