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Boeing B-52 Stratofortress High-Altitude Long-Range Strategic Heavy Bomber (1955)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 7/18/2013

Despite its early Cold War upbringing, the Stratofortress continues as the USAF heavy bomber of choice.

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The B-52 has been the preeminent American heavy bomber of the last 54 years. The massive aircraft served throughout the heightened periods of the Cold War as a nuclear deterrent, as a dedicated bomber and reconnaissance platform in the Vietnam War and as a carpet-bombing nightmare for the Iraqi Army in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. More recently, the B-52 has seen combat actions in the 2001 assault on Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom). The Stratofortress aircraft has evolved into a multi-role aircraft equally capable of dedicated bombing, strategic bombing, anti-shipping, nuclear warfare, mine-laying, close-support, reconnaissance, electronic warfare and maritime surveillance sorties. Upon its inception into the USAF inventory, the B-52 became America's first long-range, swept-wing heavy bomber and currently maintains the title of longest serving bomber in United States military history.

B-52 Origins

The Boeing firm had made a name for itself beginning with its aircraft developments throughout the interwar years following World War 1. By World War 2, the company would become a household name thanks to its development of the stellar B-17 "Flying Fortress", serving in both the Pacific and European Theaters, as well as its follow-up design - the B-29 "Superfortress" long range, high-altitude heavy bomber charged with dropping the two atomic bombs on Japan. The commercial "Stratocruiser" appeared in the post-war years as did the military B-47 "Stratojet" bomber. It was no surprise then that the designation of "Stratofortress" was selected for what would become one of the Boeing's biggest successes to date.

Origins of the B-52 stemmed from a specification issued through the forward-looking Air Material Command (AMC) on November 23rd, 1945. AMC fell under the branch of the United States Air Force at the end of World War 2 though it originally began service in 1917 as part of the US Army Signal Corps. This new specification called for a next generation long-range, intercontinental, high-altitude strategic bomber to replace the already-in-development Convair B-36 Peacemakers. In February of 1946, the Boeing Aircraft Company, Consolidated Aircraft Corporation and the Glenn L. Martin Company all jumped into the fray with their respective responses. Boeing's team devised the Model 462 as a straight-wing, multi-engine design powered by 6 x Wright T35 Typhoon turboprop engines rated at 5,500shp each. On June 5th, 1946, Model 462 was selected ahead of the pack and the legacy of the B-52 was born in the designation of XB-52. A full-scale mockup contract was then awarded.

By now, the USAAF was already looking beyond the qualities of the Model 462, fearing that the aircraft was already rendered obsolete in its conventional design approach and could never reach the intended goals of the original specification - especially in terms of its range. As such, the USAAF cancelled their contract with Boeing and the Model 462 was dead.

Boeing chief engineer Ed Wells took the Model 462 and evolved a pair of smaller concepts with four turboprops each appearing in their respective 464-16 and 464-17 forms. Essentially, the 464-16 was a short-range bomber made to carry a greater bombload while the 464-17 was a long-range bomber made to carry a smaller bombload. Neither idea stuck with the USAAF as a replacement for the B-36 though interest did center on the 464-17 design. Several more concepts were developed but interest on the part of the Air Force was waning. The Model 464-29 appeared, complete with swept-back wings at 20 degrees and fitting 4 x Pratt & Whitney turboprop engines. Again, this concept failed to answer the key points of the specification which, by now, was ever-changing to include increased performance specs along with long range.

The Model 464-35 was another Boeing design team proposal fitting 4 x turboprop engines with contra-rotating propellers. Wing sweep was increased moreso than previous attempts, beginning to define the look of the Stratofortress. With in-flight refueling becoming more of a USAF operational norm, the design team now had some leeway in the overall size of their aircraft. Events in Europe in the latter part of the 1940's pushed the XB-52 project forward, rewarding the Boeing Company with a hard-earned contract for a single mock-up and at least two flyable prototypes.

Upon a visit to Wright-Patterson AFB by the Boeing design team, it was learned that the USSAF was now more interested in a jet-powered solution, seeing it as the only way to achieve the desired performance specs it required of the XB-52. In the course of a single weekend in a Dayton hotel room Ed Wells company set to work on new ideas for a Monday morning presentation. The resulting design combined elements of their Model 464-35 design with a four-engine, jet-powered medium bomber concept that had been brought along. The new aircraft became an eight-engine, Pratt & Whitney JT3 jet-powered heavy bomber with 35-degree swept wings. A small balsa wood model was constructed to further develop the idea and accompanied a detailed Model 464-49 design document of some 33 pages. The weekend effort paid off for Boeing as the USAF became greatly interested in the aircraft after Monday morning. The design was revised into the Model 464-67 accepted the new aircraft for construction as two prototypes. Despite this progress, the USAF was still looking at alternatives to their next generation bomber design including modifying B-36's (as the YB-60) and B-47's (as the B-47Z) still in development.


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Specifications for the
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
High-Altitude Long-Range Strategic Heavy Bomber


Focus Model: Boeing B-52H Stratofortress
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Boeing Corporation - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1955
Production: 744


Crew: 5


Length: 160.89ft (49.04m)
Width: 185.10ft (56.42m)
Height: 40.68ft (12.40m)
Weight (Empty): 172,743lbs (78,355kg)
Weight (MTOW): 487,993lbs (221,350kg)


Powerplant: 8 x Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3 turbofan engines generating 17,000lbs of standard thrust each.


Maximum Speed: 595mph (958kmh; 517kts)
Maximum Range: 10,000miles (16,093km)
Service Ceiling: 54,954ft (16,750m; 10.4miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 6,270 feet per minute (1,911m/min)


Hardpoints: 2
Armament Suite:
Mission-specific armament can include any of the following:

20 x AGM-86B ALCM cruise missiles (internal)
20 x AGM-129 cruise missiles (internal)
2 x AGM-86B ALCMs cruise missile (external)
2 x AGM-129 cruise missiles (external)
Free Fall Nuclear Bombs
12 x AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles
12 x AGM-142A air-to-surface missiles
AGM-86C CALCM cruise missiles
JDAMs

Up to 51,570lbs (340kg) class bombs or mines


Variants:
XB-52 - Prototype Model Designation


B-52A - Initial Production Model Designation of which three were produced.

B-52B - Fitted with specialized navigation and attack system; 50 were produced.

B-52C - Improved performance capabilities and updated equipment; 35 produced.

B-52D - Initial "true" B-52 production model; fitted with revised tail machine gun battery; 170 produced.

B-52E - Fitted with improved weapon systems and navigation systems.

B-52F - 89 such models produced with improved and uprated powerplants.

B-52G - Reduced tailfin assembly; remote controlled tail gun-powered armament; external wing hardpoints for additional stores in the form of nuclear standoff weapons; improved fuel system.

B-52H - Fitted with improved Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofans; installed with rotary-style cannon in tail assembly; structure reinforced throughout; 50,000lb bombload capacity.

RB-52C - B-52C production models modified for the reconnaissance role.


Operators:
United States