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60 Years of the B-52

by John Reed on April 12, 2012

Wow, look wh0 turns 60 on Sunday. Yup, April 15 marks the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the nation’s ubiquitous B-52 Stratofortress bomber.

On April 15, 1952 legendary Boeing test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnson brought the XB-52 (shown above) prototype aloft for the first time, six years after the company was awarded the contract to develop the plane by the ARMY Air Force and two years before it entered service with the newly independent Air Force. Think about this, 60 years before the B-52’s first flight, airplanes didn’t exist. Remember, the Air Force’s newest B-52 just turned 50.

(The Air Force fact sheet on the aircraft incorrectly lists its initial operational capability date as 1952. The B-52 entered limited service in 1954.)

Read up on the history of the B-52’s development. It took nearly ten years of fits, starts and redesigns to get the revolutionary and long-lasting jet bomber into service. It may give you some perspective whenever you get frustrated with how long it’s taking to field the current crop of next-generation weapons like the new long-range bomber.

Here’s what Air Force Global Strike Command, the 21st Century successor to the legendary Strategic Air Command, has to say about the incredible milestone that its BUFFs have reached.

Air Force Global Strike Command will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the B-52 Stratofortress on April 15, 1952. This flight was made by the YB-52 prototype in Seattle.

Air Force Global Strike Command will commemorate the airframe’s anniversary with events centered around the theme: “The B-52: An Icon of American Airpower.”

During the celebratory campaign, AFGSC will recognize the heritage and accomplishments of the B-52 and the people — both past and present — responsible for the development, acquisition, operation, maintenance and security of the weapon system.

The B-52’s long and rich heritage is illustrated by stories of families who have up to three generations of Airmen who worked on the B-52, such as 1st Lt. Daniel Welch, a B-52 co-pilot at Minot. Welch is a third-generation crew member on the airframe.

According to Welch, his grandfather flew every B-52 model and commanded Welch’s current squadron at Minot, the 23rd Bomb Squadron. Welch’s father was also a B-52 crew member during his time in the Air Force.

Through the course of the year, the Command will highlight the history of deterrence and combat capabilities the B-52 has provided through its distinguished career, in conflicts from Vietnam to Operation Enduring Freedom.

Some accomplishments to be highlighted throughout the year include:

April 15, 1952 - The first flight of the YB-52 Stratofortress will be commemorated with a long-duration flight from AFGSC Headquarters at Barksdale.

May 10 through Oct. 23, 1972 - Operation Linebacker — Linebacker was the first continuous bombing effort conducted against North Vietnam since the bombing halt instituted by President Lyndon B. Johnson in November 1968.

June 18, 1965 - Operation Arc Light — The first use of the B-52D Stratofortress as a conventional bomber from bases in the U.S. to Guam to support ground combat operations in Vietnam.

Aug. 2, 1994 - B-52’s first round-the-world bombing mission.

Oct. 26, 1962 - Strategic Air Command received the last B-52 from production line

Dec. 18 through 29, 1972 - Operation Linebacker II — This operation saw the largest heavy bomber strikes launched by the U.S. Air Force since the end of World War II.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

LeoC April 12, 2012 at 11:25 am

Some planes get better with age. With upgrades, the BUFF will still be flying while the B-1s and B-2s are collecting dust in the boneyard IMHO.

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dimeck April 12, 2012 at 11:44 am

Wow. Happy Birthday! Way to get maximum value out of our taxpayer dollar.

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Andy April 12, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I don't know how many bombs the B52 can carry but if they can convert to carry 50 TOMAHAWK Cruise Missile that will destroys the enemies in no time.

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blight_ April 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Why 50?

That said, we have ALCMs for that…

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Rohan April 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Still they are the warriors….. !!!

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Pat April 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm

60 years of a sick plane!!!

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Musson April 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I am kind of surprised that the Chinese have not tried to copy this one.

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guess April 12, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Understatement

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Riceball April 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm

I'm sure they would have if they could but they probably never had access to one to copy back when it was state of the art and now that digital technology and a lot more info on the BUFF is out it's not worth copying.

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EW3 April 12, 2012 at 4:15 pm

The B52 and I were born the same year.

Looks like the BUFF is aging better than I am ;)

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Rich R April 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I wonder if another plane could RTB successfully with damage like this.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boeing_B-52_wit

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JESS D. LANDERS April 12, 2012 at 6:35 pm

I WAS AN AIRCRAFT ELECTRICAN, I WORKED ON THE B52 IN 1954,1955,1956 WHILE STATION WITH THE 99 th BOMB WING AT WESTOVER MASS. I THINK WE WERE THE FIRST COMBAT READY B52 WING

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charles April 12, 2012 at 7:14 pm

I served in SAC my entire time in the USAF in various with Bomb Wings who worked every day 7/24/365 to stand guard and keep the nation safe. The B-52 was the heart and soul of SAC and the KC-135 the blood together they were the best. Happy Birthday B-52 may you fly till you are 100.

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stephen russell April 12, 2012 at 8:16 pm

early in career they scraped the B47 style cockpit for side by side.
2 bad one cant rengineer airframe with deltaloid wing frame & enhance aerodynamics for longer range & higher altitude with newer engines.
Awesome
Rename B53?

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blight_ April 12, 2012 at 11:58 pm

If aerodynamics allowed for paper-doll wingswaps; one may as well un-delta the B-70 and keep flying it.

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tiger April 13, 2012 at 11:45 am

Re-engining has been considered but passed on for budget reasons. 8 engines seems like overkill today.

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Mike April 12, 2012 at 10:51 pm

How can anybody NOT love an aircraft that still flies 60 years later and several mission changes. Plus, it'll drop 107 500lb bombs from 40,000…and you don't know until they hit….used to be a termendous show.

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Riceball April 13, 2012 at 10:48 am

I wonder if any the older B-52s in the fleet have been crewed by or maintained by 2 or more generations from the same family. I'm not just talking about working with/on B-52s but multiple generations on the exact same B-52. I think that it would be something if some new B-52 crew member got assigned to the exact same B-52 that his dad flew on, and his grandfather before him.

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tiger April 13, 2012 at 11:41 am

The last B-52H was built in 1962. So, it's possible. The Article above notes a 3rd Gen B-52 guy in his family. By the Same token, How many Russians have flown the TU-95 Bear??? She's been buzzing the skies of NATO for just as long.

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Joseph April 13, 2012 at 11:46 am

There will be a segment on Fox and Friends this sunday about just such a group, son, father and grandfather who all flew the B-52.
http://www.minotdailynews.com/page/content.detail

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tiger April 13, 2012 at 11:50 am

By the way, since it has not come up. Is that the X-4 in the foreground??

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JackBlack April 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm
Mike April 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm

IIRC that is an XF85 Goblin "parasite fighter"

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mp_19 April 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm

WHAT A GREAT PLANE I REMEMBER THE B47 WHEN I WAS AT A SAC BASE

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Guns,Radar&security April 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm

30 years in the military, I was born into the USAAF at Bolling Field, dependant for 21 years in Hawaii,Japan,Mi,Me2x, In,Germany 2x,NM, and active Duty for 9 yrs in Tx,Co,Ma,Korea,and Me.
Did 4 yrs flightline DFCS on the B-52G, and 5 years Crypto.
I was a SAC Strac troop, and I'm really proud of "my" bird.
We are STILL scaring the bad guys out there. Bless her, for she WILL instill humility!

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tiger April 12, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Hmmmm…. The design proposal & contract work go back to 1946. The USAF was officially created On Sept. 18, 1947.

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SMSgt Mac April 12, 2012 at 8:02 pm

"Hmmmm" y'self.
The EFFORT began in 1946. The design and configuration that ultimately became the B-52 was not created until late 1948. Prior to that, the designs ranged from kind of a 'Uber' B-50/B-36 hybrid to essentially a Boeing version of what became the Bear Bomber.
" But new information about the difficulty of fielding an efficient turboprop engine and the potential of turbojet engines did not playa dominant role in design deliberations until Boeing’s October 1948 Model 464-49"
From the excellent "The Development of the B-52 and Jet Propulsion" by Mark D. Mandeles. Free, Online.(or you can order a copy from Amazon).
The key was lessons-learned from the B-47, the planform (wing, body, tail, propulsion) of which was discovered to have a much longerrange and lower drag than predicted and suggested a longer range was possible when applied to heavy bomber.

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TMB April 13, 2012 at 1:38 am

I guess you've been on vacation for the last few wars…

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DGR April 13, 2012 at 8:49 am

Every good Air Force museum has one or 2 of the old fellows. But they are still flying combat missions when needed.

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Jay April 13, 2012 at 11:39 am

It's probably going to be active till at leat 2040, even after all these new plans of a new bomber. It's the only one that can launch ALCM's and CALCM's.

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Ted February 10, 2013 at 1:22 pm

The Air Force does not like the B-52 getting all the credit; but who needs stealth when an armed B-52 with long range missiles leads the way into a fight. The Air Force gives the B-1 and B-2 credit for carrying more advanced weapons only because they shorted the B-52 in what they could carry.

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