|A NASA TF-104G flies chase on the NB-52B Balls 8 in September 1979.|
|Type||Boeing RB-52B/NB-52B Stratofortress|
|Manufacturer||Boeing Aircraft Company|
|Owners and operators||United States Air Force
|Preserved at||Edwards Air Force Base, California|
Balls 8 is a NASA Boeing NB-52B mothership, retired in 2004 after almost 50 years of flying service with NASA. The aircraft is famous for dropping the X-15 aerospace research vehicle on 106 of the 199 X-15 program flights.
Balls 8 was originally an RB-52B that was first flown on June 11, 1955, and entered service with NASA on June 8, 1959. It was modified at North American Aviation's Palmdale facility to enable it to carry the X-15. As on its NB-52A predecessor, a pylon was installed beneath the right wing between the fuselage and the inboard engines with a 6-by-8-foot (1.8 m × 2.4 m) section removed from the wing flap to accommodate the X-15's tail.
The modified bomber flew 159 captive-carry and launch missions for the X-15 program from June 1959 until October 1968. It was first used to launch the X-15 on its fifth flight, January 23, 1960. It also flew missions for the X-24, HiMAT, Lifting Body vehicles, X-43, early launches of the OSC Pegasus rocket and numerous other programs.
At its retirement on 17 December 2004, Balls 8 was the oldest active B-52 in service, and the only active B-52 not of the H model. It also had the lowest total airframe time of any operational B-52. It is on permanent public display near the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base in California.
It derives its nickname from its NASA tail number 52-0008: leading zeroes plus the number 8. Among USAF personnel, it is common practice to refer to aircraft whose tail number is a single number preceded by multiple zeros as "Balls" and the last number of its tail number.[Note 1]
- "The High and Mighty One", NB-52A serial number 52-0003, is the other launch aircraft used for X-15 flights. It is on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, AZ, (32.1410557 N, 110.869652 W).
- B-52B, serial number 52-0005 can be seen at the Wings Over the Rockies Museum's B-52B "005", Denver, Colorado.
- Balls 8 has "0008" on its nose... has "008" on its tail... has "52-008" stenciled on the left emergency hatch door... but, the manufacturer's plate has not been confirmed. However, at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Balls 5 has "RB-52B" and "52-005" on its manufacturer's plate. Since these two birds were on the same production line, one could assume the manufacturer's plate would carry the same nomenclature.
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