The Gutting of the Valkyrie

Jan. 1, 1960

Congress and the American people now stand as the last hope for continued American supre­macy in the skies of the world. Their prompt response and action can yet save a vital weapon system, essential to US survival. Early last month the Department of Defense announced that the B-70 Program had been “reoriented.”

A better word might have been “gutted.”

The Air Force reluctantly and with grave apprehension ­bowed to what was essentially a political decision in a budget-balancing atmosphere.

From the time the intercontinental ballistic missile the military picture, our military strategists have talked and planned in terms of the “weapon mix,” a combination of missiles and manned weapon systems which would function together for years to come. This has been considered the best approach to the keeping of the peace through deterrence.

In addition, it has been generally agreed that the complexity and high cost of military weapons required us to take the longest possible look forward in their planning and then schedule concurrency, of systems development so that at a given date the pieces could be jigged together to form the finest and most ad­vanced product obtainable. No more of World War II’s mating of a new flight platform with whatever bombing, navigation, and armament hardware was on hand at a given time.

But implicit in the deep-cutting B-70 decision was the negation of both the plane-missile “mix” philosophy and the hard-come-by weapon-system concept. As matters now stand, with many B-70 subsystems canceled outright, ECM, bombing, and navigation black boxes for the B-70, if needed, would have to be adapted from the B-52. None of them is truly ade­quate for a Mach 3 airplane.

The B-70, if the decision stands, will not be a bomber, only a “bare-bone” airplane. Only two reori­ented B-70s are planned; perhaps no others will ever be built. Under current conditions, it will have none of the subsystems to make it work effectively as a bomber. And in a year or so it will be easy to kill the B-70 completely, on the grounds that it is not a useful vehicle without these subsystems!

One fact above all stands out in the wake of the fiscally dictated B-70 decision. The Washington Post stated it well in a front-page story on December 3:

“The Pentagon decision to delay and reorient the B-70 bomber is far more than a mere defense stretch-out. It means the end of the 2,000-mile-an-hour plane as a bomber, and apparently the end of the line for manned strategic bombers. … It is important to recognize the Defense Department’s B-70 announcement for what it is—not the postponement of a new bomber, but its demise.”

Can the free world afford to be without a manned bomber in its future? Can we only afford to eliminate the highly trained human being, with his established mastery of the sky, from our national defense equa­tion? These questions were left unanswered in the dollar-haunted atmosphere hanging heavy over Washington.

The North American B-70 Valkyrie strategic bomber is perhaps the most imaginative and sophisticated airplane ever designed.

The B-70’s designed dimensions are not far from those of the B-52. It fits into a B-52 hangar. But in other ways the Valkyrie would be a radical departure. Authentic artists’ conceptions (see cover) endow it with a spaceship quality.

Its long gooseneck, peacock tail, canard control “ears,” and tapered body give it the appearance of being, in the words of one observer, “supersonic just sitting still.”

Some of the most daring features ever proposed have gone into its design, which is now firm. One primary (and secret) e1ement of its aerodynamic configuration is described as “more important” even than the area rule (“coke-bottle”) design that made the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger supersonic.

Because of this design breakthrough, the B-70 was the first plane scheduled to cruise at top speed for its entire mission instead of cruising to the vicinity of the target subsonically and then going supersonic in a brief dash (at high fuel penalties) like the Convair B-58 Hustler bomber. Powered by six General Electric J93 engines with a total of more than 150,000 pounds of thrust, the B-70 was designed to cruise at up to 80,000 feet, with a range of more than 6,000 miles without refueling in flight. A crew of four could man the roughly 170-foot-long and 115-foot wide plane, which would have a maximum takeoff weight of about 250 tons.

The B-70 has been designed to operate with ordinary jet fuel, although for a time it appeared that exotic fuels, such as boron types, would give even better performance. A USAF-Navy program for such “zip” fuel was canceled in August on the verge of completion, then reinstated on a much diminished scale month in line with high-energy rocket programming.

Living-room comfort has been designed into the B-70. There would be no need for aircrewmen to wear pressure suits, oxygen masks, parachutes, or the like. The plane, able to fly at some fifteen miles above the earth at about 2,000 miles an hour, with a ten-megaton hydrogen bomb, would provide its four-man crew with optimum cabin conditions in terms of temperature, pressure, and elbow room.

The B-70 would “encapsulate” the individual. In an emergency, the capsule would eject, its chute opening at a preset altitude. The capsule would be equipped with a boat for water landings, and clothing and food suitable for such extremes as arctic or desert survival.

The name “Valkyrie” was selected for the B-70 in a Strategic Air Command naming contest. More than 20,000 names were submitted. In Norse mythology, the Valkyrie were maidens of extreme beauty, who ranged the heavens on their steeds, choosing those who were to die in battle and bearing the fallen heroes back to Valhalla.

Originally known as Weapon System 110A, the Valkyrie represented one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of aircraft development.

The breakthrough was explained by Dr. Hugh L. Dryden, then Director of the now-defunct National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, before the House Appropriations Committee in February of 1958.

Said Dr. Dryden: “About a year ago, a strange and wonderful thing happened. It was as if the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle began failing into place. Almost simultaneously, research programs that had been under way at the NACA Labs in Virginia, California, and Ohio began to pay off. The result—this is an oversimplification, but it is not an overstatement—was that the companies and the Air Force suddenly realized it would not be much harder to design a long-range bomber that could fly its whole mission supersonic than to design one that would fly subsonic most the way, and only a small fraction of the flight supersonic. Not only that, but the top speed of the prospective bomber was raised to Mach 3—about 2,000 miles per hour.”

Constructed of titanium, stainless steel, and nickel-base alloy, the B-70 has been designed to hit the heart of Russia in less than three hours after takeoff. It could use existing air bases in the SAC system, or even civilian fields like Idlewild in New York, Friendship between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, or San Francisco International.

The B-70’s 250-ton gross weight for takeoff would be about the same as that of a B-52, its landing speed actually slower than that of the North American F-100 Super Sabre fighter, its range and speed such as to take it around the world (with inflight refueling) in less than half a day. At higher speeds, the B-70’s wing tips were designed to turn down fifty degrees to provide better stability.

How fast is Mach 3? This fast. At such a speed, you could eat breakfast in New York at eight o’clock, then take off and arrive in Los Angeles an hour and a half “before” you ate.

In fact, flying west in the B-70 you could make set in the east or bring the moon back up once it had set in the west.

Actually, the B-70 would have so much speed that it would take a tremendous defensive system to cope with it. The plane would move more than thirty miles per minute. At that rate, any errors in quick calculation the enemy might make would compound immediately. A ten-minute warning or computation would find the B-70 some 300 miles farther along its route—streaking close to the earth’s skin, below effective radar coverage, or so high no ground-based ­weapon could hit it.

The B-70 at this writing is not a mere dream. Far from it. The plane and its components were in detailed design stage and tooling design when the gutting was announced. A mockup of the plane is in existence at North American’s plant at Inglewood, Calif.

But USAF’s trisonic “packaged offensive” will probably never be capable of functioning as the superb machine was designed to be, even when the “bare-bone” plane is flying. Contracts for the following subsystems were effectively cut away, although in some cases the contractors will proceed with the projects involved on their own hook:

— Radar, to have been produced by General Electric with ­the ability to discriminate between two closely spaced objects at a great distance and possessed of ­powerful antijamming characteristics.

— A sophisticated new bombing-navigation system by International Business Machines, incorporating modular design and allowing for inflight maintenance.

— A new central air-data system to have been produced by Garrett Corporation’s AiResearch Div. — An extremely advanced electronic countermeasures system to be developed by Westinghouse.

— Motorola’s new mission and traffic-control system.

— Beech Aircraft’s special power pod.

All major subcontracts for airframe were returned to North American, the plane’s prime contractor, in last month’s move. Wing production had been in the hands of Boeing Aircraft, stabilizer production assigned to Ch­ance Vought, and upper fuselage devel­opment to Lockheed Aircraft.

Under examination, with a possibility of being re­duced, are those held by United Aircraft’s Hamilton Standard Division (air-induction control and environ­mental systems); Sperry (gyro platform); Sundstrand Aviation (secondary power system); Cleveland Pneu­matic Industries, Inc. (lauding gear); and John Oster Manufacturing Co. (powerplant instrumentation).

Fighting a rear-guard action against the budgeteers, the Air Force is investigating alternative uses for the aircraft itself. Even for purposes other than as bomb platform, the Valkyrie shapes up as a potent piece of flying hardware.

The B-70 could be a:

— Supersonic transport.

— Money-saving recoverable booster for space projects, including the Dyna-Soar test vehicle.

— Space interceptor to query and investigate for­eign satellites in orbit.

— Ballistic missile launcher.

— Supersonic nuclear-powered aircraft.

The B-70 could be a first-rate military transport. It could deliver war materials to any point on earth in only a few hours. In a limited war, this would provide an immediate show of strength, with great potential as a diplomatic tool in backing up foreign policy. If the United Nations ever gains a police force, someone suggested the B-70 could be an ideally effective global police cruiser, the “cop on the beat” worldwide.

The Valkyrie was designed to deliver anything—the biggest hydrogen bomb, air-launched ballistic missiles (ALBMs), a “train load” of standard bombs, a series of hydrogen bombs for primary, secondary, and tertiary targets, or a combination of bombs amid missiles for sequence attacks. The B-70 could become a tremendous launching platform, taking orbital or space-probe vehicles to the edge of the atmosphere before launching.

From a practical commercial point of view the B-70 represents almost a quantum jump in the state of the aeronautical art. The world has merely scratched the surface of the potential of air transport. Someone, somewhere, eventually is going to build a Mach 3 transport. And, like most of the technical developments that have brought commercial aviation to where it is today, the money invested in the B-70 would have considerable commercial fallout.

A Mach 3 transport could whisk passengers from coast to coast in little more than an hour, from Honolulu to Denver in less than three hours, and from New York to Paris in the same time.

But perhaps the greatest danger in eliminating the B-70 from our future weapons inventory is the ne­gation of the principle of the mixed force, thereby eliminating versatility and flexibility from our future deterrent strength.

A meaningful SAC motto says, “We most strive for the greatest technical advance—consistent with continuous capability.” In other words, reach, but not so far that you trip.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles and manned inter­continental bombing systems are not competing but complementary. Each has inherent disadvantages which cancel out each other in a mixed force whereas they are compounded in a force wedded to one or the other on an “either-or” basis. Missiles can do things a bomber cannot do and vice versa.

Put together in a mixed force they mean that the prospective enemy cannot rest easy until he has effected a counter to any and all combinations of weapons. Narrow the field of your own choices in de­livery systems and you make the enemy’s defensive job commensurately easier and immeasurably cheaper.

The manned bomber is selective. It can, in effect, turn its head and peek out of the corners of its eyes. The ICBM cannot. The bomber weapon system can also radar-map the destruction a raid has caused and return with information to plan a subsequent mission. There is little guesswork in the assessment of the damage it does.

One of the big drawbacks of an all-missile force is the question of quick dispatch without recall. For instance, if the DEW Line radar warning net were to pick up blips heading over the pole from Russia, the question would be this: Should we launch our ICBMs? Remember, the blips could be meteor show­ers, northern lights, migratory birds, or ice-packed clouds. Would we want to start a war by mistake? But they could be attackers. We’d probably wait. …

For once the missile goes, it can’t be recalled—only destroyed, an expensive undertaking. A few planned “spoofs” by Red strategists actually could cause deple­tion of our stockpile of missiles.

The bomber force can go even to the point of prepa­ration for bomb drop and still be recalled, with the only expenditure being fuel.

Under national policy, missiles will he launched only with the permission of the President. Bombers can be dispatched without his okay—because they can always be recalled.

With the gutting of the B-70, many knowledgeable persons have stated in recent weeks, we have allowed ourselves to be stampeded by incessant Soviet propaganda which says that all manned weapons are obso­lescent. From the size and technical improvement of Red aircraft, it would appear that the Communist world itself is far from giving up on manned airplanes. There is a goad chance, in fact, that Russia is today developing her own Mach 3 bomber.

It can easily be seen how we could play into Com­munist hands by concentrating exclusively on missile hardware. Their defensive strategy and logistics prob­lems would be immeasurably simplified by such a decision on our part.

It has been suggested that one of the neatest tricks the Reds could pull would be to let us put all our nuclear eggs in one missile basket—and then proclaim to the world that they would use only conventional weapons if war came. The propaganda coup would be hard to offset. We would be effectively handcuffed, until we could get back into production of nonnuclear weapons—and extremely vulnerable in the interim.

Farfetched? Perhaps, but it illustrates the position we are getting ourselves into by the apparent trend of Administration defense thinking.

If the Soviet hordes broke across the NATO countries, we would face another terrible decision if missiles were our only weapon. Should we fire our nuclear “big birds,” possibly even into friendly countries, to combat this Soviet aggression? This would be a fateful step. A versatile manned aircraft striking force with pinpoint bombing capabilities—especially with the capability of switching to nonnuclear warheads—could strike the enemy effectively. Again the advantage of the mixed force.

In this regard, Gen. Thomas D. White, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, recently said, “Manned aircraft will continue to be a military requirement in the foreseeable future. Ballistic missiles and other manned vehicles are not as yet, and may never be, the solution to all military problems.”

The B-70, of course, would not be immune enemy counterattack, but our past experience has shown us that “a weapon developed and produced at the limit of the nation’s technological capability will be a competitive weapon in the planned time period.” There is no reason to suppose that our B-70 would not be able to do more than hold its own against any defense the enemy could throw up against it for quite a few years to come. Even if the enemy’s defense “caught up” (at immense cost to him, it might be added), the Valkyrie would remain an immensely potent fighting machine with a great likelihood of outfighting or outthinking an opponent to perform its mission.

By way of analogy, the Nazi fighter planes of World War II were a highly effective countermeasure for our Flying Fortresses, but the US airman and his machine, competing against these defenses, won out.

It would seem, too, that the B-70 could make our investment in ICBMs pay off with dividends. The bomber force could reach enemy territory, in the event of hostilities, shortly after our first barrage of ICBMs. The B-70s would he able to assess the damage and “clean up” targets before the enemy could recover from the first shock of the missile attack.

It is an axiom of military history that the only thing you know for sure about the next war is that it won’t be fought the way you plain it now.

Many top strategists believe that it would be utter folly for us to base our force requirements on a sudden and conclusive exchange of nuclear missiles. Especially when we have created a “missile gap.” An insufficient missile force could leave us fearfully unprepared. Versatility may not assume victory, but rigidity will almost certainly assure defeat.

An effective use of the B-70 would be against mobile targets, including truck or train- transported missiles. Another type of target would be that for which we do not have accurate geographical coordinates. In other words, it could do what we suddenly found it had to do without massive advance planning.

An extremely important advantage of the B-70, in addition, is this: Merely the building of the B-70 in sufficient numbers would force the Soviets to enlarge their commitment for home defense. It would cost them more to defend against the B-70 than it would cost us to build the plane. And because the Reds also have budget problems, it would penalize their strategic offensive force, aiding our own security. In fact, the B-70 fiasco may well prove an economic bonanza for the Kremlin, preventing the obsolescence of thousands of their fighters and other elements of their air-defense system. It is Russia, not the United States that can’t afford the B-70.

“To prevail,” said the great military philosopher Von Clausewitz, “apply force in the right amount, at the right place, at the right time.”

The B-70 can do just that—with maximum efficiency.

For this reason it will behoove the Senators and Representatives of the United States to reevaluate the B-70 program when Congress reconvenes.

It could be their last chance to rectify a grave error.

As one civilian expert said, “In government today, we are so organized that military decisions made by the best military experience are subject to veto by well-meaning businessmen who frequently are on a part-time basis with the government.”

In the opinion of the majority of the men who work daily with the defense problems of the country, defensive missiles are not yet ready to assume full responsibility for defense of the nation. Yet the North American F-108 Rapier, a Mach 3 interceptor, was canceled outright in September. A few weeks earlier, Lt. Gen. Joseph D. Atkinson, Commander, Air Defense Command, declared in a speech at AFA’s 1959 Convention that a Mach 3 fighter was a “must.”

Now comes the B-70 gutting. The Air Force still hopes to revive development of the B-70 as an essential strategic weapon, not a bare test bed with possible eventual uses as a supersonic transport, nuclear-powered aircraft, recoverable booster, or satellite interceptor. Reinstated in the next few months, the B-70 program could still yield operational weapon systems in line with earlier scheduling.

As a bomber, the B-70 is vital to the defense of this country because, to quote one design expert,

“It has uninhibited response, it can he tailored to force-application, it is dispersible, it has utility, it has convertability, and it has recallability.”

If it dies, one top Air Force officer said bluntly after the DOD announcement, the concept of true national preparedness may die with it.

In sum, what are we, as a nation, on the verge of throwing away if we permit the B-70 program to go down the fiscal drainpipe

1. We are committing SAC to a subsonic manned retaliatory force for the indeterminate future.

2. We are committing our military planners to a rigid, inflexible force structure which inevitably will make a mockery of our deterrent posture,

3. We are contenting ourselves with second place in the advancement of the state of the aeronautical art. It is quite certain that the Soviet Union will have a supersonic jet transport in service before we do. Now, we are handing them preeminence in the Mach 3 range as well, in the same manner that we are play­ing second fiddle (or perhaps piccolo) in space. One Air Force planner phrased it bitterly:

“One day,” he said, “your kids and mine will be flying in a Mach 3 airplane, but chances are it will have the hammer and sickle on the rudder.”

4. We will save $85 million in FY ’61—about 1/50 of one percent of our defense spending!

Fortunately there is yet time to correct this tragic blunder. The Congress has yet to meet, and it will have a duty to turn its searching spotlight on the reasoning behind the B-70 decision. Public opinion is still the final arbiter in this democracy of ours, even though it must grope through the obfuscating fog of fiscal scaremongers to reach the facts.

It is an open secret in Washington that the B-70 program has long been the target of the Director of the Bureau of the Budget, Mr. Stans. He claims we cannot afford it. Whether the taxpayer would agree, if he knew the facts, is another story.

We almost lost the B-17 many years ago on the grounds of economy. Atlas, key of our missile force and currently of our space program, fell under the budgeteers’ broadax and was kept alive with the contractor’s money. Word is that some B-70 contractors are willing to exhibit similar faith in their mission.

It is not too late for decisive action, but the time grows perilously short.

As writer and flyer, Ed Mack Miller has followed the aerospace story since the early days of World War II. Readers will recall his word-portraits of Vandenberg AFB and the Air Force Academy on these pages. A resident of Denver, Colo., and a neighbor of the new West Point of the Air, Ed is the father of eight youngsters.