An Air Force-industry team launched the Boeing-built X-37B orbital test vehicle, the first of a new unmanned, reusable space test platform, into space Thursday at 7:52 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., via a United Launch Alliance Atlas V expendable booster. Lt. Col. Erik Bowman, 45th Launch Support Squadron commander, said, “As the first US unmanned re-entering space vehicle, the first of its kind, it has been remarkably easy to work with; processing and preparations went extremely smooth.” He noted, too, that it was a first for the Atlas V 501 configuration, which uses no solid-rocket-motor strap-ons. Bowman said of the small space-shuttle type X-37B, “This vehicle is light enough to launch without the solid rocket motors even with the larger fairing [a five-meter shell encapsulating the X-37], making this a rather unique configuration.” (45th Space Wing release; ULA release; Boeing release)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.