Sunday, September 27, 2009

Balls Eight

The photo of Scaled Composites' White Knight in one of my previous posts brought to mind the retirement ceremony I attended of the principle NASA launch aircraft for the last several decades. The Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress - affectionately called "Balls Eight" because it's serial number ended in 008 - carried aloft a great multitude of important research vehicles, including the North American X-15, Northrop HL-10 and M2-F2/3, Martin X-24A/B, Rockwell HiMAT and NASA X-38 and X-43 Hyper-X.

The venerable aircraft was retired in a ceremony held at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, fittingly on 17 December 2004, the 101st anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight. It entered USAF service in 1955 and was shortly thereafter converted to an X-15 launch vehicle. It dropped it's first X-15 in 1960. By the time of it's retirement, Balls Eight was the longest serving B-52 and had been active nearly half of the history of powered manned flight, a remarkable achievement.

I normally like to shoot aircraft with the sun at my back, but the layout of Balls Eight and the hangar made that too difficult and cluttered. I chose instead to try an artsy shot of the sun just breaking the edge of the nose of the airplane. I was quite happy with the result. It seemed appropriate for the occasion.

Later on I got the opportunity to go inside the airplane. This is the cockpit of Balls Eight. After I took the shot, I sat in the pilot's seat. It was the second time I've been fortunate enough to do that, and as before, I could feel the history around me, it was that palpable. It was a privilege few people get to experience.

Balls Eight is now on display outside of the Edwards AFB North Gate, off HWY 58 between Mojave and Boron.

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