A project to revamp the U.S. B-61 nuclear bomb achieved a key milestone when one of its new variants passed a first full-scale, wind-tunnel test.
The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration announced the completed assessment in a Monday press release, noting that the accomplishment by its Sandia National Laboratories brings the so-called “B-61-12” Life-Extension Program one step closer to planned “drop tests” next year.
The eight-day assessment took place in a transonic wind tunnel — which allows for the testing of aerospace products at extremely fast speeds — at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee. The trial consisted of a number of different simulated flight environments that examined how well the B-61’s forthcoming “Mod 12” variant handles “counter-torque,” a phenomenon in which the plumes from rocket motors work against the performance of the tail fins, according to Sandia.
“This wind tunnel test helps to understand the B-61-12 flight characteristics in preparation for our first three full-scale development drop tests,” agency Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Don Cook said in provided comments.
Because the Mod 12 variant is equipped with a tail section that is notably different than earlier versions of the B-61, a wind tunnel test was necessary to determine that the new component can perform in the required spin environment during flight, said Vicki Ragsdale, a B-61-12 technical basis test engineer at Sandia, in a separate Monday release from the laboratory.
The project to modernize the B-61 involves the restoration of atomic and conventional parts and is aimed at extending the service life of the gravity bomb, which is currently deployed in support of NATO nuclear deterrence in Europe. The Mod 12 variant is intended to supplant the current B-61-3, -4, -7, and -10 variants, in addition to supporting the planned mothballing of the large B-63 nuclear warhead.