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Senior Bowl

by "Bondo" Phil Brandt


B-52H with Senior Bowl


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Senior Bowl - Background


Representing perhaps the darkest of the CIA 'Black Programs' in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Senior Bowl used two modified B-52Hs as airborne launch platforms for Mach 3+ Lockheed D-21B reconnaissance drones. The loss of a Lockheed M-12 Blackbird mother ship and one aircrew member in a mid-air with its just-released drone sounded the death knell for the earlier Tagboard program.

After release, a large Lockheed solid fuel booster accelerated the Marquardt ramjet-powered drone to its Mach 3.35 operational speed. Four launches of highly classified operational missions targeting mainland China (most likely the Lop Nor nuclear test site) occurred probably between the Hawaiian Islands and Midway Island. The D-21B drone operated at approximately 90,000 feet altitude, and its route and sensor operation was controlled by an on-board Honeywell automatic navigation system. Upon return to mid-Pacific, the sensor package was jettisoned for airborne pickup by a JC-130, and the drone was command-destructed by the B-52 launch ship.


The D-21B never returned from its first operational mission on 9 November 1969. It may have flown on past its Chinese target, into the Soviet Union, because years later Skunk Works famed boss, Kelly Johnson, while touring Russia was presented with a smashed fragment of an airframe which turned out to be from the missing drone!

The 16 December 1970 second mission went as planned, but the sensor package was not recovered. The third mission, on 4 March 1971, also returned to the recovery point, but the sensor package sank as the Navy attempted a recovery. The fourth, and final, mission was launched on 20 March 1971; the drone never returned and was assumed to have been destroyed by exceptionally heavy air defenses over the target area.

The international Peacetime Aerial Reconnaissance Program (PARPRO) Treaty negotiated in 1971 and lingering CIA reservations toward the drone program spelled an end to the operational career of the exotic drone, and the surviving airframes were moved to longterm, semi-secure, outdoor storage at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, most of the surviving D-21B airframes out of the thirty-eight originally manufactured were given to museums; four remain with NASA for various high speed test programs. Today, at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio, or at Tucson's Pima County Air and Space Museum, you can get right up close to the Darth Vader-ish black shape that not so long ago was one of this country's most closely held secrets.



Senior Bowl in Styrene


This model portrays B-52H 61-0021 loaded with D-21B articles 508 and 509 prior to the first Senior Bowl two-drone test flight on 28 November 1967. Photographs taken at that time show that the standard SIOP paint scheme was very clean because the aircraft has just come out of Lockheed "Skunkwork's" modification facilities.


B-52H Construction

Although the only injected 1/72 H model extant, and engraved at that, deficiencies of the AMT/Ertl B-52H have been well documented on this and other modeling websites: a) wings are in more of a flight configuration than static, that is, the familiar, pronounced droop of fueled B-52 wings at rest is missing and b) the engine pods are significantly undersize. I planned a major kitbash to solve both.

One of my elderly Monogram B-52Ds furnished the wings (rescribed), and the wing saddle section from the upper center of the fuselage was cut out and grafted onto the Ertl fuselage to define the proper wing anhedral and mate exactly with the 'new' wings. Added bonuses were deployable flaps and spoilers. And yes, Bondo's aware that late BUFF spoilers are shaped differently; I'm invoking the "close enough for government work" rule on this one!


The undersized engine pods were replaced by a corrected resin set done by Red Dog Resins (now out of production). Plan B would be to find ones done long ago by defunct DB Productions in the U.K. I don't know if Flightpath has acquired these parts. The engine mods are not a turnkey job because the aft sections had to be widened slightly with plastic strip, and fan bypass vanes had to be scratchbuilt. Additionally, the Ertl H engine pylons had to be grafted onto the Monogram wings and also to the pods. Putty City!

The large Monogram D model iron bomb pylons fit right in to the wings, but the lower drone mating 'shrouds' were scratchbuilt as per Skunk Works pix of the real thing. Also, the pylon trailing edges had to be reprofiled to match the leading edge of the GT-21B's vertical fin.


GT-21B Drones

The rescribed drones were 'cannonballed' from Monogram SR-71 kits. The distinct curvature of the jettisonable sensor pallets under and just aft of the nose aren't well represented, so they were enhanced with A&B epoxy putty.



The gently tapering nose sections of the huge rocket boosters were created from ballpoint pen sections, with the aft booster sections represented by plastic tube. Larger diameter ring sections of tube were cut and slipped over the assembly to create the "bumps" as per the 1:1 version. The small white ram air turbine (RAT) in each nose was scratchbuilt, as was the folding ventral fin on the booster's aft section.




Don't believe I'd a tol' that...


I entered this combo in the San Antonio ModelFiesta three years ago, and an ex-BUFF guy came up to me asking what, if anything, I thought was wrong with my entry. I checked over the rig and couldn't come up with anything big. He smiled and directed my gaze toward the 20mm "stinger" and tracking radome at the tip of the empennage.

It seems I had assembled that portion of the sizeable airframe with the almost completed bird upside down on a pillow. Although Bondo's been looking at BUFFs for over thirty-five years, and since the fuselage cross section at that point was almost symmetrical, with the thing upside down I had reversed the single piece containing both gun and radome, putting the radome on ze bottom!

Lotsa laughs, and I got to saw off the offending section, reglue and repaint the following week.

Phil Brandt
IPMS 14091



Additional Images


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Review and Images Copyright 2002 by Phil Brandt
Page Created 06 May, 2002
Last updated 04 June, 2007

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