The other day, I was helping with a project at Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, Calif., and as I looked around at the selection of aircraft and those at Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, I began to look across the field at those hangers on the north side of Air Force Plant 42.
Over the years, many landmark aircraft icons in the history of the Antelope Valley were produced and tested there. The memories of past projects that affected the lives of thousands of us is represented in one form or another in monuments made of aluminum and expensive metals, as well as statues or displays to commemorate past generations and their contributions to our nation and our valley’s history.
One of those aircraft born out of much controversy became an iconic part of our valley’s history and inspired so many of us with a passion that still lives on today ó not just with locals but with aviation enthusiasts around the world.
General Operational Requirement No. 38 “Weapon System 110A,” that we came to know as the North American XB-70, became that passion.
Starting in 1955, the program was a roller coaster of changing political and military requirements that lasted until a last flight to a museum in Dayton, Ohio, in the 1960s.
Two XB-70s were built here in Palmdale at Plant 42, and the North American work force who punched that clock everyday was made up of dads and moms, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends from all over the Antelope Valley and beyond.
Even though the Valkyrie, as it was named, was not getting much love on the national stage, it was getting lots of love from our local communities. The futuristic-looking Mach 3 bomber with all those new technology innovations was becoming a reality thanks to the many hands that made up the work force here in our valley. On the day of its rollout, with the national press in attendance, the Antelope Valley put on its best, and presented its achievement for the world to see, and it did not disappoint.
Over its existence, those first flights and benchmark successes became points of pride as the amazing white bird stepped into its role as a research aircraft. It had all of us looking to the skies with every flight to see the most beautiful and graceful large-scale aircraft to ever ride a shockwave.
With the well-documented tragedy of ship number two, the program began its slow decay, and the pride of the Antelope Valley began to lose its luster. With one ship remaining after the loss of ship two, the program began to fade away, as passions and interests began to find homes in other projects.
Some years ago, I took my son on a trip across country to visit that remaining B-70 at Dayton, Ohio. Standing under that beautiful bird, I looked at my son and remembered a day when I was about his age standing on the lawn of a Westside school with all the other students and watching this very plane take off to the east on its very first flight.
In the presence of such an important piece of aviation history and being able to touch it, I was not only thinking of my dad and the thousands of hours spent going over every detail of construction and preparation, but I also think back to all those in our desert home who also contributed to its development, construction and operation that are no longer with us.
Standing at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, I thought back to the Antelope Valley, place of the B-70s birth and development with all the history that took place in our skies and realized that we do not have one thing here paying tribute to its existence and all those who made it happen.
We have the Aerospace Walk of Honor, we have museums past and present, schools and public squares, but at all these locations we do not have one indication that this amazing project that so many were a part of, and that today has a following of enthusiasts worldwide ever existed.
Why is that? Do we just not care anymore about such things? Have we lost the passion of past generations who held these projects near and dear in their hearts? Do we not have leadership who can see the broader picture when telling a story or honoring a legacy? Or is it we just don’t care and see no real value in remembering this amazing project in a public setting?
I’m certainly not advocating that we get out the old blue prints and build a ship number three, but it would be nice if we, as a community, could find a project to commemorate one of the greatest aircraft development projects to ever grace our skies, and use whatever that looks like as a tribute to the everyday Antelope Valley citizen that for generations never made the headlines, but made the headlines possible.
Like me, the XB-70 is personal to so many of us from that time period. It sure would be nice to see that personal attachment shared with future generations who are making that same history today, and to show they too are a part of a long chain that goes back for generations and that someday even their contributions to the greatness off our country and its people will not be forgotten.
The XB-70 Valkyrie remembrance and legacy project to me is just a dream. Too great for just one man to accomplish, but if we could get a movement of next-generation family members who were personally and spiritually connected to our iconic valley treasure, then maybe just maybe a long overdue project can take flight once again in our communities’ presence.
It would also be nice to see current generations not personally involved to find it in their hearts to get involved also and show an understanding and the respect to people they never knew that have for too long been overlooked when it comes aerospace legacy workers.
Yep, it’s a dream. But the void is too great to be overlooked and I’m just praying that we can find a way to bring visitors from all over and have a destination display that would once again put the XB-70, its history, and our valley once again on national display.
Until next time, Bob out …