Back in the 1960s, the North American Aviation XB-70 Valkyrie was developed by North American Aviation and the Air Force Strategic Air Command. The six-engine plane could fly at Mach 3+, at elevations as high as 70,000 feet.
However, the XB-70 Valkyrie soon fell out of favor, especially once the Soviets developed surface-to-air missiles, and later ICBMs. The program was dropped in the mid-1960s, although a pair of XB-70 jets were used for testing. And one of those flights turned tragic in 1966.
The Aviation Geek Club, last year, told the story of that flight, drawing on research from Peter E. Davies in his book on the plane.
The 40-year-old Vietnam veteran Maj. Carl Cross was in the cockpit that day, for what was described as a “familiarization flight,” one that was also part of a photo op.
While the aircraft was in flight, the crew “were informed of a B-58A approaching at higher altitude and all the pilots except Walker reported that they had spotted it.”
And that’s when the collision happened.
“The Starfighter was probably further destabilized as it entered the XB-70’s wingtip vortex. Inverted, it passed across the XB-70’s rear fuselage, taking off the right vertical stabilizer and the majority of the left one, before bursting into flames with the loss of one of the world’s most [skillfull] and experienced test pilots. The fighter was cut in half behind the cockpit by the Valkyrie’s vertical stabilizer and the forward section then smashed into the left wing, causing severe damage to the upper surface.”
Incredibly, the XB-70 Valkyrie continued flying normally for another 16 seconds.
“Possibly he was injured and rendered unconscious during the initial, unexpected snap roll. Cross’s seat was not retracted into his capsule. Ballistic (automatic) encapsulation was triggered but the forward forces acting on the spinning Valkyrie were too great for the seat retractor to pull the scat back and begin the ejection system. It had blown its relief valve due to the excessive load,” Aviation Geek Club said.
Cross was killed in the collision, as was Joe Walker, although Al White survived. And the plane, also, met its end.
“Maj Cross’s capsule was too badly damaged to yield any definite conclusions regarding its lack of success, although it showed that he had pulled one of the ejection handles. The lack of an operable ‘hot mike’ between the capsules prevented the investigators from finding out what he might have said to White, or any advice he might have otherwise received from the pilot, while trying to encapsulate. Possibly a conventional ejection seat would have worked better in the circumstances,” Aviation Geek Club said.
Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.