The B-52 has outlived its replacement. And its replacement’s replacement. And its replacement’s replacement’s replacement.
Boeing began development shortly after World War II. The B-52’s heritage can be traced to the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29 Superfortress. The B-29 is the only bomber to deliver atomic weapons but the B-52 was specifically designed to be a nuclear deterrent. Until the end of the Cold War, it was part of the United States’ three-pronged arsenal of ICBMs and nuclear submarines.
Here are seven facts and reasons why the B-52 has endured and has endeared itself to the Air Force.
1.) Good genes
Perhaps the B-52’s continued use and adaptability was in the aircraft from birth. Boeing originally was designing a six-engine propeller bomber that would be an upgrade on the four-engine B-29. But the Air Force told the Boeing design team that Convair was developing a jet-powered bomber. The engineers, working over a weekend in Dayton, Ohio, adapted and up-scaled plans from another aircraft to come up with the B-52 design.
Officially called the Stratofortress, its unofficial moniker is BUFF. That’s short for Big Ugly Fat Fellow. We’re PG-rated here at Avgeekery.com. Those in the know realize that “fellow” is a substitute for a four-letter invective. Either way, the nickname is affectionate. It could also be called The Anti-Stealth Bomber.
Designed to carry atomic weapons (a mission which, thankfully, never had to be flown), the B-52 has survived and thrived. It started flying under the Strategic Air Command (SAC) which was disbanded in 1992. It then moved to the Air Combat Command (ACC) and in 2010 all B-52s were transferred to the Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). The B-52’s performance at high sub-sonic speeds, its low operating costs and its ability to adapt to modern weaponry has kept the aircraft active. The Air Force expects it to serve for at least another 20 years.
Recent upgrades to computer, communication and weapons systems have made B-52s a lethal weapon. The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade moved some weapons from hard-point wing mounts. B-52s can carry 24 500-pound or 20 2,000-pound JDAMs and further upgrades will accommodate the JASSM and MALD family of missiles. The smart-bomb capabilities make the B-52 a heavyweight puncher with laser precision.
Military aircraft performance is rarely tied to environmental concerns. But about a decade ago B-52s became the first US military aircraft to fly using alternative fuel. A B-52 took off from Edwards Air Force Base using a 50/50 blend of Fischer-Tropsch process (FT) synthetic fuel and conventional JP-8 jet fuel. That was the start of the Department of Defense Assured Fuel Initiative designed to reduce crude oil usage.
6.) Tail gunner Joes
B-52s were heavily involved with bombing during the Vietnam War. And BUFF tail gunners twice shot down MiG-21s. Staff Sergeant Samuel O. Turner shot down a MiG in December of 1972 and about a week later Airman First Class Albert Moore used the B-52s quad .50 calibers to splash another MiG. His kill is believed to be the last time a bomber’s gunner shot down an enemy aircraft with machine guns. There is no longer a gunner spot but just knowing that a plane still flies that used to have a tail gunner makes us love the BUFF even more.
7.) She’s a movie Star
The B-52 was a key player in many Cold War movies – most famously “Dr. Strangelove.” The B-52’s, a new wave rock band that had a popular run in the early 1980s including the big hit “Love Shack.” Plus, if you want to get, um, well … bombed … try the B-52 cocktail.