Boeing B-52 Stratofortress Bomber



The B-52 is nicknamed “Stratofortress”  is a long ranged, jet powered (8/Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3/103 turbofans) subsonic bomber.  It was developed   The B-52 design started in 1946 through a contract from the USAAF to the Boeing Company.

The maiden flight was in April 1952.  Unlike the ill-fated Titanic, the B-52 was a success on it’s first flight.   The B-52 went into service with the USAF in February 1955 and is still in service today


On 23 November 1945 the Air Materiel Command issued a request to aircraft manufacturers  a design proposal for a new strategic bomber with the following characteristics

Crew:              6 (including a turret gunner) + relief                                crew.

Ceiling:            34,000 ft.

Range:             5,000 m (statute miles) (4,300nmi.).

Armament:      Unspecified number of 20 mm                                            cannons.

Ordnance:        10,000 lbs of bombs.

Cruise Speed:  300mph (260kts).

There were three companies which submitted bids:  Boeing, Consolidated and Glenn L. Martin Company.  On 05 June 1946, Boeing’s Model 462 was declared the winner.

The Model 462 was a straight wing , using Wright T35 turboprop engines.  This was inspite of the fact the Model 462 had a range of only 3,110 mi (2,700 nmi).  The  new  Boeing XB-52 weighted in at 360,000 lbs.

By October of 1946, the Army Air Force had concerns about the size of the bomber and the fact it did not meet requested design specifications.

Boeing resubmitted a design for Model 464 (still straight wing) which was a 4 engine turboprop with a (MGTOW) of 230,000 lbs .  This design was acceptable for the moment.

In November 1946 General Curtis LeMay asked Boeing for another design change to up the speed to 400  mph (345 kts).  By December, Boeing was asked to increase the range to 12,000 miles (10,000 nmi) and the ability to carry a nuclear weapon.

Boeing responded with two aircraft designs:  Model 464-16 that could carry a 10,000 lbs nuclear bomb, Model 464-17 which was a “general purpose” bomber.  The USAAF selected Model 464-17 with the ability to carry nuclear weapons.

By June 1947 the requirements were met except the range.  The whole procurement process was put on hold as greater requirements for aircraft performance were brought by the USAAF.

On 18 September 1947, the USAAF became the United States Air Force (USAF), thus even more performance changes were sought of Boeing.

After threats of contract cancellation by USAF, Boeing President Bill Allen went to Secretary of Defense Symington and the two worked out a new contract based on newly developed technology.

This back and forth process went on for about a year and a half with different models submitted for acceptance.

B-52 Model comparsion

Then on 18 October 1948, four Boeing engineers met with an Air Force representative in Dayton, OH, to come up with a design  the Air Force would accept and Boeing could produce.

The weekend “marathon” produced a 8 turbojet engines,  swept wing design capable of exceeding USAF requirements.  Thus the B-52A bomber was born.

Over the course of the years to come,  up to 1963, the B-52 went through many design changes and upgrades to original model.

The B-52’s major changes showed up in B-52 models B-H.  1963 was the last year the B-52 was produced with a total of 742 aircraft of all models.  USAF projects the B-52 bomber  will be in the active Air Force until 2040.

B-52 #7


Starting with the B-52A, and all the subsequent models,  each had two pods on each wing with two engines in one pod for a total of 8 engines.  As jet engine technology  developed, the models were fitted with the latest and greatest jet engines:


  1. B-52A          Pratt & Whitney J57-P-W   turbojet                                   10,000 lbs of thrust each engine(11,000                           lbs wet*)
  2. B-52-C-D-E     Pratt & Whitney J75-P-29WA                                              turbojets 10,500 lbs of thrust each                                      engine
  3. B-52F-G         Pratt & Whitney J57-P-43WB                                                turbojets (*) 13,750 lbs of thrust each                              engine
  4. B-52 H             Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3 turbofan                                  17,100 lbs of thrust each engine.

*used water injection system (360 gallons of water) for extra thrust for take-off purposes


The B-52 bomber went through many operational test as was to be expected of a first line strategic aircraft.  Here a few notes of interest: (Note abbreviations: mi=statue miles; nmi=nautical miles; mph=miles per hour; kn=nautical miles hour.)

  1. 1956 a B-52B dropped the first thermonuclear bomb (MK-15) in a test at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.
  2. In the same year four B-52Cs flew the perimeter of North America covering 15,530 mi (13,500nmi) in 31 hours 3 minutes.
  3. 1957 3/B-52Bs went non-stop with in-flight refueling around the world (24,325 mi; 21,145 nmi) in 45 hours 19 minutes, a world record at the time.
  4. On 26 September 1958 a B-52D set a world speed record of 560.705 mph (487 kn) over a closed circuit of 10,000kilometers (5,400nmi , 6,211 mi).
  5. On the same day another B-52D set a world speed record of 597.675 mp (519kn) over a closed circuit of 5,000 kilometers (2,700 nmi, 3,105 mi).

The above examples shows the ability of the B-52 bomber to perform and exceed the strategic requirements.  This was to deter and counter the threats of the Soviet Union during the “Cold War”.

The B-52 was part of the armed air wing that made of the Nuclear Triad which included USN submarine launched missiles and land based missiles.

The B-52 was under the command of SAC (Strategic Air Command).  During the height of the Cold War, B-52s were on an airborne alert 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Some of the aircraft were on “strip alert” at the assigned airbase, ready for take-off at a moments notice.

Other B-52’s were airborne awaiting instructions to head for their targets in the Soviet Union as the Nuclear Triad was strictly a retaliatory system that would be used only if the United States was attacked

Throughout the Cold War, the B-52 (and other U.S. strategic bombers) would drill to loiter near Soviet Union borders not only to be ready if the ”flag went up”,  but to help deter any Soviet aggressive plans.  Some of the patrol code names were:

  1. Head Start
  2. Chrome Dome
  3. Hard Head
  4. Round Robin
  5. Giant Lance

In the late fifties and early sixties, SAM (surface-to-air missiles) were being developed by the USSR that could play havoc with the original intended use of the B-52, that is,  in high altitude bombing.

But the B-52 was flexible and fast enough to be able to fly under radar for low level penetration to the target.

A modification program was initiated for all B-52s except the “B” model.  Some of the upgrades were:

  1. Able to launch AGM-28 Hound Dog missiles.
  2. ADM-20 Quail decoys.
  3. ECM (electronic counter measures).electronics to perform low-altitude, all-weather penetration missions.
  4. In 1991, SAC terminated it’s 24/7 airborne alert.Today the B-52 is still on strip alert in some locations.


 As the Vietnam conflict escalated, SAC fitted the aircraft with external racks for 750 lb bombs under “Project South Bay, Project  Sun Bath”.

In March 1965 about 75 aircraft were modified in time for the United States military’s “Operation Rolling Thunder”.  Most of the B-52  missions flown over Viet Nam were based at Andersen AFB Guam in the Marianas.

The tail gun on a B-52 had 4/.50 caliber machine guns mounted on a single platform which was called a “quad”.

On 18 December 1972 a B-52D had just finished making its bomb run on it’s target during “Operation Linebacker II”.  SSGT Turner was the tail gunner and he noticed a MiG-21 “Fishbed” coming straight at him.

He fired his “quad” and the MiG exploded.  The kill was confirmed by MSGT Le Blanc in a nearby B-52D.

Just a week later 24 December 1972, Diamond Lil was headed to Thai Nguyen to bomb rail yards  there.

Airman First Class Albert Moore, the tail gunner, noticed a fast approaching MiG-21 and he also let loose with his .50 caliber “quad” until the enemy disappeared from view.

TSGT Clarence Chute  a tail gunner in a nearby B-52 saw the MiG catch fire and fall away.  The B-52 was the largest aircraft ever to receive confirmed kills in combat.

B-52 Refueling


While there were over 25 accidents involving B-52s, and many more notable incidents.  We will look at just a few more serious ones.

  1. On 15 October 1959 a B-52 carrying 2 nuclear weapons from Columbus AFB, Mississippi collided with a KC-135 Stratotanker.   Four crew members from the B-52 bomber’s compliment of 8 survived, but all the KC-135’s crew did not. The 2 nuclear devices were recovered intact.
  1. On January 1961, a B-52G broke up and crashed near Goldsboro North Carolina, dropping two nuclear devices in the process.  The weapons were recovered.
  1. On 14 March 1961, a B-52F  carry 2 nuclear weapons experienced a rapid decompression that caused the aircraft to descend to 10,000 ft.

The flight could not arrange tanker support in time and had nowhere to land,  because of  fuel starvation, it crashed near Yuba City California.  The crew successfully bailed out and the 2 nuclear bombs  were recovered.

  1. On 13 January 1964, a B-52D carrying two nuclear devices had it’s vertical stabilizer separated from the aircraft during severe turbulence, and crashed near Cumberland Maryland.  Two of the eight crew did survive and the 2 “nukes” were recovered.
  1. On 17 January 1966 near Palomares, Spain a B-52G and a KC-135 collided.  The B-52 was carrying 2 B-28FI 1.45megaton nuclear bombs and two conventional bombs.

The conventional weapons exploded on impact causing dispersal of plutonium and uranium near the crash site.  The nuclear bombs didn’t explode but 3,100,000 lbs of contaminated soil had to be shipped to the U.S. for hazardous waste disposal.

  1. On 21 January 1968 another radioactive contamination accident occur in Thule Greenland.   During Operation  “Chrome Dome”,  a B-52G carrying 4 nuclear weapons crashed on the ice while attempting a landing at Thule.  The cleanup lasted until September of that year.

Of the 25+ accidents/incidents, 6 of them involved nuclear devices which did not cause any major damage.  Considering the number of nuclear bombs that were carried during the Cold War and Vietnam era the recovery and cleanup was excellent.

In spite of the mishaps, the overall value of the B-52 was a major contributor in keeping world peace through deterrence.

Tech Specs For B-52

Wing Span:          185 ft 0 in

Length:                 159 ft 4in.

Height:                 40 ft 8 i

Weight:                 185,000 lbs (empty ) 488,000 lbs (MGTW)

Max Speed:          650 MPH

Cruise Speed:       525 MPH

Service Ceiling:    50,000 ft

Range:                  4,480 (combat);  10,145 miles (non-combat ferry)

Engines:               8 TF33P-3/103 turbofans with thrust of 17,000lbs each engine.

Crew:                   6 (in 1991 the Tail Gunner was removed thus 5 crew)

Thanks for reading this article.  I hope it was informative.




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