Since it became operational in 1955, the B-52 has been the main long-range heavy bomber of the Air Force. It first flew on April 15, 1952 as part of Strategic Air Command. Nearly 750 B-52s were built when production ended in October 1963, of which 170 were -Ds. The -Ds were modified to carry conventional bombs and Quail decoy missiles.
The B-52 has set many records in its many years of service. On Jan. 18, 1957, three B-52Bs completed the world's first non-stop round-the-world flight by jet aircraft, lasting 45 hours and 19 minutes with only three aerial refuelings en route. It was also a B-52 that made the first airborne hydrogen bomb drop over Bikini Atoll on May 21, 1956. In June 1965, B-52s entered combat when they began flying missions in Southeast Asia. By August 1973, they had flown 126,615 combat sorties with 17 B-52s lost to enemy action.
Because the B-52 has been kept up to date with numerous improvements over the years, it is referred to as the bomber that is "not getting older, just getting better." The Air Force and the Boeing Co. have continually updated the B-52 with new avionics, data-link communications, defense systems and precision-guided weapons capabilities, and are jointly exploring re-engining the Stratofortress fleet with modern, fuel-efficient turbofan engines.
No bomber in U.S. military history has been called upon to remain operational for the length of time expected of the B-52.
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 (15,166.6 meters). It can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability.
In a conventional conflict, the B-52 can perform strategic attack, air interdiction, offensive counter-air and maritime operations. During Desert Storm, B-52s delivered 40 percent of all the weapons dropped by coalition forces. 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 square kilometers) of ocean surface.
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 (NVG) 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 munitions, and a full array of advance weapons currently under development.
The use of aerial refueling gives the B-52 a range limited only by crew endurance. It has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,800 miles (14,080 kilometers).
The aircraft's flexibility was evident in Operation Desert Storm and again during Operations Allied Force. B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of Iraq's Republican Guard. The Gulf War involved the longest strike mission in the history of aerial warfare when B-52s took off from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., 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.
General Characteristics (-D model)
´ Primary function: bomber
´ Span: 185 feet
´ Length: 156 feet 6 inches
´ Height: 48 feet 4 inches
´ Weight: 450,000 pounds max.
´ Armament: Four .50-cal. machine guns in tail plus bombs -- nuclear or 43,000 pounds of conventional
´ Engines: Eight Pratt & Whitney J57s of 12,100 pounds thrust each with water-alcohol injection
´ Cost: $7,000,000
´ Maximum speed: 638 mph
´ Cruising speed: 526 mph
´ Range: 8,338 miles unrefueled
´ Service ceiling: 49,400 feet