Tag Archives: Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

That Time An X-15 Rocket Plane Entered Hypersonic Spin At Mach 5 And Broke Apart Killing USAF Test Pilot.

U.S. Air Force test pilot Maj. Michael J. Adams was killed during X-15 Flight 191 on Nov. 15, 1967.

The North American X-15 was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft 50 ft long with a wingspan of 22 ft. operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft in the 1960s.

It was a missile-shaped vehicle with an unusual wedge-shaped vertical tail, thin stubby wings, and unique side fairings that extended along the side of the fuselage. It was powered by the XLR-99 rocket engine, manufactured by Thiokol Chemical Corp., pilot-controlled and  capable of developing 57,000 lb of thrust.

The aircraft was brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet by a NASA B-52 “mothership” then air dropped to that the rocket plane would have enough fuel to reach its high speed and altitude test points. Depending on the mission, the rocket engine provided thrust for the first 80 to 120 sec of flight. The remainder of the normal 10 to 11 min. flight was powerless and ended with a 200-mph glide landing.

The X-15 was air dropped by a NASA B-52 “mothership”

The X-15 was capable of climbing to the edge of space at an altitude in excess of 300,000 feet at speed of more than 4,500 miles per hour (+7,270 km/h). Actually, the target altitude for X-15 flights was set at 360,000 feet because there were concerns about the reentry from 400,000 feet, that was the maximum altitude the rocket plane was theoretically able to reach.

Two types of flight profiles were used during test flights depending on the purposes of the mission: a high-altitude flight plan that called for the pilot to maintain a steep rate of climb, or a speed profile that called for the pilot to push over and maintain a level altitude.

For flight in the dense air of the usable atmosphere, the X-15 used conventional aerodynamic controls but to maneuver in the thin air outside of the appreciable Earth’s atmosphere, where flight control surfaces were useless, the X-15 used a reaction control system (RCS) made of hydrogen peroxide thrust rockets. Those located on the nose of the aircraft provided pitch and yaw control; those on the wings provided roll control. A similar system was used on the Space Shuttle Orbiter, decades later: indeed, experience and data gathered from the X-15 program contributed to the development of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle manned spaceflight programs.

Cutaway drawing of the North American X-15.
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Needless to say, handling the rocket-powered aircraft at the edge of space was particularly challenging.

 

X-15-3 (56-6672) made 65 flights during the program. It reached attaining a top speed of Mach 5.65 and a maximum altitude of 354,200 feet.

Official records say that only 10 of the 12 X-15 pilots flew Ship #3; eight of them earned their astronaut wings during the program (in fact, U.S. Air Force pilots who flew the X-15 to altitudes above 50 miles all received Astronaut Wings): Robert White, Joseph Walker, Robert Rushworth, John “Jack” McKay, Joseph Engle, William “Pete” Knight, William Dana, and Michael Adams all earned their astronaut wings in Ship #3.

Out of three X-15s built by North American for the program, Ship #3 is the only X-15 that has not survived, as it was lost on Nov. 15, 1967.

X-15-1, serial number 56-6670, is now located at the National Air and Space museum, Washington DC. North American X-15A-2, serial number 56-6671, is at the United States Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

Here’s the story of that last mission:

On 15 November 1967, Ship #3 was launched over Delamar Lake, Nevada with Maj. Michael J. Adams at the controls. The vehicle soon reached a speed of Mach 5.2, and a peak altitude of 266,000 feet.

During the climb, an electrical disturbance degraded the aircraft’s controllability. Ship #3 began a slow drift in heading, which soon became a spin. Adams radioed that the X-15 “seems squirrelly” and then said “I’m in a spin.”

Through some combination of pilot technique and basic aerodynamic stability, Adams recovered from the spin and entered an inverted Mach 4.7 dive. As the X-15 plummeted into the increasingly thicker atmosphere, the Honeywell adaptive flight control system caused the vehicle to begin oscillating. As the pitching motion increased, aerodynamic forces finally broke the aircraft into several major pieces.

Adams was killed when the forward fuselage impacted the desert. This was the only fatal accident during the entire X-15 program.  The canopy from Ship #3, recovered during the original search in 1967, is displayed at the San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, California.

Parts of the crashed X-15-3, serial number 56-6672, recovered in 1992 by Peter Merlin and Tony Moore (The X-Hunters) are on display at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards.

According to NASA, the X-15s made a total of 199 flights over a period of nearly 10 years (from June 1959 to Oct. 1968) and set world’s unofficial speed and altitude records of 4,520 miles per hour or Mach 6.7 (set by Ship #2) and 354,200 feet (set by Ship #3).

Image credit: NASA

B-52 At Edwards AFB Sports Nose Art That Commemorates Its Past As “Mothership” In Top Secret D-21 Drone Test Program

A B-52 from the 419th Flight Test Squadron was given a new nose art to commemorate the Buff’s involvement in a top-secret test program.

An interesting image has been released by Edwards Air Force Base 412th Test Wing Public Affairs. It shows B-52 #60-0036 with a new nose art completed by renowned aviation artist Mike Machat to celebrate the involvement of the bomber in the top-secret test program named “Tagboard” about 50 years ago.

All manned flights over the Soviet Union had been discontinued by President Dwight Eisenhower after Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane was shot down May 1, 1960. Since satellites were still years away from being able to gather the required intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency determined unmanned drones could fill the gap until satellites became viable.

Tagboard program involved testing the D-21, a ramjet-powered reconnaissance drone that could reach Mach 3 speed. In fact, the D-21 required a mothership that could air-launch the drone at a certain speed so that the ramjet could activate.

In the beginning, an M-21 (essentially a modified SR-71 Blackbird) was used to air launch the D-21 drone from its back. The idea was that, after conducting its intended spy mission, the drone would eject a hatch with photo equipment to be recovered either mid-air (by a JC-130B, as it was lowered by a parachute) or after the hatch landed.

M-21 carrying D-21 in flight (Credit: CIA)

However, as the official release recalls, “on the fourth flight test, the D-21 experienced an “asymmetric unstart” as it passed through the bow wake of the M-21 causing the mothership to pitch up and collide with the D-21 at Mach 3.25. Crewmembers Bill Park and Ray Torick ejected from the M-21, but Torick’s flight suit became ripped and filled with water when he plunged into the ocean where he drowned.”

A video of the incident, filmed by an accompanying Blackbird can be found here.

After the accident, the M-21 launch program was cancelled and Lockheed Martin decided to launch the drone from B-52Hs, one being #0036. The new code name for the D-21 project became Senior Bowl.

A D-21 reconnaissance drone is on display at Blackbird Air Park at U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. The D-21 was a ramjet-powered reconnaissance drone that could reach Mach 3 speed. Ideally, the drone would air launch from a mothership and after conducting its reconnaissance mission it would eject a hatch with photo equipment to be recovered either mid-air or after the hatch landed. (Courtesy photo by Danny Bazzell/Flight Test Historical Foundation)

“After several failed launch attempts, the first successful D-21 launch from a B-52 occurred June 16, 1968. The drone flew 3,000 miles at 90,000 feet. After a few more flight tests, the CIA and the Air Force decided to conduct four operational launches that all ended in failure in some way. Two flights were successful, however the imagery could not be recovered from the D-21’s hatch. The other two operational flights ended with one being lost in a heavily defended area and the other D-21 simply disappeared after launch.”

The D-21 program was cancelled July 15, 1971, and both B-52s used for the program were returned to operational Air Force units.

The B-52 #60-0036 is currently assigned to the 419th FLTS at Edwards, where it arrived in 2001; it has been used as a test bed ever since.

A B-52 currently used for testing by the 419th Flight Test Squadron, sits on the flightline at Edwards Air Force Base Oct. 16. The bomber, tail# 60-0036, was used in a top secret test program that began with the code name Tagboard. The program involved testing the D-21, which was a ramjet-powered reconnaissance drone that could reach Mach 3 speed. The D-21 would be launched from underneath the wings of the bomber. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kenji Thuloweit)

Considered the type of tests conducted at Mach 3 with the M-21 or the B-52 and D-21 drone some 50 years ago, one may guess: what is being secretely tested today?

French C-135FR Tanker Refuels U.S. Air Force B-52 Bomber Over Europe In Rare International Refueling Operation

This is something you don’t see too often: a U.S. Stratofortress bomber refueled by a foreign tanker.

On Sept. 25, a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, refueled from a French Air Force C-135FR belonging to the Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol 2/91 “Bretagne” from Istres.

B-52 bombers from the 2nd BW are currently deployed to Europe for three weeks to support Bomber Assurance and Deterrence operations (BAAD).

A French air force KC-135 Stratotanker, refuels a B-52 Stratofortress over Europe Sept. 25, 2017. The Stratofortress is deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to RAF Fairford, United Kingdom in support of bomber assurance and deterrence operations. U.S. Strategic Command bomber forces regularly conduct combined theater security cooperation engagements with allies and partners, demonstrating the U.S. capability to command, control and conduct bomber missions across the globe. Bomber missions demonstrate the credibility and flexibility of the military’s forces to address today’s complex, dynamic and volatile global security environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua J. Garcia)

Based on the footage released by the U.S. Air Force, the C-135FR involved in the refueling mission was the example 471/31-CB that was tracked online while flying over the Tyrrhenian Sea in bound to the refueling area over the Mediterranean Sea via Mode-S/ADS-B transponder (H/T to @CivMilAir for catching the tanker)

Part of the track followed by a FAF C-135FR during the Sept. 25 mission tracked via Mode-S. Image credit: @CivMilAir

Although U.S. Strategic Command bomber forces regularly conduct combined theater security cooperation engagements with allies and partners, demonstrating the U.S. capability to command, control and conduct bomber missions across the globe, the bombers are almost always refueled by U.S. Air Force KC-135s or KC-10s.

Still, B-52s can be refueled by other types of tankers for testing or operative purposes.

For instance, an Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767 tanker (s/n 14-01) refueled a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52H-150-BW Stratofortress (s/n 60-0036) over California’s Mojave Desert on Mar. 5, 2007, as part of the tanker’s flying boom testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California (USA).

An Italian Air Force Boeing 767 tanker refuels an Edwards B-52 over California’s Mojave Desert on March 5, 2007. The tanker successfully extended its fifth generation, fly-by-wire air refueling boom and transferred fuel for the first time to another aircraft. (Photo by Jet Fabara)

And, as proved by Sept. 25 mission, the “Buff” can be refueled by the French C-135FR that is quite similar to the U.S. KC-135. Usually the FAF tankers operate with a basket attached to the flying boom since FAF planes use the hose and drogue system and get the fuel through an IFR (In Flight Refueling) probe.

The aging fleet of C-135FRs, the French variant of the C-135 used as dual-role tanker/cargo and troop carrier aircraft, will be replaced with A400M and A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) aircraft. The latter, called the “Phénix” when in service, has been ordered in nine examples by France (plus an additional three that have not yet been confirmed.)

 

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The U.S. Air Force Wants To Use The B-52 Strategic Bomber For Leaflet Drops During PSYOPS Missions

Testers from the 419th Flight Test Squadron are looking to see if B-52 Stratofortress bombers can undertake psychological operations dropping leaflets with messages.

Along with nuclear bombs and several other weapons, the U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers may one day be used to drop leaflets.

Indeed, the Air Force has recently completed two successful sorties, where testers from the 419th Flight Test Squadron, from Edwards Air Force Base, California, released eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs over the Point Mugu Sea Test Range and eight more over the Precision Impact Range Area on Edwards.

“We are primarily looking to see safe separation from the external Heavy Stores Adapter Beam,” said Kevin Thorn, 419th FLTS B-52 air vehicle manager in a USAF public release. “We are ensuring that the bombs do not contact the aircraft, and/or each other, creating an unsafe condition. Additionally we are tracking the reliability of the bomb functioning.”

Leaflets with messages used to communicate with the locals or with the enemy troops (persuading them to surrender) have been part of the PSYOPS for decades. Such leaflets can be distributed in several different ways, including drops from a vast variety of aircraft, in order to reach a wide area.

For instance, in 2015, U.S. F-15E Strike Eagles dropped leaflets over Islamic State insurgents in Syria using PDU-5B leaflet canisters; in 2012, air drop of leaflets in support of Information Operations were conducted by the U.S. Army above Helmand province, Afghanistan, using U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in areas of the Helmand province unreachable by conventional communication. During the Air War in Libya, in 2011, U.S. Air Force EC-130s broadcast radio messages to the Libyan military to persuade them to return to their families before it was too late, whereas Italian C-130J aircraft dropped leaflets over Tripoli to counter Gaddafi’s regime propaganda in Libya’s capital city.

Leaflets have been also air dropped by Syrian Arab Air Force Mil Mi-8 helicopters over Aleppo in August 2012 to urge rebels to surrender to the Syrian Army and even Israeli A-4 dropped leaflets over the northern Gaza Strip in November 2012, to call for civilians to stay away from terrorist target areas and emphasize that Hamas was responsible for the situation in the Strip.

Today, testers from the 419th Flight Test Squadron are looking to see if the world’s most iconic strategic bomber can accomplish this task.

The B-52 used a PDU-5/B, a new-use or variant of an older Cluster Bomb Uni designated MK 20 Rockeye II, SUU-76B/B, and/or CBU-99/100 depending on the type of filler used in the bomb.

The PDU-5/B (the same used by the F-15E mentioned above), can deliver about 60,000 leaflets; it was first deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom before any Air Force munitions began hitting targets in Baghdad, Iraq.

“Without the capability to carry PDU-5s on the B-52 aircraft, the impending shortfall on leaflet dispersal capability will jeopardize Air Force Central Command information operations,” said Earl Johnson, B-52 PDU-5/B project manager. The “Buff” can carry 16 PDU-5s under the wings, making it able to distribute 900,000 leaflets in a single sortie.

The testing the PDU-5/B on the B-52 is complete for now even though the program is forecasted to return at a future date to test PDU-5/B releases from the B-52’s internal weapons bay.

A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 419th Flight Test Squadron with eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs underneath the left wing. The PDU-5/B is a repurposed Cluster Bomb Unit used to release leaflets (paper cut into a specific size). Leaflets are generally dropped during U.S. military psychological operations overseas. When released from the aircraft, a fuse is set to a certain time to tell the bomb to detonate and release the leaflets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)

 

Check Out This Really Unusual “Formation”: USAF B-1Bs, B-52H, KC-135R Escorted by Russian SU-27 Over Baltic.

Here are some extraordinary pictures of a really unsual “close encounter” over the Baltic Sea.

In yet another sensational encounter between U.S. and Russian aircraft, two B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing, a B-52H Stratofortress from the 2nd Bomb Wing (both deployed to RAF Fairford, UK) and a KC-135R Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft from the 459th Air Refueling Squadron were intercepted and observed by a Russian SU-27 Flanker on Friday, June 9 over the Baltic Sea.

The U.S. bomber and tanker formation was participating in BALTOPS, an aerial deployment exercise that rehearses and improves cooperation and interoperability between U.S. and international units and as a demonstration of U.S. capabilities in the region to reinforce the U.S. commitment to security.

U.S. Air Force photographer Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder shot these photos (from the boom position of a KC-135 tanker) during the Friday intercept. The U.S. Air Force said officially that, “Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner.”

However the list of intercepts deemed “unsafe” or “unprofessional” from the U.S. DoD is pretty long… (read here or here for a couple of examples.)

A Russian Su-27 Flanker intercepts a formation of U.S. Air Force aircraft, two B-1B Lancers, 28th Bomb Wing, KC-135R Stratotanker, 459th Air Refueling Squadron and B-52H Stratofortress, 2nd Bomb Wing, while participating in BALTOPS over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2017. The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region. Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

There has been an increase in intercepts between NATO, U.S. and Russian aircraft during the last 24 months in what seems like a slightly less-tense return to the Cold War era when intercepts had a distinctly more ominous message. The U.K. based news writer Lizzie Dearden wrote, “Around 780 deployments were made from European military bases last year in response to Russian aircraft, compared to just 410 in 2015.” This does not a string of intercepts in other regions that include a sensational set of four intercepts in a row by USAF F-22 Raptors of Russian maritime patrol aircraft off the Alaskan coast recently.

A Russian Su-27 Flanker intercepts a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, 28th Bomb Wing, while participating in BALTOPS over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2017. The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region. Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

While popular news media often adds a sensational spin to the intercepts suggesting some version of political brinkmanship a more relevant interpretation is that the air forces involved are conducting the intercepts for training and air traffic safety reasons. Some NATO aircraft including RAF Typhoons have escorted Russian aircraft that flew in moderate proximity to commonly used civilian air routes without common air traffic control transponders. When NATO aircraft rendezvous with the Russian aircraft they use their transponders to mark the location of the Russian aircraft as they transit the airspace.

Regardless of the motives the encounters often make for sensational photos and video.

A Russian Su-27 Flanker peels away from a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, 28th Bomb Wing, while participating in BALTOPS over the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2017. The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region. Flight intercepts are regular occurrences, and the vast majority are conducted in a safe and professional manner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

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