XB-70 Valkyrie Wing Section on eBay: An Aviation History Mystery Continues

Jul 13 2017 - 20 Comments
By Tom Demerly

Arizona eBay Seller Lists Large Wing Section of Crashed XB-70 Valkyrie for Auction.

With the exception of the occasional echoing thunder of jet noise, the desert is silent here.

Snakes and big desert jackrabbits are common. There are vultures, and the dead animals that feed them. But little else. Sunburned, gentle wind blows sand between low scrub. This vast desert test range sits empty, hot, dry and silent. If you want to walk here you need to carry plenty of water, a compass, a sun hat and a snakebite kit. It’s not a good area for hiking, and it isn’t allowed anyway as one of the nation’s largest and most secure military test ranges.

Trailing hot, black fuel-fire smoke a giant triangular platform of damaged white metal the size of a large building saucers oddly downward from the brilliant blue sky. Individual fragments with tails of smoke begin to rain into the sand, sending dust plumes skyward on impact. A shower of titanium shards, aluminum fragments and bits of torn honeycomb pepper the ground. Overhead thunder- the sound of an explosion- echoes down to the desert floor. The giant white triangle, 85 feet across, just about 20 feet short of its original width, caroms into the sand with a low, hollow “whomp” as black fuel smoke billows from underneath. Sand, dust and rock shatter outward, then bounce back into the desert trailing smoky spirals.

The desert goes silent again with the exception of small flames crackling on some of the burning fragments. About a mile away a single orange parachute pendulums back and forth as it flutters downward in the hot air. The man at the bottom holds his broken left arm. He tumbles painfully to the earth as his parachute deflates, landing in the sand.

It was 51 years ago this summer that one of the most bizarre accidents in aviation history occurred, the midair collision and crash of a prototype North American XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, aircraft number 62-0207, one of only two built. The aircraft collided with a civilian registered F-104N flown by famous test pilot Joe Walker, who tragically died in the accident.

The XB-70 was flying in formation as part of a General Electric company publicity photo shoot outside the Edwards Air Force Base test range in the Mojave Desert, California. It flew with a two-seat T-38 Talon, an F-4B Phantom II, an F-104N Starfighter and a YF-5A Freedom Fighter.

As the photo shoot progressed safely for 40 minutes there were no problems, but toward the end of the shoot Joe Walker’s NASA registered F-104N Starfighter got too close to the right wing of the XB-70, collided, sheared off the twin vertical stabilizers of the big XB-70 and exploded as it cartwheeled behind the Valkyrie.

The XB-70 Valkyrie plummets to its death near Edwards AFB in .
(Photo: USAF)

Seconds after the collision the XB-70 departed controlled flight and began to break up. Large sections of it rained into the desert near Edwards.

Moments after the XB-70 crashed. (USAF)

Locating pieces of the crash has been a holy grail for many aviation enthusiasts over the last 50 years. The larger pieces of the crash have long since been removed, and likely only small fragments remain, buried by blowing sand. You need patience and a metal detector to find them.

That is why we were surprised to spot this eBay auction from a seller of Arizona City, Arizona. We’ve seen everything from ejector seats to drop tanks and even complete collections of combat aircraft for sale on eBay, but this is the first time we’ve seen what is claimed to be a large section of the crashed XB-70 aircraft #62-0207. The auction appeared authentic. The large fragment appears to be from the underside of the left wing on the XB-70 and includes part of the large “USAF” insignia. The honeycomb composite construction of the aircraft’s wing is clearly visible.

We contacted the seller on eBay with questions about the large wing fragment, where it came from and how they got it. We never received a reply to our inquiry. That same day the auction disappeared, “Ended” by the seller.

When we used the search function on eBay to find other artifacts from the XB-70 crash site we got lucky. We found a nice sized fragment claimed to be from the XB-70 by another seller. We won the auction in the final seconds of bidding for only $83.00 USD.

The fragment composite bought on eBay.

When we received the fragment just a few days later we did our best to verify its authenticity. Based on photos of the crash scene debris field, the paint used on the aircraft, the technical resources listing materials used and other sources we believe the likelihood is that this fragment is authentic. It is a part of the crashed XB-70 #62-0207, one of only two XB-70’s ever built.

We contacted the seller of the XB-70 fragment we bought and thanked him for selling it on to us. He sent us this rather heart-warming message on eBay:

“Hi, I can’t tell you very much as I bought this item from a fella who lived up in the Lancaster, Palmdale area. I have had the item for over 15 yrs. Evidently when the Air Force was through removing sensitive materials from the XB-70 it was then sold to a local salvage company. They cut up the remains with torches and trucked them to their local facility where I am told they retrieved the silver solder, copper, and metal scrap. Many years passed, the salvage company was long gone, and someone recognized some white XB-70 parts along the perimeter fence line and asked to purchase them. Some were even used for target practice. I was told that one of the workers found my part face down under several inches of dirt. Anyway, I imagine parts were sold and traded over time and eventually I purchased some of them. I have loved the XB-70 since my middle school days in the 60s. I am getting up in years and can’t take it with me. I tried several times to donate it but lots of people see it as scrap; not a pretty display. I see it as a part of aviation history. Hope this helps even though it’s not first hand information. (Name removed)”

We’re not sure where the big wing section from the auction that disappeared wound up. Hopefully it will be on public display somewhere for people to learn about the remarkable history of this aircraft. Perhaps the auction was removed because someone else bought the artifact outside of eBay. It may have been ended by the user or by someone who had a prior claim to the piece of the aircraft. We don’t know. The listing for the large fragment just ended, like the remarkable story of the superbomber that died before it ever entered service over half a century ago.

North American XB-70A Valkyrie on the taxiway with a cherry picker. Photo taken Sept. 21, 1964, the day of the first flight. Note: the left main landing gear brakes locked during the landing causing two tires to blow. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Salva

Salva

Tags:
  • A well written story that captures a historic and tragic day in aviation history. The XB-70 was one of the most iconic aviation achievements of all times. Those days out of Edwards were truly the golden era. It is worth a trip to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson just to see the sole remaining XB-70 – it is an absolute marvel.

  • Archil

    Great story!

  • Dave

    The XB-70 was such a cool and intriguing aircraft, and it’s always great to see it pop up in the news now and again. Thank you for sharing this story!

  • leroy

    Continued proof of American aviation superiority. When this plane was first made public, the Russian’s jaws dropped in awe and their cheap communist trousers quivered in fear. To this day they and China remain 2 – 3 decades behind the US. I don’t think they’ll ever catch up! At least for sure Russia won’t.

    Enjoy this artifact of history, and put it where all the world can look at it and marvel. It’s this sort of mastery of technology that allowed America to put men on the Moon, and will soon see the Stars and Stripes planted firmly in Martian soil – before anyone else. Washington should claim the entire planet as our own. NATO members will be given large parcels to start their own settlements as a gift from the US. The Russians and Chinese get nothing!

    • persiflo

      This would be funny – if only I’d not need to fear that you that actually mean it …

  • energo

    Amazing. Thank’s for sharing.

  • Cocidius

    One of the most advanced bomber designs to never make it into production. Thank you for this great article on an amazing aircraft which I immensely enjoyed!

  • OG_Locc

    Neat story.

  • Kerry Upshaw

    I was employed to help build this beautiful aircraft. I helped build the aft section ribbed aft section that held the 6 engines. The frame work was built with a new alloy called H-11, something that one didn’t ask questions about, to drill one 2″ hole within 1/1000 inch tolerance using Quackenbush auto feed drills, with constant coolant sprays, The sections were 20 ft by engineered shape. They were 2 to 5 inches thick and I could pick them up by myself and lay them on special drilling platforms. They made razor blades of this material for the big wigs that never go dull. I personally installed wing patches that ex-ray revealed that the honeycomb had not attached . About 200 I installed with silver solder and special pins. We called her “Old patch Ass”. Had to wear special clothing and shoes. Watched initial take off and landing with tire flame out. I will never get over the feeling when she went down. How Joe Walker made that mistake is guess work. The surviving pilot stated that he could not get the co pilot out as his arm was caught in the eject canopy and was unconscious. duel eject. What a shame to see so much technology and work go down for a photo op.

  • Quattro Bajeena

    An example of technology that wasn’t quite there yet. This was the Spruce Goose of Mach 3 flight. This and the Soviet equivalent, the Sukhoi T-4, got cancelled because there were too many unsolved materials issues and too much money was spent in these projects with little to show for it. There is a lot of atmospheric friction at Mach 3. I think the solution used on the SR-71 was a lot better than the honeycomb composite nonsense used here. Every single time they tried that honeycomb crap (XB-70, NASP, etc) it was nothing but problems.
    Still I wonder what would have happened had they got these Mach 3 technologies to work well. Imagine the XF-108 Rapier wasn’t cancelled for example and that it faced the Mig-25. Or that the earlier YF-12 didn’t get cancelled before. But with the advent of ICBMs the strategic bomber forces just do not command the same amount of respect and funding as they did before.

    • Ryan Barry

      The bomber force is still the only way to hit a target preemptively without the enemy being able to see it coming. A B-2 could literally be over a city, drop ordinance, and be on it’s way out before the enemy scrambles fighters or even knows where to send them. The reason supersonic bombers were abandoned is because they couldn’t defeat soviet SAM systems any longer by simply being fast.

      • Quattro Bajeena

        Well I think heavy bombers still have their uses but for different reasons. They are a much cheaper delivery mechanism for one to drop cheap dumb bombs easily. You can reuse a bomber, while a long range missile just gets thrown away and discarded, so in the long run the bomber is cheaper. You can also loiter around the target area and bomb targets as they get designated reducing time to impact. But against an enemy with advanced air defenses it is quite likely that the B-2 will be detected in flight. It is just that the tracking radar for the SAM systems won’t be able to illuminate it properly to get a proper lock for weapons fire. The Russians have the 29B6 “Container” HF radar for example and the Chinese are believed to have similar systems which should be able to detect the B-2.

        • El Kabong

          “But against an enemy with advanced air defenses it is quite likely that the B-2 will be detected in flight.”?

          Have they proven to have that capability?

          “It is just that the tracking radar for the SAM systems won’t be able to illuminate it properly to get a proper lock for weapons fire.”

          Which is the WHOLE POINT of stealth technology…

    • FelixA9

      That’s just ignorance talking. The technology was easily there. The mistake was the thinking of the time assuming SAMs made bombers obsolete.

  • Michael Krafcsik

    Saw this plane at Dayton…it was so big I had to take two pictures of it…..couldn’t stand far enough away to get it in one shot!….everyone should visit the Dayton museum at least once in their lifetime..

  • Ryan Barry

    It acts as a heat sink and also gives strength to the skin in my opinion. Supersonic aircraft get hot on extended flights at high speed. The SR-71 used fuel as a heat sink and a large bomber like the Valkyrie would need to be kept cool while flying.

    • FelixA9

      It’s not a heat sink. It’s the best way to make stainless steel light enough to use in aircraft skins.

  • katakoco

    the most satisfying best looking war planes that US made ..

  • FelixA9

    The Mig-25 wouldn’t have had a hope in hell of shooting down an XB-70.

    • Black Eagle

      Yes, because Americans wouldn’t even dare to send the XB-70 into Soviet airspace.