NASA's NB-52B

First taking to the air in June of 1955, the venerable aircraft began its illustrious, nearly 50-year U.S. Air Force and NASA career as a bomb navigation system test airplane for the Air Force's B-52 fleet. Ironically, the bomb/nav system test bomber spent the bulk of its career dropping flight research vehicles rather than bombs.

In 1959 it became one of two mothership launch aircraft for the X-15 program, which paved the way for America's early manned space flight efforts. Double-0-eight cut its teeth launching the X-15 on 106 of the program's 199 missions.

The B-52B's first and last missions launched hypersonic research vehicles, the first being launch of X-15 No. 1 in 1960. Beginning with the X-15 program, which matured reaction control systems and thermal protection systems for spacecraft, and ending with the X-43A project, NASA 008 served hypersonic research well.

Always reliable, NASA 008's long career ended as historically as it began, launching the last hypersonic X-43A scramjet-powered research vehicle on Nov. 16, 2004, to nearly Mach 10, a record speed for airbreathing aircraft.
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