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B-52 Stratofortress Boeing
B-52 Stratofortress
Intercontinental Strategic Bomber

The B-52 began life in 1948 as a replacement for the B-50 Superfortress and eventually the B-36 Peacemaker bombers. The original B-52 concept was to be powered by turboprops owing to their much lower fuel consumption when compared to early turbojet engines. The disadvantage of this class of engines is their greater complexity and reduced reliability. Tupolev had also made the same tradeoff in developing its Tu-95 bomber. Luckily, Pratt & Whitney subsequently unveiled the J57 turbojet in 1949. The J57 offered significantly better performance than previous turbojets and allowed Boeing to redesign its B-52 proposal.

Also competing for the same production contract was Convair. Having already developed the massive B-36, Convair modified this design by replacing the piston engines with turbojets to create the YB-60. Though the YB-60 was a cheaper alternative, it could not offer the same performance as Boeing's B-52 and was rejected.

When the XB-52 prototype appeared in 1952, it bore an obvious resemblance to the Boeing B-47 Stratojet. Both planes featured a long, slender fuselage housing a large bomb bay to carry the enormous hydrogen bombs of the day. Both were also equipped with high aspect ratio swept wings mounted high on the fuselage with pods of clustered engines along the span. This design optimized the aerodynamics of the B-52 for long-range flight so as to reach targets deep inside the Soviet Union.

The first B-52 production model was the B-52B that entered service in 1955 and was soon followed by the B-52C with improved performance. Only 85 of these two variants were built, and the first major production model was the B-52D of which 170 were completed. The B-52D was largely identical to the B-52C but equipped with a new fire-control system for the tail gun turret. The B-52 production line switched in turn to the B-52E, with a new navigation and weapon system, to the B-52F, with an improved engine.

By this time, the Air Force was developing a replacement for the B-52 known as the B-70 Valkyrie. The final B-52 production model the USAF planned to buy before the B-70 entered service was the B-52G. This model was built in larger numbers than any other and also introduced a variety of enhancements. Among these was a major redesign of the airframe to improve safety and reduce weight, integration of integral wing fuel tanks to increase capacity, replacement of the tail gun with a remotely-controlled turret, and the addition of electronic countermeasure decoys to improve survivability. The B-52G was also the first model designed to carry an armament of stand-off nuclear missiles rather than bombs.

After the B-70 program had been cancelled, the Air Force again turned to Boeing to develop a new B-52 model. The B-52H introduced two major improvements--a new turbofan engine with greater thrust as well as lower fuel consumption and structural enhancements for flight at low altitudes. The last of 102 B-52H models was completed in 1962 when B-52 production finally came to an end.

By the early 1960s, the Air Force had realized that no replacement for the B-52 would be available for several years and the existing fleet needed to be updated to meet new mission requirements. The first major enhancement came with the Conventional Bomb Carrier upgrade that gave the B-52D the ability to carry more than 100 conventional bombs. This new capability soon proved itself over Vietnam when the B-52 fleet was put into action attacking Vietcong forces along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Carpet bombing was later extended throughout North Vietnam and became one of the most effective negotiating tactics of the war. Unfortunately, the B-52 proved vulnerable to Vietnam's SAM defenses requiring the installation of increasingly sophisticated ECM equipment.

A new replacement for the B-52, known as the B-1A, had been planned to begin replacing the Stratofortress fleet by about 1980. However, President Carter cancelled this program in 1977 before President Reagan again resurrected the B-1 in 1981. Though the new B-1B did enter production, the small fleet of 100 aircraft could only supplement the B-52 fleet rather than replace it.

A series of major upgrade programs began during the 1980s to extend the service life of the B-52 fleet into the 21st century. First of these was the Offensive Avionics System (OAS) upgrade that improved the navigation and weapon delivery systems of the B-52G and B-52H. Both models were also modified to carry the AGM-69 Short-Range Attack Missile (SRAM) and AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) internally as well as on wing pylons. The B-52 fleet has also been extensively updated with more capable ECM protection in addition to an electro-optic viewing system and FLIR sensors in the nose. Furthermore, the radar was given an improved terrain-following capability for low-level missions.

Once the Cold War came to an end, the nuclear deterrent duties of the B-52 became less critical and the fleet was adapted to a more conventional role. This change in priorities led the Air Force to retire the B-52G by 1994 and transfer its duties to the B-52H. New weapons that have been integrated aboard the B-52 include the stealthy Advanced Cruise Missile, an ALCM variant armed with a conventional warhead, the Popeye and Harpoon missiles, the Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser, and GPS-guided weapons including JDAM and JSOW.

Though originally designed as a long-range nuclear bomber, the B-52 Stratofortress has seen far more action dropping conventional bombs over its lifetime. In addition to its service during Vietnam, the B-52 has seen combat over Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. A total of 744 B-52 Stratofortress models were built, and 93 examples of the B-52H remained in service by 2004. Further reductions are underway and only 76 Stratofortresses are planned to be operational by 2009. Having already long outlived two attempts at replacement, it is anticipated that upgrades will keep the remaining B-52 fleet operational until at least 2020.

Data below for B-52H
Last modified 17 March 2012

First Flight 15 April 1952
Service Entry February 1955
Retirement (B-52D) 1983
(B-52G) 1994
(B-52H) not planned until at least 2020


five: aircraft commander, pilot, radar navigator, navigator, electronic warfare officer


$53.4 million [1998$]

Wing Root NACA 63A219.3 mod
Wing Tip NACA 65A209.5 mod

Length 160.92 ft (49.05 m)
Wingspan 185.00 ft (56.39 m)
Height 40.67 ft (12.40 m)
Wing Area 4,000 ft (371.6 m)
Canard Area

not applicable

Empty 195,000 lb (88,450 kg)
Normal Takeoff unknown
Max Takeoff (B-52A-F) 452,000 lb (205,025 kg)
(B-52G/H) 488,000 lb (219,600 kg)
Fuel Capacity internal: unknown
external: unknown
Max Payload

70,000 lb (31,500 kg)

Powerplant eight Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3/103 turbofans
Thrust 136,000 lb (605.0 kN)

Max Level Speed at altitude: 595 mph (955 km/h) [B-52H]
at sea level: 405 mph (650 km/h), Mach 0.53
cruise speed: 510 mph (820 km/h)
Initial Climb Rate unknown
Service Ceiling 50,000 ft (15,240 m)
Range typical: 6,380 nm (11,800 km)
ferry: 8,685 nm (16,090 km)
g-Limits unknown

Gun one 20-mm Vulcan cannon in tail (remotely controlled, but removed by 1991 to save money)
Stations one internal bomb bay and four external hardpoints
Air-to-Surface Missile up to 20 AGM-69 SRAM or AGM-86 ALCM, up to 8 AGM-84 Harpoon, up to 4 AGM-142 Popeye
(B-52H) up to 20 AGM-86C CALCM, up to 20 AGM-129 ACM, AGM-154 JSOW, AGM-158 JASSM
Bomb up to 8 B61/B83 nuclear bombs, up to 51 Mk 82 500-lb GP, Mk 84 2000-lb GP, up to 51 M117 750-lb GP, GBU-30 JDAM, CBU-87/89/97 cluster, CBU-103/104/105 WCMD
(B-52D) up to 108 conventional bombs
Other maritime mines, up to 16 MALD decoys

XB-52 and YB-52 Prototypes
B-52A Boeing test and development aircraft; 3 built
B-52B First operational model for the USAF; 50 built
RB-52B Reconnaissance version based on the B-52B model; 27 converted
B-52C Improved model with better equipment and greater performance; 35 built
B-52D Model with a new fire-control system for a four 0.5-in machine gun assembly in the tail; 170 built
B-52E Variant with improved navigation and weapons systems, a new flight deck layout to accomodate better displays, and an uprated engine; 100 built
B-52G Model featuring a lighter airframe and greater fuel capacity, originally designed to carry the AGM-28 Hound Dog missile and also equipped with 'Quail' decoy aircraft; 193 built
B-52H Variant with an improved engine, better flight performance at low altitudes, and a new tail gun; 102 built
EB-52 Proposal to fit B-52 airframes with electronic warfare equipment for use as stand-off jammers

KNOWN COMBAT RECORD: Vietnam War (USAF, 1965-1972)
Iraq - Operation Desert Storm (USAF, 1991)
Iraq - Operation Southern Watch (USAF, 1991-2003)
Iraq - Operation Desert Strike (USAF, 1996)
Iraq - Operation Desert Fox (USAF, 1998)
Kosovo - Operation Allied Force (USAF, 1999)
Afghanistan - Operation Enduring Freedom (USAF, 2001)
Iraq - Operation Iraqi Freedom (USAF, 2003)

KNOWN OPERATORS: United States (US Air Force)
United States (US Air Force Reserves)


B-52 Stratofortress

  • Boeing B-52 site
  • Bonds, Ray, ed. The Modern US War Machine: An Encyclopedia of American Military Equipment and Strategy. NY: Military Press, 1987, p. 171.
  • Donald, David, ed. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1997, p. 161-162, Boeing Model 464 (B-52 Stratofortress).
  • Donald, David and Lake, Jon, ed. The Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft. NY: Barnes & Noble, 2000, p. 66-69, Boeing B-52G Stratofortress, B-52H Stratofortress.
  • Gunston, Bill, ed. The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1995, p. 60, Boeing B-52H Stratofortress.
  • Laur, Timothy M. and Llanso, Steven L. Encyclopedia of Modern U.S. Military Weapons. NY: Berkley Books, 1995, p. 25-28, Stratofortress (B-52).
  • Miller, David, ed. The Illustrated Directory of Modern American Weapons. London: Salamander Books, 2002, p. 32-37, Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.
  • Munro, Bob and Chant, Christopher. Jane's Combat Aircraft. Glasgow: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995, p. 72-73.
  • Taylor, Michael. Brassey's World Aircraft & Systems Directory 1996/1997. London: Brassey's, 1996, p. 127-128, Boeing B-52H Stratofortress.
  • Taylor, Michael J. H. Brassey's World Aircraft & Systems Directory 1999/2000. London: Brassey's, 1999, p. 109, Boeing B-52H Stratofortress.
  • US Air Force B-52 Fact Sheet
  • Wilson, Jim. Combat: The Great American Warplane. NY: Hearst Books, 2001, p. 28-31, B-52 Stratofortress.

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