Balls 8

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Balls 8
TF-104G with NASA NB-52B in flight 1979.jpg
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

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. ^ "NASA - End of an Era: NASA's Famous B-52B Retires". Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "NASA Armstrong Fact Sheet: B-52B "Mothership" Launch Aircraft". NASA. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  3. ^ "X-15 - Hypersonic Research at the Edge of Space". Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  4. ^ "Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum - Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum". Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. Retrieved 1 January 2015.

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