Detail View: NASA Image eXchange Collection: B-29 mothership with pilots - Payne, Butchart, Walker, Littleton, and Moise

B-29 mothership with pilots - Payne, Butchart, Walker, Littleton, and Moise
This photo shows the B-29 in the background with Dick Payne, Stan Butchart, and Joe Walker standing in front of it, Charles Littleton and John Moise squatting. The Boeing B-29 was the first U.S. aircraft to be modified to serve as an airborne launch vehicle. Last operated by the NASA High-Speed Flight Station (now the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California), the B-29 aircraft was used to launch the X-1 series aircraft, including the X-1-1, the X-1-2 (later redesignated the X-1E), the X-1A, and the X-1B. The B-29, which was accepted by the Air Force on Aug. 2, 1945, was operated by the NACA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and the Bell Aircraft Company. The Air Force transferred the B-29 to Bell Aircraft Company where it was modified to act as a carrier, or "mothership," for the first X-1. After modification, the aircraft flew to Pinecastle Army Air Base, Florida, where it made aeronautical history on Jan. 25, 1946, with its air launch of the first X-1. It then performed 10 drops of the X-1 at Pinecastle before flying to Edwards Air Force Base, California, in September 1946 where it dropped the X-1 for its first powered flight on Dec. 9, 1946. On Oct. 14, 1947, the B-29 again participated in a major aeronautical advance when it air launched the X-1 aircraft, which proceeded to exceed the speed of sound (Mach 1) for the first time. Air Force Pilot Captain Charles "Chuck" Yeager was at the controls of the X-1 that day. A mid-air explosion in the "captive" X-1A almost ended the career of the B-29 on Aug. 8, 1955. But pilot Stanley P. Butchart dropped the X-1A to its destruction in the desert after X-1A pilot, Joseph A. Walker, had scrambled back into the B-29. The B-29's 14-year career ended on July 1, 1959, when it was flown from the NASA High-Speed Flight Station to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, for retirement. The aircraft was made obsolete as a mothership by the advent of the X-15 Program, which required a larger, faster launch vehicle, the B-52. In the meantime, from 1950 to 1956, the NACA had used a P2B-1S (a Navy version of the B-29) to launch the rocket-powered versions of the D-558-2 research aircraft.
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (NASA-DFRC) [ ]
Joseph A. Walker
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