XB-70 June 8, 1966

3253Aerial image of the crash site. CLUI photo

One of the largest and most unusual planes ever made, the XB-70 Valkyrie, was destroyed in an accident during a photo shoot following a regularly scheduled test mission. The photo mission was organized at the behest of a General Electric representative in order to obtain publicity photos and motion picture footage featuring a group of planes powered by GE engines. About a minute after the motion picture cameras had been turned off, one of the planes flying in the tight formation was caught in the wake vortex of the XB-70, and pulled into a midair collision. That plane, an F-104, burst into flames and crashed, killing the pilot, Joe Walker. The damaged XB-70 continued to fly for about 15 seconds, then went out of control and crashed in the desert 12 miles north of Barstow. Test pilot Al White was able to eject in an escape capsule, but his co-pilot, Maj. Carl Cross, perished.

U.S. Air Force photo
U.S. Air Force photo

Originally designed as a Mach 3 supersonic strategic bomber, only two XB-70 prototypes were built. When the bomber program was cancelled, the Valkyries were re-designated as experimental aircraft to study flight characteristics of the proposed Supersonic Transport (SST), the American version of the Concorde, which was also cancelled. The lone surviving XB-70 Valkyrie is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

This film shows the XB-70 during the photo shoot portion of the flight, and a reconstruction of the accident using models. Motion picture cameras were turned off a minute before the accident, so only still photos show the collision’s immediate effects.  Video courtesy of Peter Merlin/NASA.