B-52 Stratofortress

The B-52 Stratofortress was conceived as the giant silver sword of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command. Flown for decades on atomic alert, it also undertook the massive conventional bombing campaigns in the wars in Southeast Asia and in the Persian Gulf.

The Boeing B52 is perhaps the most well known of all combat aircraft having been in continuous US service from 1955 until the present day. Designed to meet a 1946 USAF specification for a heavy bomber capable of carrying an Atomic weapon to a range of 10,000 miles with a speed in excess of 500 mph, Boeing’s first design proposed a large piston engine aircraft, but since the USAF wanted a bomber that could fly as high and as fast as possible in order to be able to drop atomic weapons the aircraft was redesigned with eight jet engines and swept wings.

Entering USAF service in 1956 the B52 soon made its mark with a number of spectacular ‘firsts’. In 1956 a B52B (the first service model) would deliver the first hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll and in January 1957 the type made a non-stop circumnavigation of the world with just five in-flight refuellings.

By the time of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis the US Strategic Air Command was able to keep seventy nuclear armed B52s aloft at all time, but following two accidents in which radioactive material was released such activity was drastically reduced.

The Stratofortress saw extensive service in the Vietnam War delivering conventional bomb loads over North Vietnam. The main type employed during that conflict being the B52D with a modified bomb-bay that could carry no less than 108 bombs (an average of 27 tons of ordnance per aircraft).

Two decades after Vietnam seven B52s would make the first airstrike of the Gulf War carrying AGM-86 cruise missiles against targets in Iraq in what was to be the longest combat mission in history (14000 miles).

Constantly upgraded over the six decades of its service the B52 is expected to remain in USAF service until at least 2045.

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