The North American XB-70 Valkyrie flying with the outer wing panels folded downwards to capture and “ride” on the compression generated by its own shock waves (compression lift).

With a planned cruise speed of Mach 3 and operating altitude of 70,000 feet, the XB-70 was to be the ultimate high-altitude, high-speed manned strategic bomber B-70.


The Cold War - life at the gates of annihilation. 

With the end of the Second World War in 1945 and the death of fascism, the temporary wartime alliances forged in the darkest days of late 1941 - between the British Empire, the United States and the Soviet Union - quickly began to show deep cracks. A few weeks after the release of the Long Telegram in February 1946, which would inspire the Truman Doctrine, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in Fulton, Missouri. The speech called for an Anglo-American alliance against the Soviets, whom he accused of establishing an “iron curtain” from “Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic”. It was clear by 1947 that ideological difference had become intolerable and in September of that year the Soviets created Cominform, uniting the global communist movement while tightening political control over Soviet satellites.

Over the following decades a policy of containment would be pursued by the Western Bloc, usually led, and on occasion too far, by the United States. This, driven by the Domino Theory, that should one state fall it would collapse an entire region, led to a number of not-so-small proxy wars: the Malayan Emergency, Korea, Vietnam. On 13 August 1961, the Soviets erected a barbed wire Berlin Wall, something which would quickly grow in substance. Europe was divided, quite physically in two. When the Soviet Union went nuclear on 29 August 1949 the stakes of confrontation had risen exponentially, triggering an arms buildup on both sides; which, under Robert McNamara, settled into a state of Mutually Assured Destruction. European maps became the atomic battlefield and as crisis came thick and fast in the early 1960s the fate of life on our pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known, rested upon the cool minds of just a few men. Living at the gates of annihilation, they peered through and stepped back, time and again.

The only TSR-2 to ever fly, XR219, at Boscombe Down between September 1964 and March 1965. Designed to conduct low level, high speed flights into Eastern Europe, penetrating air defences to deliver a nuclear strike, the aircraft was the last all-British wonder-child of aviation. With the V-Force ever increasingly the vulnerable force, in the face of new Soviet missiles, this was a necessary evolutionary step.

It must be said that this aircraft was one of the most advanced designs of it’s time; genuinely comparable to the SR-71 and XB-70 as regards innovation. Capable of Mach 2+ at medium-high altitudes, the design’s focus was on low level performance. At sub-200 feet, the aircraft would penetrate into the Eastern Block at around Mach 1.1. To achieve such performance at tree-top level, a completely new fully automatic radar system was required, far in advance of anything previously concocted. It would use terrain following and sideways looking systems which automatically maintained a prescribed altitude. Much speculation stands around it’s illogical cancellation.