This is a photograph from the launch of an X-43 from the NASA owned and operated B-52 '008'. It appears that one engine is producing a plume of smoke in the photograph. Why is this?

enter image description here

  • 21
    $\begingroup$ That's what you get when there is no cabin attendant to tell the crew this is non-smoking flight. $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2016 at 18:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RobVermeulen She was commissioned in 1959... everyone smoked back then ;) $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Dec 14, 2016 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ @RobVermeulen Ladies and gentleman this is your captain speaking - I've just turned off the "No Smoking" signs. I figure if the plane's smoking why can't you? (Also can we talk about the soot marks behind those engine pods? Wash your planes, NASA!) $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Dec 16, 2016 at 21:54

2 Answers 2


@Adam is right. The aircraft, NB-52B has smoke generator installed to assist in tracking.

A smoke generator has been installed on the left wing of the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress mothership to assist in tracking the airplane.

Its use during the test of X-38 is detailed here:

Outside I could see the white trail from the smoke generator in the number-2 engine nacelle of the NB-52B approaching from the east

... I aimed my telephoto nearly directly up at the tip of the smoke trail.

As the same aircraft was used during the X-43 tests, it certainly served the same purpose.

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    $\begingroup$ So, paratroopers invented jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Not to be one-upped, NASA decided to set a perfectly good plane on fire. Touche :) $\endgroup$
    – DVK
    Dec 13, 2016 at 20:48

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that they are using a smoke generator to make the B-52 aircraft easier to visualize. Typically for flight tests like this they would be doing optical tracking from the ground (essentially a telescope) and this would make it easier to locate the target. (I was going to add also for the pilot of the dropped aircraft, but the X-43 is unmanned)


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