Balls 8

Coordinates: 34°59′34″N 117°53′00″W / 34.9929°N 117.8834°W / 34.9929; -117.8834
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Balls 8
A NASA TF-104G (below) flies chase on the NB-52B Balls 8 (above) on 14 September 1979.
Type Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress
Manufacturer Boeing Aircraft Company
Serial 52-008
First flight 11 June 1955
Owners and operators United States Air Force
Status Retired
Preserved at Edwards Air Force Base, California
Nose section
Tail section
Panoramic showing the various test flights it participated in.

Balls 8 is a NASA Boeing NB-52B mothership which was retired in 2004 after almost 50 years of flying service with NASA.[1][2] The aircraft is famous for dropping the X-15 aerospace research vehicle on 106 of the 199 X-15 program flights.[3]


Balls 8 was originally an RB-52B[2] 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 that was not an 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.[2]

It derives its nickname from its NASA tail number 52-008: leading zeroes plus the number 8. Among USAF personnel, it is common practice to refer to aircraft whose tail number contains two or more zeros as "Balls" and the last digit (or two digits) of its tail number.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Creech, Gray (December 15, 2004). "End of an Era: NASA's Famous B-52B Retires". NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. Archived from the original on 2004-12-28.
  2. ^ a b c Gibbs, Yvonne, ed. (February 28, 2014). "NASA Armstrong Fact Sheet: B-52B "Mothership" Launch Aircraft". NASA. Archived from the original on 2022-03-18.
  3. ^ Engel, Hans-Peter (February 24, 2000). "X-15 - Hypersonic Research at the Edge of Space". NASA History.
  4. ^ "Boeing B-52B Stratofortress". Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. Retrieved 1 January 2015.

Further reading[edit]

34°59′34″N 117°53′00″W / 34.9929°N 117.8834°W / 34.9929; -117.8834