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April 11, 2002

Release: 02-21

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The oldest flying B-52 will take part in ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the B-52 in Wichita, Kansas, on April 12, 2002.

Image of B52 while doing a drop test
Operated by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., for nearly 40 years, the B-52B, serial number 52-008, is NASA's oldest aircraft, as well as the oldest B-52 still flying.

NASA 008 was built in 1955 and has been used on some of the most significant projects in aerospace history. The aircraft was the 10th B-52 to come off the Boeing assembly line and was a U.S. Air Force test aircraft for four years before it was assigned to support the X-15 research aircraft program at Dryden. NASA 008 was one of two B-52s used as "mother ships" to air launch the three rocket-powered X-15 aircraft for research flights. Aircraft 008 was the launch aircraft on 106 of the X-15 flights and flew a total of 159 captive-carry and launch missions for the X-15 program.

The X-15 was flown over a period of nearly 10 years - June 1959 to October 1968 - and set the world's unofficial speed and altitude records of 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7) and 354,200 feet in a program to investigate all aspects of manned hypersonic flight. Information gained from the highly successful X-15 program contributed to development of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo manned space flight programs, and also the Space Shuttle program.

Between 1966 and 1975, B-52 008 was the launch aircraft for 127 of the 144 flights of the wingless lifting body aircraft that contributed to development of the space shuttle.

NASA 008 was the launch aircraft for several remotely piloted aircraft flown by Dryden in the 1970s and 1980s to study spin-stall, high angle of attack, and maneuvering characteristics.

In 1977 and 1978, and again in the 1983-1985 time period, 008 was used as the launch aircraft to test and develop the parachute recovery system used for the space shuttle's solid rocket booster casings.

Image of B52 in flight
The first of four lengthy series of test flights began in 1979 for an Air Force projectto certify an extension of the operational life of the parachute recovery system on theF-111 crew escape module. The tests concluded in 1992. The tests, using 008 as theairdrop vehicle for the parachute test articles, were part of a continuing Air Forceprogram to improve the recovery system's capability.

From July to October of 1990, the veteran B-52 was used for eight tests of a dragchute deployment system for space shuttle orbiters. The drag chutes permit theorbiters to land safely in a shorter distance and also help reduce tire and brake wear.First operational use of the drag chute system was on Shuttle Endeavour, newest ofthe space shuttle fleet, during its first landing, May 16, 1992.

NASA 008 was used as the air launch platform for the first six commerciallydeveloped Pegasus rocket boosters. The three-stage Pegasus is designed to put apayload into earth orbit after being launched horizontally from an aircraft.

In recent years, Dryden's B-52B has supported the X-38 crew return vehicle prototype captive-carry and drop tests which began in March 1998. Current support includes the X-43 Hyper-X program, which is slated to be the world's first free-flight scramjet powered vehicle.

At about 2,410 flying hours, the NASA B-52B has the lowest number of hours of any B-52 in operation, having been used almost exclusively in the testbed and mother ship role it continues to perform. During that time it has logged more than 1,030 flights.

NASA's recently acquired B-52H-model, U.S. Air Force serial number 61-0025, will attend the event fresh from depot maintenance at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

(Additional NASA B-52 information is available by calling Gray Creech at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., at [661] 276-2662.)


Note to Editors: High resolution photos are available on the Internet under NASA Dryden Research Aircraft Photo Gallery, URL: /centers/dfrc/Gallery/Photo/index.html

For video dubs, call (661) 276-2662.

Dryden's B-52B fact sheet, as well as fact sheets on the X-15 and other research programs, is available on-line at: /centers/dfrc/Newsroom/FactSheets/index.html

An article on the B-52B's 1000th flight is available on-line at: /centers/dfrc/Newsroom/X-Press/1999/Oct15/newsart0.html

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