Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Nuclear Aircraft?!

Hey, does anyone remember that at one point in the very early 60s, the US almost had a long range nuclear bomber?! Oh yeah we did! The XB-70 Valkyrie.

Why you sanely ask? Well in the early 60s, the USA's nuclear deterrent was based around the aging B-52 fleet.

The Pentagon was looking for the eventual replacement, to the B- 52. They wanted a bomber that could cruise at ultra-high altitude, carry nuclear bombs, and stay aloft for extended periods. It also needed to escape intercepting fighters, to it had to be fast as well. Jet engines of the day just couldn't produce the power that would be needed to fly high, fast and carry heavy payloads. As such early research turned to a nuclear reactor to power the plane. Crazy as it sounds, research in the 50s had already flown functioning reactors in test planes. Not to power the plane mind you, but the reactors were fueled and running during many test flights.

Design finally settled on the XB-70 Valkyrie (not a complete pipe dream if you look at it. The Valkyrie it seemed strongly influenced the SR-70 & B-1b planes)

The Valkyrie's days were numbered right from the start however. Cost over-runs and technical problems soon brought the XB-70 project to a grinding halt. Also, long range ICBMs were proving themselves very reliable at putting multiple warheads on target, plus other advancements in missile tech made it impossible to fly high enough or fast enough to avoid being shot down.

In the end only 2 XB-70s were ever built and neither was fitted with a reactor. One crashed during a test flight collision with a chase plane and the final Valkyrie resides at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio.

Read the excellent article here on the IO9 blog Wikipedia on the xb-70

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