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The Full Story of the XB-70, Superbly Told
on March 5, 2012
North American Aviation's Mach 3 "Valkyrie" holds a place of special significance in the annals of aerospace history, and Graham M. Simons details its whole fascinating story in this superb volume. I intend it as high praise indeed when I say "Valkyrie: The North American XB-70" is a typical British aviation book. It's well-written, exhaustively researched, comprehensive in scope and filled from cover to cover with nearly 300 excellent photographs and drawings. The photos, although typically only two or three inches on a side, are exceptionally sharp and crisp, revealing detail belied by their relatively small size. As far as I know, many are previously unpublished, including numerous shots of the two aircraft under construction at the North American factory and Mr. Simons own photos of Air Vehicle 1 at the Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
The XB-70 story is one of technological advancement, military brinksmanship, contractual legerdemain and partisan politics. Although the program's original objective was to produce hundreds of sleek, nuclear-armed supersonic bombers to replace the Air Force's Boeing B-52 "Stratofortresses," it ultimately produced just two high-tech, expensive and exotic aircraft that served purely for flight testing in the multi-sonic regime. Mr. Simons traces the complex history of the program and its many twists and turns in great detail, quoting extensively from the participants and from primary source documents. Techno-geeks will savor his descriptions of the design and construction of the aircraft down to the nuts-and-bolts level in a 45-page, profusely illustrated chapter. Another lengthy section, filled with annotated drawings and photos of the onboard instrument panels and diagrams from the Flight Manual, covers what it was like to fly the XB-70 on a typical mission, from engine start to landing. Mr. Simons analyzes in detail and with many photos the tragic loss of XB-70 Air Vehicle 2 in a mid-air collision with a Lockheed F-104 "Starfighter" on June 8, 1966. He also describes the relationships between the XB-70 and Lockheed's A-12/SR-71 "Blackbird," the Soviet Sukhoi T-4, the stillborn American Supersonic Transport (SST) and the Anglo-French "Concorde" SST.
Mr. Simons includes many interesting anecdotes about procuring, designing, building and flying the "Valkyrie." For example, he rebuts the urban legend that U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson misspoke when he announced the existence of Lockheed's "Blackbird," accidentally calling it "SR-71" instead of "RS-71." He shows that Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtiss E. LeMay engineered the change to Johnson's speech. Bizarrely, however, Mr. Simons says Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects office bore the name "Skunk Works" because of the "striking black-and-white carpet in their entrance foyer." Well--maybe, but I doubt it. ALL other authors who cover the subject tell how the "Skunk Works" got its name from Al Capp's "Li'l Abner" comic strip. Perhaps Mr. Simons knows something about the name's origin that NO other author has uncovered, but again--I doubt it.
Aside from that one minor glitch, I found "Valkyrie: The North American XB-70" to be a very readable, complete and accurate reference on one of the most striking, distinctive aircraft that has ever graced the skies. This superb volume belongs on the bookshelf of every modern aviation enthusiast. I recommend it very highly.