Balls 8 is a NASA Boeing NB-52B mothership, retired in 2004 after almost 50 years of flying service with NASA. The aircraft is famous for dropping the X-15 aerospace research vehicle on 106 of the 199 X-15 program flights.
|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|
|First flight||11 June 1955|
|Owners and operators||United States Air Force |
|Preserved at||Edwards Air Force Base, California|
Balls 8 was originally an RB-52B 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 not of the 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.
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 is a single digit preceded by multiple zeros as "Balls" and the last digit of its tail number.[Note 1]