NASA’s Famous B-52 B Mothership Launch Aircraft

California, Plane Spotting, USA
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Earlier this year I got a chance to visit NASA’s famous NB-52B Mothership which is a converted B-52B bomber. It is just a short drive of 20 minutes from the Mojave Air and Space Port. The aircraft displays at the Mojave Air and Space Port are a must for every aviation geek. There is another display of aircraft at the South Gate of Edwards AFB which is called “Century Circle” as you will see a bunch of Century Series fighters. However, I got told photography is not allowed there as you can’t take any pictures of the desert behind the plane displays.

Both locations are part of the Air Force Flight Test Museum. There is a third display which is the Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale.

Getting There

The plane is displayed outside the North Gate of the Edwards Air Force Base. Take exit 186 of the Mojave-Barstow Highway aka Highway 58 and follow the signs towards Edwards AFB. Follow the speed limits as you are already on Air Force property even before you pass the gate. As you approach the gate, keep in the left lane and make a U-Turn as you would head back out. After a few feet, you can enter the parking next to the plane to your right. Please be respectful and follow all signs and instructions so many other people can enjoy this display. I even drove up to the gate and asked if it’s ok to take pictures. It is okay to take pictures of the plane from all kinds of angles as long as you stay on the dedicated pathways. However, you are NOT allowed to take any pictures of the Air Force Base gate. 

History of the B-52 B

NASA’s “008” was built at Boeing’s Seattle plant and took to the skies for the first time in June of 1955. It first entered service for the U.S. Air Force as a bomb navigation system test airplane for the Air Force’s B-52 fleet. “008” became one of two mothership launch aircraft for the X-15 program in 1959 as it entered service for NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. The second mothership launch aircraft was NB-52A, serial number 52-003. Also, know as “The High and Mighty One”. This aircraft is now on display at the Prima Air & Space Museum next to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. 

“008” was modified as a mothership launch aircraft by adding a pylon 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. With 199 launches, 008 launched the majority of the X-15 test flights which set new speed and altitude records.

“008” is also known as Double-0-eight and Balls-8. Balls-8 is USAF pilot jargon as they called aircraft with two or more leading zeros Balls plus the following digit. If you look closely, you will see that the plane has 0008 on its nose but 008 on its tail.

Balls-8 was retired on December 17, 2004. At that point, it was the oldest active B-52 in service and the only active B-52 that was not an H model. After its retirement, it was handed back over to the USAF where it is now on permanent public display near the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base in California.

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