The Valkyrie Road trip Only two were built, only one remains. The XB-70 Valkyrie you see here is the only one in existence. I drove 6000 miles to see it. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

As a teenager more than fifty years ago I promised myself that someday I'd see this aircraft in person. Finally in May of 2018, the stars aligned and I decided it was time to make the journey. The Valkyrie is stored in the National Museum of the USAF in Ohio, nearly three thousand miles from my home and I decided that rather than fly, rent cars, eat in restaurants and stay in motels, I'd just drive. It would take sixteen states, three time zones, six thousand miles, a quite a few tankfuls of diesel, five audiobooks and a lot of time at the wheel.

My schedule allowed for just two weeks to complete the mission, so much of my route would have to be on four-lane Interstate highways, but I was determined to squeeze in some two-lane, somehow, somewhere. Two-lane highways are most fun but slowest way to travel.

In fact, much of my first two days outbound was two-lane. Crossing the border from Alberta at Sweetgrass, Montana, I aimed first for US 2 which runs along the the top edge of the western states. In Montana and North Dakota, they call that stretch of road "The Hi-Line". It proved a good choice.

Just west of Saco, Montana, I spent my first night here, out on the empty prairie. Finding these places is really a matter of luck. When sunset nears, I begin to look for tiny roads leading to the middle of nowhere. This one was perfect, about as nowhere as it gets.

A gentle breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay and my suppertime soundtrack was the quiet whisper of the prairie evening. I'll take meadowlarks over restaurant Muzak any day.


Someone from the prairies once said to me: "People who say the prairies are boring aren't paying attention." He was right. All you have to do is look. It was a beautiful drive along the Hi-Line.

Somewhere near Williston, North Dakota, one of those "little side roads to nowhere" led me to this graveyard, where I spent a few minutes resting from driving and imagining the stories those gravestones could tell.

It was an ideal time to cross the prairie. Spring was fully underway and summer heat and humidity had yet to arrive.

These bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park were just shedding their winter coats. Watching them munch their way across the grassy fields reminded me that it was time for lunch.

This campground was empty, except for a woman running a huge mower. She waved as she mowed her way past me and my Costco picnic.

How can you not love a country that has National Grasslands?

I wished for more time to explore this little valley, but the ticking clock was relentless. I had to keep moving.

I spent my second night at the base of this antenna. Telco sites are usually a good bet for boondocking. They usually have easy road access, they're graded level, and many of them are located strategically on high ground, offering great views of the surrounding countryside. Best of all, there's often excellent bandwidth.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, MN. Somehow, I had to navigate diagonally right across this maze. I entered from the upper left, intending to exit along the Missouri River at lower right. To complicate things, I arrived in the afternoon, right at the height of rush hour. With the able assistance of my ever-present and ever-helpful co-pilot, Mrs. Google, we moved smoothly through the urban sprawl, eventually running down the Missouri River Valley and then south to my old pal I-90. It was time to do some serious Interstate work.

We skirted the western edge of the infamous Chicago area traffic and rolled through Indianapolis on the day before the Indy 500, never looking back until sunset, where I found this boondock site. The empty, for-sale industrial building near New Lisbon, Wisconsin provided excellent, if slightly dystopian, Sci-Fi movie accommodations this hot May night. It was near-perfect in all respects, save the zillions of mosquitoes who also found this site favourable. Up at dawn, make coffee, oatmeal and move on.

Late in the afternoon of my fourth day out, my destination finally appeared in the the windshield: Dayton, Ohio. Home of the Wright Brothers and birthplace of aviation in America.

In Dayton, I thought I'd found the perfect Walmart campsite, just minutes from my appointment with the Valkyrie at the USAF Museum. I even had my own garden, right outside Frito's side door. Unfortunately, just about bedtime, this bob-tailing tractor moved in. He was watching hockey on his flatscreen in there, and that meant he had to run his genny until the wee hours. I moved.

Finally, the fifty-year promise is fulfilled. The XB-70 was all I expected and more. A real tear-jerker. The Valkyrie fulfills perfectly its unofficial nickname of "The Saviour", so-called because of the first two words many people say when confronted with the aircraft in person.

North American Aviation won the design/build contract for the world's first supersonic bomber. The six-engined Valkyrie was capable of cruising for thousands of miles at Mach 3 and 70,000 feet. Unfortunately, history had other ideas. Soon after it flew, the development of ICBMs rendered the design irrelevant and production was halted in 1961. Just two aircraft were built. This is the first and the only one remaining. The second one was lost during an air-to air photo mission, killing one of its test pilots.

Brute force, late fifties style. "The Six Pack", they called it. This array of General Electric turbojet engines is what it takes to power the big jet to 2000 mph. Each one developed nearly 30,000 lbs of thrust on afterburner. Thirsty, too, I'll bet.

This impressive array of control surfaces takes the place of flaps, elevators and ailerons. It was a audacious solution to a set of brand new problems offered by supersonic flight and the huge delta wing.

Note the rippling of the aircraft's skin - possibly a result of the stresses of supersonic flight. On the intake at left, a list of the pilots and crew chiefs who flew this amazing aircraft.

This particular airframe flew for several years after its military program was cancelled, performing research later used in the design of the Concorde. Though it never was used for its original purpose, it demonstrated possible solutions the many problems of supersonic aircraft design.

The National Museum of The United States Air Force near Dayton, OH, is huge. It consists of five enormous buildings containing hundreds of aircraft. It would take several days to see all of the exhibits. For aviation freaks like me, it's heaven.

The USAF isn't shy of showing failures as well as successes. This Douglas X-3 Stiletto, designed to fly 2000 mph, was so under powered, it couldn't even break the sound barrier in level flight. It does look pretty cool, though.

And then, there's this crazy idea. See that big hook above and in front of the canopy? This jet was supposed to hang in the bomb bay of a larger aircraft, to be released to attack the enemy after which it would return to the mothership, hanging itself back inside with the hook. Needless to say, it never worked. Aerial refuelling was a much better idea.

The newest exhibit at the museum is the Memphis Belle, one of the first B-17 aircraft deployed to Europe and one of the first to complete 25 missions. An arrestingly short duty cycle.

The B-17 was also known as the "Flying Fortress", thus inspiring this contemporary cartoon depiction.

A bombardier's work station. Seated right in the nose of the bomber, the bombardier had the best seat in the house. It was also among the most vulnerable. In addition to the aircraft itself, the exhibit demonstrates the complexity of aerial bombardment.

Tools of the Bombardier's trade. The at-the-time top secret and now famous Norden bomb sight.

Several light-hearted dioramas show the life of airmen in wartime. Note his dog, snoozing nearby.

"Nose art", those often-whimsical, sometimes thought-provoking graphics found on war planes, are a fascination of mine. (top) Nose art from "Bocks Car", the aircraft that bombed Nagasaki. (bottom) Nose art on a Catalina flying boat, whose job it was to land on the ocean and recover downed airmen.

Here are the insignia and shoulder patch for the "Wild Weasels" squadron. The Weasels were formed during the Vietnam War and were assigned the unenviable task of attracting the attention of SAM missile sites and taunting them to reveal their location by firing their missiles at the Weasels. Once located, the SAM sites could be attacked. Their squadron motto "YGBSM" says it all: "You gotta be..."

Poetry in aluminum. A Lockheed Super Constellation, formerly an Air Force One.

The Connie's cockpit and, at left, what appears to be an early version of "The Football"

The Apollo 15 Command Module shows the effects of atmospheric re-entry. The ellipses are attitude control jets. Two weeks in there with two other guys? Yikes. It is tiny.

To study the effects of air flow over wing surfaces, the Wright Brothers had this wind tunnel built. Nearly all of wooden construction, it helped them solve some of flight's basic problems.

One of the first pilotless aircraft, this drone proved unsuccessful.

This early Mercedes Benz aircraft engine shows the German (and my) preference for the inline six engine. It looks more like a marine installation than an aeronautical one.

What is amazing is that aviation progressed in just a dozen short years from the Wright Flyer (above) to this Standard J1, a WW I trainer. (below)

This contemporary newspaper illustration is perhaps my favourite of all the artwork in the museum. It embodies the tremendous optimism that spread across the world in those heady, early days when men first took to the air.

Exhausted after an eight hour day walking on concrete floors, I continued eastward the next day through Pennsylvania and Maryland to Washington, DC and the museums there. To be continued in Part Two.

Created By
Peter Mclennan


Photos by the author

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