The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range strategic bomber flown by the United States Air Force since 1952, replacing the Convair B-36 and the Boeing B-47. Although built for the role of Cold War-era nuclear deterrent, its conventional capabilities are these days the more important role in USAF operations, where its long range, heavy weapons load and fearsome reputation have proven valuable.
Air Combat Command's B-52 is a long-range heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions. The bomber is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (15 km). It can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance and has the capability to navigate the world precisely.
For more than 50 years, the B-52 Stratofortress has been the backbone of the manned strategic bomber force for the United States. The B-52 is capable of dropping or launching a wide array of weapons in the U.S. inventory, including gravity bombs, cluster bombs, precision guided missiles and Joint Direct Attack Munitions. When updated with the latest technology, the B-52 will be capable of delivering the full complement of joint developed weapons; allowing it to continue into the 21st century as an important element of U.S. military capabilities. Current engineering analyses show the B-52's life span to extend beyond the year 2045.
Two B-52 prototypes were built, and were designated XB-52 and YB-52. In actuality, both aircraft were almost identical, but the YB-52 incorporated enough changes to warrant a different designation. The most notable difference between the prototypes and the B-52A was that the X and Y aircraft used a tandem cockpit for the pilot and co-pilot, very similar to that on the B-47. The cockpit for the B-52A was completely redesigned due to the insistence of General Curtis LeMay, Commander of the Strategic Air Command, who was opposed to the tandem seating arrangement. Although the XB-52 was the first prototype to be completed and rolled out, the YB-52 was the first to fly - on April 15, 1952 - due to damage on the XB-52's wing trailing edges caused by a hydraulic system failure. The XB-52 eventually flew for the first time on October 2, 1952. Unfortunately, both aircraft were scrapped in the mid-1960s, though the YB-52 was available for viewing in the USAF Museum from the late '50s until the time when it was decided to scrap it.
The B-52A first flew in August 1954 and the B model entered service in 1955. A total of 744 B-52s were built with the last, a B-52H, delivered in October 1962. Only the H model is still in the Air Force inventory and is assigned to Air Combat Command and the Air Force Reserves. The oldest B-52 still flying was a B-52B that was built in 1955, though it also has the fewest flight hours of any surviving B-52. It was operated by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center and was used for drop tests of various research aircraft until its retirement on December 17, 2004. On July 30, 2001, Dryden received a B-52H that is expected to fully replace the older B-model aircraft by the end of 2004.
The first of 102 B-52H's was delivered to Strategic Air Command in May 1961. The H model can carry up to 20 air launched cruise missiles. In addition, it can carry the conventional cruise missile that was launched in several contingencies during the 1990s, starting with Operation Desert Storm and culminating with Operation Allied Force.
The B-52 contributed to the U.S. success in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, providing the ability to loiter high over the battlefield and provide Close Air Support (CAS) through the use of precision guided munitions. The long range and endurance of the B-52 provided a U.S. presence unmatched by any other combat aircraft. B-52's also played a key role in the second Gulf War in 2002-2003 (Operation Iraqi Freedom), where they provided close air support and bombing.
The Air Force intends to keep the B-52 in service until around 2050, an unprecedented length of service for an aircraft model. This is especially amazing considering that the last plane was built in 1962; the Air Force fully expects to be flying 90-year-old airframes.
Boeing has suggested re-engining of the B-52H fleet with the Rolls-Royce RB211 534E-4. This would involve replacing the eight Pratt & Whitney TF33s (total thrust 17,000 lb or 605 kN) with four RB211s (total thrust 37,400 lb.). The RR engines will increase the range/payload of the fleet and reduce fuel consumption. However the cost of the project would be significant. Procurement would cost approximately $2.56 billion ($36 million × 71 aircraft). A General Accounting Office study of the proposal concluded that Boeing's estimated savings of $4.7 billion would not be realized. They found that it would cost the Air Force $1.3 billion over keeping the existing engines. 
Another recently approved upgrade for the B-52 is the B-52 SOJ (Stand Off Jammer) program which will allow it to assume an airborne communications/jamming role. Approximately a quarter of the fleet will be converted to take on this mission, with the Air Force seeking funding to convert the entire fleet. The B-52 SOJ will retain all of its bomber functions and capabilities, however now after having expended its weapons load it will continue to loiter over the combat area providing electronic warfare cover for follow on strikes. The additional equipment will be carried in 30 ft external pods under the wings. 
In a conventional conflict, the B-52 can perform strategic attack, air interdiction, offensive counter-air and maritime operations. During Operation Desert Storm, B-52s delivered 40 percent of all the weapons dropped by coalition forces.
All B-52s are equipped with an electro-optical viewing system that uses platinum silicide forward-looking infrared and high resolution low-light-level television sensors to augment targeting, battle assessment, and flight safety, thus further improving its combat ability and low-level flight capability.
Pilots wear night vision goggles (NVGs) to enhance their vision during night operations. Night vision goggles provide greater safety during night operations by increasing the pilot's ability to visually clear terrain, avoid enemy radar and see other aircraft in a covert/lights-out environment.
Starting in 1989, on-going modifications incorporates the Global Positioning System, heavy stores adapter beams for carrying 2,000 pound (900 kg) munitions, and a full array of advanced weapons currently under development.
The use of aerial refueling gives the B-52 a range limited only by crew endurance, or in the extreme, required maintenance. It has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,800 statute miles (14,000 km). It is highly effective when used for ocean surveillance, and can assist the U.S. Navy in anti-ship and mine-laying operations. Two B-52s, in two hours, can monitor 140,000 square miles (364,000 km²) of ocean surface. If on land, this area is about as large as a circle centered at New York City and covered as far as Washington, DC, Syracuse and Boston (radius = 212 statute miles or 340 km). However, the actual shape of coverage would vary.
The aircraft's flexibility was evident in Operation Desert Storm and again during Operation Allied Force. B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and ruined the morale of Iraq's Republican Guard. The Persian Gulf War involved the longest strike mission in the history of aerial warfare when B-52s took off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, launched conventional air launched cruise missiles and returned to Barksdale—a 35 hour, non-stop combat mission. During Operation Allied Force, B-52s opened the conflict with conventional cruise missile attacks and then transitioned to delivering general purpose bombs and cluster bomb units on Serbian army positions and staging areas.
- Contractor: Boeing Military Airplane Co.
- Speed: 650 mph, 1000 km/h (Mach 0.86)
- Range: Unrefueled 8,800 statute miles (14,200 km)
- Armament: Approximately 70,000 lb (31,500 kg) mixed ordnance—bombs, mines and missiles. (Modified to carry air-launched cruise missiles, AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship and AGM-142 Have Nap missiles.)
- The nuclear weapons capacity has previously included B28, B43, B53, B61, and B83 free-fall nuclear bombs, or various combinations of twelve AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missiles (ACMS), 20 AGM-86A Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM) and eight bombs.
- The B-52A through F carried a tail-mounted armament of four .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns with the gunner sitting in the tail, The B-52G retained the quad .50 cals but the gunner moved up front with the rest of the crew and controlled the guns via remote. The B-52H replaced the quad .50's with a single 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan which offered much greater defensive fire power. In the mid-1990s, the tail gun was removed from all of the B-52H aircraft to reduce weight.
- The G and H models are distinguishable from previous models due to their shorter (by 8 feet) vertical tailplane. This configuration had previously been tested on a B-52A.
- The H model is distinguishable from all previous variants by having visually different engine pods. The B-52H uses TF33-3 turbofan engines, which provided 20% greater range than the B-52G and were in most respects an enormous improvement over the earlier J57 engine which had been used on all previous variants.
- Accommodations: Five (Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, Radar Navigator (AKA Bombardier) & Electronic Warfare Officer with all sitting in ejection seats
- Unit Cost: $74 million
- Date Deployed: February 1955
· Inventory: Active force, 85; ANG, 0; Reserve, 9
- XB-52 - The first B-52 prototype. 1 built
- YB-52 - The second protoype. 1 built
- B-52A - The first production model. 3 built
- B-52B - 50
- RB-52B - 27 B-52Bs were converted into reconnaissance aircraft.
- B-52C - 35
- B-52D - 170
- B-52E - 100
- B-52F - 89
- B-52G - 193
- B-52H - 102
- Total produced - 744
- Crew: 5 (aircraft commander, pilot, radar navigator, navigator and electronic warfare officer
- Length: 159 ft 4 in (48.5 m)
- Wingspan: 185 ft 0 in (56.4 m)
- Height: 40 ft 8 in (12.4 m)
- Wing area: 4,000 ft² (370 m²)
- Empty: 185,000 lb (83,250 kg)
- Loaded: 265,000 lb (120,000 kg)
- Maximum takeoff: 488,000 lb (220,000 kg)
- Powerplant: 8× Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3/103 turbofans; 17,000 lbf (76 kN) thrust
- Maximum speed: 650 mph (1,000 km/h)
- Combat range: 8,800 miles (7,652 nm)
- Ferry range: miles ( km)
- Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,151.5 m)
- Rate of climb: ft/min ( m/min)
- Wing loading: 30 lb/ft² (150 kg/m²)
- Thrust/weight ratio: 0.51:1
- 70,000 lb (31,500 kg) of bombs
- Among its crew, the B-52 is affectionately known as the "BUFF", an acronym for "big ugly fat fucker" (or "big ugly fat fellow" in more polite company).
- A hairstyle known as the "B-52", because of its resemblance to the nose cone of this aircraft, was popular in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
- The musical band The B-52's were not directly named after this aircraft, but after the B-52 hairstyle members of the band wear.
- There is also a cocktail named for the B-52, the B-52 shooter.
- The B-52 bomber gained notoriety after Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Cold War movie satire. The cockpit of the plane is one of only three movie settings.
- The NASA B-52B Mothership, NASA tail number 008, was retired from active service with NASA on 17 December, 2004, after almost 50 years flying service. This was the B-52 famous for dropping such aerospace research vehicles as the X-15, X-24, HiMAT, Lifting Body vehicles, X-43, and others. It was the oldest active B-52 at the time, having first flown on June 11, 1955, and entering service with NASA in 1959. It was the last B-52B in service.
- The B-52's longevity is marked by the fact that in at least one family of airmen, the grandfather, father, and son have all served as B-52 crew.
- Two of the Five ejection seats eject downwards from the bottom of the plane.
- In the early 1980s Boeing submitted an unsolicited proposal for a "Super" B-52. It would have offered upgraded engines, improved electronics and avionics and vastly improved ergonomics for the crew. The plan was considered but dropped in favor of the B-1B that was then being considered to replace the then-20+ year old B-52G/H fleet.
- On the night of December 27, 1972, North Vietnamese pilot and future cosmonaut Pham Tuan became the first person ever to shoot down a US B-52 bomber, during the Vietnam War. The bomber had been circling the Hanoi sky during the US campaign Operation Rolling Thunder.
- As part of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia, 365 B-52s were flown to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. The bombers were stripped of all usable parts, then unceremoniously chopped into five pieces by a 13,000-pound steel blade dropped from a crane. The modern-day guillotine crashed down four times on each plane, severing the mammoth wings and leaving the fuselage in three pieces. The ruined B-52s remained in place for three months in order for orbiting Russian satellites to confirm the bombers had been destroyed, after which they were sold for scrap at 12 cents a pound.
|Modern USAF Series||Miscellaneous|
|B-2 Spirit||Fighter--F-15/E ,F-16||KC-10,-135|
|B-52 Stratofortress||Electronic--E-3,-4B,-8C EC-130E/J,H||HC-130P/N|
|F-117A Nighthawk||Transport--C-5,-17,-141B, -20,-21||MC-130E/H/P|
|C-22B, -32, -130, -37A, -40B/C||MH-53J/M|
|Trainers--T-1, -37, -38, -43, -6||HH-60G|
|UAV--RQ-1/MQ-1 UAV, Global Hawk||U-2S/TU-2S|
Current USAF aircraft - Bombers
Related development: B-47 Stratojet
Comparable aircraft: Tupolev Tu-95
- http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/bomber/b-52_hist.htm -- detailed historical overview
- http://www.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?fsID=83 -- B-52 Stratofortress Fact Sheet
- USAF B-52 mission flights from Fairford to Iraq (2003) monitored by the Frequency Monitor Centre
- NASA Dryden B-52 fact sheet
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