Summarization of events written by the Veteran X Team.
Boeing B-52, or BUFF, has served as the backbone of the U.S. bombing force for over 60 years. The subsonic bomber diligently carries nuclear weapons and various precision-guided munitions to any location on Earth.
Summarization of events written by the Veteran X Team.
The B-52 Will Have Been flying for 95 Years
For more than 60 years, Boeing B-52, also known by the acronym the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fella/F**ker), has served as the backbone of the United States strategic bombing force. Its ability to carry up to 70,000 pounds of weapons load contributed to its unusual nickname.
This strategic bomber can carry nuclear weapons or various precision-guided munitions at any location on Earth while cruising at subsonic speed. The veteran aircraft’s ability to fly up to 8,800 miles (14,080 kilometers) at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (15,166.6 meters) before needing to be refueled, speaks for itself its importance.
Even though originally built as a bomber, the Boeing B-52’s features enable it to conduct various missions including performing strategic attacks, close-air support, air interdiction, offensive counter-air, and maritime operations. The U.S. Air Force brags about the B-52’s ability to monitor enormous areas of the ocean surface in a short time.
Built in the ‘50s and ‘60s, B-52 is still one of the 3 bomber aircraft still in use in the US Air Force along with the B-2 Spirit and the B-1B Lancer. Throughout the years, the B-52 has outlived other bombers developed after it, like the B-58 Hustler which was introduced in 1960 and retired in 1970.
Nevertheless, B-52s have not always been this effective. The process of developing and upgrading has constantly improved their performance.
There have been 744 B-52s produced throughout its outstanding history, with the first B-52 produced in 1955 (the B-52A version) and the last in October 1962 (the B-52H version). The latter one, which is the only version currently in service, has constantly been upgraded with the most updated technology to enable it to conduct a variety of missions.
The U.S. Air Force has currently 76 of these aircraft in the inventory, more than any other strategic bomber aircraft (20x B-2 Spirit and 45x B-1B Lancer), which continue to carry critical missions for the U.S. Air Force, such as airstrikes in 2021 against the Taliban, who were reclaiming Afghanistan. Currently, 18 of the 76 B-52H are in reserve units.
The U.S. Air Force expects to continue operating B-52H through 2050. By that time the planes will close 90 years of service. With those projections, B-52H will outlive the much later developed B-1B Lancer strategic bomber, which was projected to retire in 2036 but will most probably retire even before that.
The process of developing this heavy bomber began on 1946 when the USAF first issued a bid for a new strategic bomber. USAF intended to enrich its fleet of bombers with a plane that could fly long range, consequently, reducing the need for refueling at partner countries’ airfields.
However, after 5 years of negotiations and modifications, which included almost a total change from the initial proposal, on 14 February 1951, Boeing was awarded the contract to produce thirteen B-52As and several detachable reconnaissance pods.
Nevertheless, it took 3 more years for the planes to be produced and commissioned into USAF service. Out of the first 13 planes ordered, only three were delivered as the B-52A version.
The successful test flight of the prototype YB-52, which was flown by Tex Johnston and LTC Guy M. Townsend (USAF), impressed the USAF and encouraged them to update the order to 282 planes. The rest of the first order was delivered in the version of B-52B, a revised version of B-52A. Since then, B-52B has undergone radical changes to culminate with B-52H in 1961.
In the late ’50s, the dangers presented by Surface to Air Missiles (SAM), which could destroy aircraft at high altitudes, contributed to changing the way B-52s were used. Rather than flying at high altitudes, B-52s would serve as low-level penetration bombers. They would deliver bombing at altitudes as low as 400ft (100 meters), avoiding radars and SAMs.
In support of the new mission as the operational environment changed, in 1959, B-52s went through the Big Four modification program under Strategic Air Command. Besides their design improvements, they received advanced electronic countermeasures, were upgraded to perform in all-weather low-altitude interdiction missions, and could launch standoff nuclear missiles and decoys.
However, despite the end of production in 1963, planes have been receiving technological upgrades such as the post-Vietnam upgrade, which included equipping the plane with Supersonic short-range missiles (SRAM) and electro-optic viewing system (EVS) among other changes.
The 2013 upgrade called CONECT modernized the flight deck with new communication equipment, electronics, and avionics among others. This upgrade (AN/ARC-210) improved the communications between the aircraft and the ground control centers, which would now be able to automatically send updates to the plane for the changes in the operational environment, like the change of target location, etc.
In addition, to improve the electronics and communications, the USAF directed the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade, or IWBU, which will enable B-52s to increase the number of J-series munitions from 12 to 20.
While the previous 12 bombs have been carried under the wings (6 each) the additional 8 will be carried up internally. This increases the carrying capability by 67 percent. Carrying weapons internally rather than under the wings plays a critical role in reducing drag and increasing fuel efficiency.
USAF will also integrate advanced jamming capability in addition to the precise smart munitions (JDAM and JASSM). The Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD-J) jammer variant will be able to jam enemy radars.
The veteran bomber has a great share of combat service. Since its commission, B-52s have participated in numerous operations, conflicts, and wars. When the contract to build these planes was first awarded, its original intention was to be able to fly long ranges for bombing operations without the need to refuel in other countries’ airfields.
In 1956, USAF through Operation Quick Kick demonstrated that it can keep these planes in the air for 15,530 miles (25,000 km) in 31 hours and 30 minutes. Only a year later, in 1957, during Operation Power Flite, B52s flew 24,325 miles (39,165 km) for 45 hours and 19 minutes non-stop. These two operations sufficed to send a message to the Soviet Union that no location was outside of B-52’s reach, which could carry nuclear bombs.
During the Vietnam War Era, these aircraft played a huge role in helping US troops advance toward the North. Their constant engagements resulted in 10 of these aircraft being shot down by the Vietnamese, and 21 other aircraft were lost during the war.
Though it was during the Vietnam Era when the B-52 shot down other aircraft. Within a week of December 1972, gunners from B-52s managed to shoot down two Vietnamese MiG-21 with their quad 12.7mm Machine Guns, while on a bombing campaign.
The mastered tactics of low-altitude flying made B-52s deadly during Operation Desert Storm (Gulf War). B-52s flew around 1620 sorties, delivering 40% of all the weapons and munitions used by coalition forces.
This made it clear that the BUFF was in the USAF to stay for long. B-52s were attributed as one of the reasons for Iraqi troops’ surrender, due to their massive and accurate bombings. At a certain point in the war, seven B-52s flew from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana to Iraq (receiving an air refuel), dropped their weapons on their assigned targets in Iraq, and went back home, concluding a 14,000 miles (23,000 km) flight.These aircrafts were used during Operation Allied Forces (Kosovo War), to bomb Yugoslav targets, where they managed to strike wide-area of troop concentrations, bunkers, and installations. The aircraft was also used during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan against the Taliban, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS and pro-Syrian Government forces.
The latest combat engagement has been against the Taliban after the withdrawal of US troops in 2021.
The flexibility of the B-52 to conduct close air support among many other missions has raised this strategic bomber on the pedestal as a veteran worthy of being praised.
Since B-52H is the only version of these planes in service, the following specifications describe that version. Nevertheless, this is in process of receiving numerous modifications and upgrades as it is expected to be in service for another 30 years.
Primary Function: Heavy bomber
Contractor: Boeing Military Airplane Co.
Power plant: Eight Pratt & Whitney engines TF33-P-3/103 turbofan
Thrust: Each engine has up to 17,000 pounds
Wingspan: 185 feet (56.4 meters)
Length: 159 feet, 4 inches (48.5 meters)
Height: 40 feet, 8 inches (12.4 meters)
Weight: Approximately 185,000 pounds (83,250 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 488,000 pounds (219,600 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 312,197 pounds (141,610 kilograms)
Payload: 70,000 pounds (31,500 kilograms)
Speed: 650 miles per hour (Mach 0.84)
Range: 8,800 miles (7,652 nautical miles)
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,151.5 meters)
Armament: Approximately 70,000 pounds (31,500 kilograms) of mixed ordnance—bombs, mines, and missiles. (Modified to carry air-launched cruise missiles)
Crew: Five (aircraft commander, pilot, radar navigator, navigator, and electronic warfare officer)
UnitCost: $84 million (fiscal 2012 constant dollars)
Sourced from: https://planehistoria.com/cold-war/b52/
Information vetted by the Veteran X Team.