The historic Boeing B-52 Bomber first flew 57 years ago on April 15, 1952. The B-52’s official name is ‘Stratofortress’ but its nickname is BUFF which stands for ‘Big Ugly Fat Fellow’ among other things. The B-52 has been used in combat missions from the Vietnam War up to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. NASA has used a B-52 (Serial Number 52-0008 – it was the 10th one off the assembly line) from 1959 until 2004 as a “Mothership” to lift aloft experimental and research aircraft on test flights. It was the oldest aircraft NASA had and it was the oldest flying B-52.
The idea for a long range large bomber started in 1946. The design of B-52 was to originally have straight wings and be propeller driven. The Air Force wanted a jet engine powered bomber. Then on the weekend of October 23-24 in 1948 in a room at the Hotel Van Cleve in Dayton, Ohio the current design (swept wing and jet engine powered) was made by a team that consisted of the following people: of Ed Wells, George Schairer, Art Carlsen, Vaughn Blumenthal, H.W. “Bob” Withington, and Maynard Pennell.
The B-52 was developed to thwart the Cold War threat of the Soviet Union. It was designed to carry nuclear weapons. Boeing manufactured a total of 744 aircraft. There are currently 76 in active service and 20 in reserve.
Here are some of the specifications of a B-52, ‘H’ Model:
Wingspan: 185 feet
Length: 159 feet, 4 inches
Height: 40 feet, 8 inches
Maximum Speed: 650 mph
Maximum takeoff weight: 488,000 pounds
Bomb Load: 70,000 pounds
The prototype model had tandem seats like jet fighters but General Curtis LeMay who was in charge of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) wanted the conventional side-by-side cockpit. The models went from ‘A’ to the current model ‘H’. The ‘A’ through ‘G’ models were manufactured from 1952 until 1962. The last ‘H’ model (Serial Number 61-0040) left the factory on October 26, 1962. Over the years the aircraft has been modified and upgraded. Its airframe has had sections modified and strengthened due to structural fatigue. Its avionics suite has been vastly improved. Their are crewmembers who have had fathers (and possibly grandfathers) that have been crewmembers. There have been suggestions of replacing the eight Pratt & Whitney jet engines with Rolls-Royce models but this would have been too costly. The replacement of the B-52 itself by the B-1 Lancer (nickname ‘BONE’) and/or the B-2 Stealth Bomber has been suggested but that hasn’t happened. The U.S. Air Force intends on deploying the B-52 until 2040.
The B-52 in September of 2006 became the first U.S. military aircraft to use an ‘alternative’ synthetic fuel mixture. It was 50% JP-8 fuel and 50% fuel from a process called Fischer-Tropsch (FT). This is so we will depend less on foreign oil supplies. The U.S. Air Force is planning on having all the aircraft in its inventory using this synthetic fuel by 2011. The B-52 has a long history and it doesn’t seem to be over yet.