D-21 Drones
501 - 539

Status and Disposition

Because the D-21 was a single-use vehicle, there is little history on any one aircraft.

Therefore the story of each D-21 is presented on this one page, rather than give a separate page to each.

Thanks to Tony Landis for practically all the images and information on this page.

last modified August 27, 2019

Image Lockheed
Tail No.
Launch Platform Flight Date Remarks/Location
501 B-52H 28 Sep 1967 Accidental drop; no mission flown.
502 n/a - Static test article; destroyed during ground testing.
503 M-21 #60-6941 5 March 1966 "D-503 flew for approximately 2½ minutes in free flight condition during which programmed course, altitude, and speed (3.3M) were attained.  Shortly after beginning the cruise climb profile, the D-21 experienced a rapid pitchover causing inlet unstart resulting in further pitchover.  This pitchover caused the "D" to lose speed and altitude until the "D" reached self-destruct altitude of 55,000 feet and was destroyed.  Theory is the pitchover was caused by a spurious electrical signal to the Air Data Computer."  Flew 150 nautical miles (NM) total.
504 M-21 #60-6941 30 July 1966 "In the July 30 launch, the drone separated normally from the A-12, rose to a height of approximately seven feet above tne launch aircraft, yawed slightly to the left, and then began to roll to the left at a rate higher than the drone's elevons could stabilize.  A few seconds later, the drone collided with the launch aircraft near the left vertical stabilizer and both aircraft subsequently disintegrated.  The pilot ejected successfully with only minor injuries; the Launch Control Officer also ejected successfully but drowned before rescue from the sea." Last M-21 flight with drone mounted.
505 M-21 #60-6941 16 June 1966 "The flight profile for D-505 was programmed for 1570 NM and incorporated seven heading changes varying from 18 to 83 degrees.  The route was flown with programmed distance and course being achieved.  At fuel cutoff point, battery power to the autopilot failed, causing the "D" to deviate from programmed descent and subsequent hatch ejection resulting in self-destruct at 55,000 feet."
506 M-21 #60-6941 27 April 1966 "D-506 was programmed for a total range of 1730 NM with a 9 degree right turn, 540 NM from the separation point, which was executed satisfactorily.  The flight terminated at approximately 1170 NM when the "D", unable to respcnd to autopilot commands, went out of control due to failure of the hydraulic pump which powers the flight controls.  The "D" destroyed itself at programmed self-destruct altitude."
507 B-52H 6 Nov 1967 "Launch and boost were successful.  Drone attained a mach of 3.29 at 82,000 feet.  Cruise flight was not sustained due to low inlet recovery; deformed inlet cone primary suspect.  Drone travelled 134 miles down range and the hatch was not recovered."
508 B-52H 19 Jan 1968 "Launch and boost were successful.  The drone travelled 550 miles down range, then the flight terminated prematurely when the drone began a pitch down and roll to the left.  Telemetry was lost.  Most probable cause of failure was electrical malfunction.  The hatch was not recovered."
509 B-52H 2 Dec 1967 "Launch and boost were successful.  Free flight continued on course for 1400 miles, altitude of 74,000 feet (10,000 feet less than normal).  Flight terminated prematurely after failure of the hydraulic system and subsequent loss of control.  The hatch was not recovered." Flew 1,430 NM total.
510 n/a - On display at the Museum of Flight near Seattle, Washington, mounted to M-21 #60-6940.
511 B-52H 30 April 1968 "Launch and boost were successful.  Following booster ejection, the drone was unable to sustain cruise and lost altitude and speed due to low thrust from the engine (inlet not started).  Drone travelled 150 miles down range and was destroyed.  Hatch not recovered."
512 B-52H 16 June 1968 "Successful test flight.  Drone travelled 2824 miles at a mach of 3.25 and an altitude of 91,800 feet.  The hatch was air recovered by JC-130 aircraft." Flew 2,850 NM total; carried no camera.
513 n/a - Listed by Davis-Monthan as allocated to NASA but remained in storage at D-M.
514 B-52H 1 July 1968 "During pushover at the top of boost phase, the drone became laterally unstable due to insufficient autopilot gains.  At separation, the booster struck the drone, rupturing the drone's fuel tank.  The hatch ejected upon command and was recovered from the water in good condition."  Flew 80 NM total.
515 B-52H 15 Dec 1968 "Successful test flight.  3059 miles, mach 3.3, maximum altitude of 95,000 feet.  This was the first mission to test the total system with the camera aboard.  The hatch was air recovered by JC-130." Photography quality was fair.  This was the greatest distance traveled by any D-21.
516 B-52H 28 August 1968 "Launch and boost were successful.  However, the drone's engine remained at minimum power and cruise altitude was not maintained.  The hatch ejected at an excessive speed on descent and was not recovered." Flew 78 NM total.
517 B-52H 9 Nov 1969 "First operational mission.  Launch and boost successful.  Computational errors in the drone's Inertial Navigation System prevented drone from flying the programmed route.  Self-destruct believed to have occurred upon descent at 52,000 feet.  Hatch was not recovered."
"The B-52 carry out phase, drone launch and initial cruise were all successful.  The drone obtained both the programmed altitude of 84,000 feet and a mach hold of 3.27.  Telemetry received showed the drone was performing normally at 350 miles, 12 minutes, from the launch point.  At 12 minutes and 14 seconds after launch time the telemetry was turned off to preclude signals from being transmitted over denied territory.  During the terminal phase of the flight, the drone was not acquired visually or electronically and the hatch (payload) was not recovered.  There was no reported SIGINT that could be correlated with any portion of the mission."
518 B-52H 11 Feb 1969 "Launch and boost successful.  Apparent shift in autopilot control at excessive mach cause the drone to descend resulting in the inlet remaining only partially started with attendant loss in thrust.  Sever oscillations resulted.  Drone believed to have structurally destroyed itself.  Hatch was not recovered." Flew 161 NM total.
519 B-52H 10 May 1969 "Successful test flight.  2972 miles, mach 3.3, maximum altitude of 96,588 feet.  Hatch was air recovered by JC-130."   This was the highest altitude achieved by any D-21.
520 B-52H 10 July 1969 "Successful test flight.  2937 miles, mach 3.3, maximum altitude of 91,000 feet.  Hatch was air-recovered by JC-130."  Photography was good.
521 B-52H 20 Feb 1970 "Successful test flight.  2969 miles, mach of 3.32, maximum altitude of 95,700 feet.  Changes to INS prgram validated.  Hatch was air-recovered by JC-130."  Photography was good.  This was the highest speed achieved by any D-21.
522 n/a - On display at Pacific Coast Air Museum, Santa Rosa, California.
523 B-52H 16 Dec 1970 "Operational Mission - South China.  Drone few the programmed route and systems functioned properly through the hatch eject sequence.  Malfunction in the parachute recovery system prevented successful recovery.  Assumed that the high rate of descent cause the package to break up and sink upon impact with the water."
524 n/a - On display at USAF Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
525 n/a - On display at Blackbird Airpark, Palmdale, California.
526 B-52H 4 March 1971 Third operational mission. "The drone launched from the B-52 mothership on schedule at 05/0356Z and flew the preset route over South China exactly as programmed.  Recovery package ejection occurred on time at 05/0530Z and was sighted by the JC-130 recovery aircraft at 05/0531Z.  Because of probable air pickup chute failure, aerial recovery was not possible and the package impacted in the water 10 nm northwest of the predicted impact point at 05/0558Z.  This malfunction differed from the failure on the previous mission in that the package apparently experienced a retarded if not soft landing, transmitted required telemetry signals, and floated for approximately one hour.  The destroyer, USS McMorris,, the back-up recovery ship, steamed to the splash down point and had visual sighting at 05/0700Z.  Telemetry was lost at 05/0655Z and the destroyer reported loss of visual contact and unsuccessful boarding attempt at 05/0714Z due to extremely rough seas.  The recovery destroyer remains in the impact area; however, the recovery package is assumed sunk in approximately 2100 fathoms of water."
527 B-52H 20 March 1971 Fourth operational mission; hatch not recovered. Wreckage discovered and put on display at Chinese Aviation Museum, Beijing, China.
528 n/a - On display at Grissom Air Museum, Peru, Indiana.
529 n/a - Was stored at AMARC, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.  Might have been scrapped in 2013; according to AMARC, 522 was scrapped in 2013 but that airframe is on display in Santa Rosa, CA.
530 n/a - Was on display at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.  According to AMARC, 530 was scrapped in 2013.
531 n/a - Was stored at AMARC, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.  According to AMARC, 531 was scrapped in 2013.
532 n/a - Was stored at AMARC, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.  According to AMARC, 532 was scrapped in 2013.
533 n/a - On display at Pima Air Museum, Arizona.
534 n/a - On display at Evergreen Aviation Museum, McMinville, Oregon. photo copyright © Louis Kowolowski, used by permission
535 n/a - Was stored at AMARC, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.  According to AMARC, 535 was scrapped in 2013.
536 n/a - Was stored at AMARC, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.  According to AMARC, 536 was scrapped in 2013.
537 n/a - On display at March ARB Museum, Riverside, California.
538 n/a - On display at the Museum of Aviation, Robins AFB, Georgia.
539 n/a - On display at Beale AFB, California.

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