Boeing B-52

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Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Boeing B-52H Aspect ratio.jpg
A B-52H "Stratofortress" from the 96th BS at Barksdale AFB
Type: Strategic bomber
Design country:

United StatesUnited States United States



First flight:

April 15, 1952


June 29, 1955

Production time:

1952 to 1962

Number of pieces:


B-52G above the clouds
Cockpit of a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress
Boeing B-52

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress ( English for " Stratospheric Fortress "; mostly just B-52 ) is an eight-engine long - range bomber of the US Air Force . The letter "B" in the name stands for bomber .

The US aircraft manufacturer Boeing developed the B-52 as a nuclear weapon carrier in the late 1940s . Their first flight took place on April 15, 1952. In the 1950s, she took over the role of the B-36 Peacemaker and the B-47 Stratojet in the Strategic Air Command as the cornerstone of the US nuclear deterrent against the Soviet Union during the Cold War . As a result, the B-52 became the most versatile and long-lasting bomber in the US Air Force and, after the last Hawker Hunter was decommissioned, it is the oldest jet aircraft in the world still in operation. Initially, the project threatened to fail several times and Boeing changed the design at short notice. Testing and production of the B-52 then went almost smoothly.

The B-52 was used in various conventional conflicts: During the Vietnam War , it was used for area bombing from low and high altitudes. It was used in the Second Gulf War in 1991 and in the Kosovo War in 1999 as a launch platform for cruise missiles and for laying sea ​​mines (only in the Gulf War). It was last used in 2015 in the fight against IS via Syria and Iraq . In 2006, 94 of the 744 Stratofortress built (in pilot jargon: BUFF for Big Ugly Fat Fellow / Fucker ) were still in use in their last version, the B-52H. The bomber is expected to remain in service until the 2050s, making it the fighter aircraft with the longest operating time in history, alongside the Soviet Tu-95 .

Development history


After the experience of World War II , the United States no longer wanted to rely on bases in foreign countries to carry out strategic air force operations. In view of the impending invasion of Great Britain by German troops , the development of the long-range bomber Convair B-36 had already started in 1941 . However, its completion was delayed again and again. On November 23, 1945, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) first published requirements for a bomber to supplement and replace the B-36.

First drafts

GVG B-52 Evolution 1st svg
GVG B-52 Evolution 2nd svg
B-52 development

The new heavy bomber should be able to operate at a speed of around 480 km / h at an altitude of 10,500 meters with a bomb load of 4,500 kilograms, five crew members and a reserve team within an operational radius of 8,000 kilometers. For self-defense, 20-millimeter guns were provided. On February 13, 1946, the Air Force called on the country's aviation industry to submit bids, and Boeing , Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, and Martin submitted designs shortly thereafter. Boeing's proposal promised the best price-performance ratio and was therefore declared the winner of the competition on June 5, 1946.

This Model 462 was basically a greatly enlarged version of Boeing's B-29 , a shoulder -wing monoplane with non-swept wings, high aspect ratio and a wingspan of 67 meters. It was about 50 meters long, had a Empty weight of 163 tons and was six T35 - Turboprop -Triebwerke of Wright driven. However, it had little in common with the model ultimately produced. Jet engines made major development steps at this time, and they were intended for the new medium-weight bombers B-45 to B-48 , among other things , but because of their high fuel consumption they were not yet suitable for long-haul aircraft.

In mid-June 1946 the design was given the designation XB-52 . On June 28, the first contract was signed with Boeing for the delivery of a 1: 1 model and initial test results on the structure, engines and defensive armament of the bomber.

New requirements

In the following two years, the military leadership changed the requirements for the machine, so that Boeing had to change the design again and again. First, the USAAF criticized the Model 462 in October 1946 as too monstrous and not suitable for long distances, whereupon Boeing designed a smaller version (Model 464 ) with four engines and 104 tons of take-off weight. Just two months later, the requirements were increased again: the B-52 should have a range of 19,000 kilometers at 640 km / h and be able to transport a nuclear bomb in addition to conventional bombs . The weight could now be up to 220 tons again. Since these requests appeared technically too demanding, Boeing presented two models as the best possible approximation: One with a long range and low loading capacity (model 464-16 ) and another with a shorter range and therefore higher loading capacity (model 464-17 ), the one from the Air Force was favored. Both sides are relying on the further development of engine technology in order to be able to increase the range over time.

In the meantime, series production of the Convair B-36 had started, and since the B-52 design was designed in a similar manner and only promised insignificantly better performance than Convair's bomber, Boeing's project was first about to be terminated in mid-1947. General Curtis LeMay , then deputy head of a US Air Force development division, advocated a six-month postponement of the final decision. The military leadership finally agreed to this. Boeing used the time and revised its design for the model 464-29 , which for the first time had swept wings and with unchanged weight at a speed of 730 km / h promised an operational radius of 8,000 kilometers.

In September 1947, the now independent United States Air Force (USAF) was increasingly demanding an aircraft that could, in an emergency, use an atomic bomb from the mainland of the USA against any possible enemy. Airspeed and altitude were defined as the most important requirements for a nuclear bomber. The previously so important range has now been increased by refueling in the air . From now on, the benchmark was a range of around 13,000 kilometers at a cruising speed of 885 km / h, which was reduced to a more realistic 805 km / h in December. Boeing's latest draft was at least 80 km / h too slow.

New competitors

For the USAF, only the best possible design came into question, as the planned bomber would play a central role in a future conflict. Therefore, the votes for a halt to the US dollar by then some four million dollar Boeing project and for a completely new bomber competition especially since studies were increasing, Rand Corporation , the by Northrop with the B-35 and B-49 promoted flying wing concept for declared to be principally superior - especially at high speed at great heights. Finally, on December 11, 1947, the USAF decided to terminate the contract with Boeing. Before it even happened, Boeing protested violently, but could only get a delay. The USAF wanted to thoroughly examine all possibilities before making a final decision on a design.

In the spring of 1948, the USAF spoke out in favor of the conventional B-52 design. In their view, the alternative flying wing design offered a comparatively low probability of success and required maintenance that was too complicated. The Air Force informed Boeing in March that the original contract was still in effect and now included the development, construction and testing of two XB-52 prototypes for around $ 30 million. Model 464-35 was Boeing's latest design since January 1948 , smaller (40 meters in length, 56 meters in wingspan) and lighter (127 tons) than its predecessor, but still with four turboprop engines, which are now equipped with propellers rotating in opposite directions to increase performance were.

Decision in favor of turbines

J57-P-3 turbojet

In May 1948, the US Air Force first asked Boeing to design a jet engine version of the XB-52 . In contrast to three years earlier, their use for long-range bombers gradually seemed to make sense thanks to advances in engine technology. Result was presented in July Model 464-40 , the attached from its predecessor 464-35 only eight pairs in housings under the wings J40 - Turbojet -Triebwerke the Westinghouse Electric Corporation was different. The main development goal remained the turboprop version of the XB-52.

The Boeing engineers traveled on 21 October 1948 by Seattle to Wright Field to Ohio to the resident Air Materiel Command (AMC) to present the detailed 464-35. His 1: 1 model ( mock-up ) was almost finished by this time. The military leadership surprised the developers with the request for a completely redesigned aircraft, tailored to the new J57 turbo jets from Pratt & Whitney (manufacturer designation: JT3), the development of which had also been commissioned by the Air Force. The until then current propeller turbine engines appeared to the USAF only as a temporary solution that could not offer the desired speed and future security.

According to contemporary reports, the Boeing people stayed in a hotel in nearby Dayton and worked on a new design all weekend. In doing so, they combined the experiences from the previous B-52 proposals with their own advanced design of the medium-weight jet bomber B-47 Stratojet, which had already been tested . The following Monday (October 25), Boeing presented its newest model, 464-49 . The most striking feature were the wings, which were optimized for higher speeds, with a wingspan of 56 meters, clearly swept at 35 ° and thinner and deeper than on earlier models. The eight J57 engines hung in pairs on pylons in nacelles. With this arrangement, the entire wing area is available as an aerodynamically effective area. In the event of an engine fire, the spatial separation from the wing tanks means that there is less danger, and it also makes it easier to convert to other engine models and to facilitate maintenance.

With a weight of 150 tons, the 464-49 promised a top speed of 920 km / h and a range of 12,800 kilometers at 835 km / h. The Luftwaffe leadership was very pleased with this draft proposal. After a final evaluation, it decided in January 1949 to continue the project and informed Boeing on January 26th. From April 26 to 29, the USAF inspected the mock-up of the 464-49 in Seattle without major complaints. The still insufficient engine power caused concern, which limited the speed and range too much. Boeing responded to this by November 1949 with the longer and heavier 464-67 to accommodate more fuel in the fuselage. The length grew to 47 meters, the take-off weight by 27 to 177 tons. As early as mid-1949, Boeing suggested upgrading one of the two XB-52s to a pre-production model with additional equipment. The Air Force agreed and changed the designation of the second XB-52 to YB-52 in June 1951.

Final decision

Three-sided view of the B-52

In the meantime, the other aircraft manufacturers were also working on bomber projects with jet engines and once again made competition with the XB-52. Convair developed the overall disappointing B-36 from August 1950 into the B-36G (from mid-1951 referred to as the YB-60 ), with swept wings and also eight J57 engines, and suggestions for an enlarged B-47 came from within who have favourited the B-47Z.

Again General Curtis LeMay - since October 1948 commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) - advocated the B-52 as what he saw as the best offer and initially got the Air Force to accept the model 464-67 in March 1950. The development in Southeast Asia provided further arguments: the expanding Korean War promoted the decision in favor of the B-52, as the Second World War had already initiated the construction of the B-36 nine years earlier. Finally, on January 24, 1951, the USAF leadership finally approved the procurement of the B-52. A contract dated February 17 obliged Boeing to deliver 13 B-52As from April 1953.

Meanwhile, discussions arose in the Air Force as to how the new bomber should also be used for reconnaissance missions , for which it would be well suited due to its altitude, speed and range. The SAC wanted bombers that could also be used for electronic reconnaissance , while the Luftwaffe command preferred a version for photographic (non-electronic) reconnaissance that could be converted into bombers. On paper, the leadership prevailed because they changed the order from B-52 to RB-52 in October 1951, but de facto the SAC's request was fulfilled, because basically bombers were now planned to be inserted in their weapons bay if necessary manned reconnaissance tank could be mounted.

First flight of the prototypes

XB-52 during a test flight
YB-52 prototype in flight

In both prototypes, like the B-47, the pilots sat behind one another under a glass hood. LeMay had already criticized this arrangement in early 1951 because it hindered the cooperation of the two pilots and left less space for instruments. In all B-52s built later, the pilot's seats were arranged next to each other, plus four seats for navigators / bombardiers and rear gunner, one more than originally required.

Since the wing profile was too thin to accommodate the retracted main landing gear of the shoulder-wing wing, the only option was to retract it into the fuselage. In front of and behind the bomb bay, which is located in the center of gravity , two landing gear legs with two wheels each were arranged next to each other on the sides of the fuselage with a relatively small track width, with additional support wheels at the wing tips, which only touch the ground when the wing tanks are full. The front and rear main landing gear groups have identical tire sizes. With this configuration, the B-52 cannot lift its nose significantly in the form of the usual take-off rotation in order to increase the angle of attack, but lifts off the runway almost simultaneously with all four landing gear legs without any major change in the position of the fuselage. This peculiarity makes it necessary that the wings have an angle of attack of six degrees in relation to the fuselage in order to be able to have a sufficient angle of attack and generate sufficient lift without major rotational movement around the pitch axis. In addition, all landing gear legs - not just the front pair - can be deflected by up to 20 degrees on both sides in order to be able to compensate for cross winds during takeoff and landing . The condition in which the fuselage center axis is then rolled with an orientation deviating from the runway axis is called a crab walk .

On November 29, 1951 the rollout of the XB-52 with the serial number 49-230 took place in Seattle. Because its wing structure had been damaged during tests on the ground and it had to be repaired at great expense , the pre-production model YB-52 (serial number 49-231) completed the first flight of the new bomber on April 15, 1952 without major problems. Just three days later, the competitor YB-60 flew for the first time, but it performed worse and had less potential than the B-52. The project was then discontinued. On October 2nd, 1952, the XB-52 finally made its maiden flight. At the end of the year, the last competitor for the bomber of the future was out of the running: the B-47Z design could not carry as many and especially not as large bombs as the hydrogen bomb and was therefore no longer an alternative for the SAC .

Versions and modernizations

B-52 tail forms


The total of 744 copies built are divided into the following versions:

  • XB-52 and YB-52: The two prototypes; built from 1951, tests until 1958, both scrapped in the mid-1960s.
  • B-52A: Three copies for testing purposes; built from 1954, in use until 1969.
  • B-52B: 23 pieces, 1954-1966.
  • RB-52B: 27 pieces, 1954-1966.
  • B-52C: 35 pieces, 1956-1971.
  • B-52D: 170 pieces, 1956-1983.
  • B-52E: 100 pieces, 1957-1970.
  • B-52F: 89 pieces, 1958-1978.
  • B-52G: 193 pieces 1958–1994.
  • B-52H: 102 pieces 1960 – today.
  • NB-52: Three copies as a mother ship for NASA .

Series production / B-52A

The B-52A (model 464-201-0) was the first production version of the bomber. However, in June 1952 the Luftwaffe reduced the order from 13 to three copies for tests, the remaining ten were to be built as B versions. Compared to the prototype, the A-model had a few changes: Boeing redesigned the front fuselage to create more space for the pilots and equipment now sitting next to each other. The electronics officer sat behind the two pilots, the navigator / bombardier and the radar officer one deck below . For defense, the B-52A received a manned four-barreled M3 gun in the rear, caliber 12.7 millimeters. In an emergency, the rear gunner could blast it off and then parachute himself to safety.

Improved engines (J57-P-1W) used water injection for a short-term increase in performance, e.g. when starting, two external tanks for 3785 liters each increased the range. In addition, starting with the A-model, all machines received a refueling system for air refueling with a rigid boom.

The B-52A (serial number 52-001) flew for the first time on August 5, 1954, the last of the three copies was completed in September. They remained in service for testing purposes until the 1960s.

In August 1953, the Luftwaffe announced plans to acquire 282 aircraft that would be delivered between October 1956 and December 1958. In order to be able to meet this goal, Boeing opened a second plant in Wichita (Kansas) for the construction of the B-52 , which entered the production process from the D model.

Commissioning / B-52B

The first operational B-52 on June 29, 1955 at Castle Air Force Base

The B-52B was the first operational version. The takeoff weight rose to 190 tons, and new engine versions (J57-P-9W, -19W, -29W and -29WA) increased the thrust to a maximum of 53.8 kilonewtons . Boeing built 27 of the 50 B-models ordered as RB-52B , which could be equipped with a pressurized reconnaissance tank. If necessary, it could be installed in the bomb bay within four hours, contained radar and radio receivers , cameras and recording devices, and was manned by two operators on ejector seats. The reconnaissance versions were never used on a regular basis, because in 1955 the Air Force classified reconnaissance missions as subordinate and only used the designation B-52.

On June 29, 1955, the US Air Force put its new bomber into service with a B-52B for the first time at the 93rd Heavy Bomb Wing at Castle Air Force Base in California . This first bomber unit reported operational readiness on March 12, 1956. The pilots were enthusiastic about the “excellent” aircraft, but there were also technical problems. After several incidents in 1956, all B-52s were banned from flying for several weeks until defective generators had been replaced and fuel and hydraulic systems had been overhauled. Boeing delivered the last B-52B in August 1956. In March 1965, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) began decommissioning the B models, which was completed by early 1966.


The C model differed little from the previous version. The takeoff weight rose to 204 tons, and the external tanks now held around 11,360 liters each. The water injection of the engines was improved and the underside of the fuselage was given a white protective coating to reflect light and heat radiation in the event of an atomic bomb explosion. The B-52C could also take a reconnaissance capsule in the bomb bay, but it was never used in this role. 35 units were produced, they were available from June 1956 and remained in use until September 1971.

New mission profile / B-52D


This version was the oldest actually used as a bomber (from April 1966 in the Vietnam War ), although not the first (that was the F model). With the D version, B-52 production began on a large scale: Boeing built 170 units from 1956 to November 1957, 69 of which were also made at the second production site in Wichita for the first time. Externally, the B-52D did not differ from the previous model. The electronics were modernized and the option to convert to a reconnaissance aircraft was finally eliminated.

The increasing number of large and heavy bombers required reconstruction work on the bases . In addition, the Air Force distributed the machines to many bases in order to reduce the risk of the enemy destroying the bomber fleet.

Due to the improved air defense of the opposing armed forces, the high-flying bombers were increasingly threatened, so that the SAC changed the mission profile of the B-52. As part of the Big Four program, they were equipped from November 1959 for low-level flight operations in enemy airspace. These included low-level radar, AGM-28 Hound Dog missiles, and electronic countermeasures equipment . The conversion affected all models from B-52C to -H and lasted until September 1963. Low-level operations put a considerable strain on the structure, so from 1960 onwards, time-consuming and costly repairs were necessary.

For the bombing war in Southeast Asia, the D models were able to carry around 30 percent more bomb load, up to 27 tons, from the end of 1965 after the Big Belly conversion program .

The B-52D remained in service with the US Air Force until 1983.


The only major innovation of the B-52E (model 464-259) was an improved bomb navigation system (AN / ASQ-38), which subsequently caused problems and had to be improved. Boeing produced 100 electric models from early 1957 to June 1958, 58 of them in Wichita. The first flight took place on October 3, 1957, the commissioning at the Strategic Air Command took place from December 1957. The gradual retirement began in 1967 and lasted until the early 1970s.

As early as December 1956, the military leadership had decided to increase the B-52 program. Instead of seven, eleven squadrons were to be equipped with 50 machines each and production accelerated.


The impetus for the development of the B-52F (model 464-260) was given by the improved J57-P-43W engines , each with a maximum thrust of 61.2 kilonewtons. Boeing produced a total of 89 machines from late 1957 to November 1958, 44 of them for the last time in the main plant in Seattle and 45 in Wichita , where all other B-52s were produced from now on. The F-Model first flew on May 6, 1958 and began service with the SAC a month later.

From June 1964 to July 1965, the US Air Force had 74 B-52Fs equipped with modified underwing stations to accommodate more conventional bombs through the South Bay and Sun Bath programs specifically for use in Southeast Asia , bringing the maximum bomb load to 17.3 tons increased. From June 1965, the F models were the first SAC bombers ever to be used in the Vietnam War, but were replaced by D models as early as April 1966, which could load up to 27 tons of bombs through the Big Belly conversion.

Further technical improvements and modifications for all active B-52s included an automatic system for error detection and storage as well as measures against fuel leaks and freezing in the early 1960s. The Luftwaffe began decommissioning the B-52F in 1971, which lasted until 1978.


B-52G, Hill Aerospace Museum.

Actually, Convair's new supersonic B-58 Hustler bomber was supposed to take over some of the tasks of the B-52 in the 1960s and partially replace them. When the B-58 program suffered from financial and technical problems in the mid-1950s and was therefore up for discussion, the Air Force decided in June 1956 to further develop the B-52. The result was the B-52G (Boeing model 464-253), which for the first time differed significantly from the earlier versions because of the 2.4 meter shorter vertical stabilizer. With the curb weight reduced, the take-off weight increased by around 17 to 221 tons. The wings were redesigned and were given integral instead of rubber tanks, which increased the fuel capacity by around 16 percent to a total of 181,600 liters despite the smaller external tanks at the end of the wing, thus increasing the range without air refueling .

Ailerons were completely dispensed with and the control around the longitudinal axis was taken over by the roll spoiler. The rear gunner was now sitting in front with the rest of the crew and remote control of the M3 gun. The fire control system , the equipment for electronic countermeasures and the water injection of the engines have also been upgraded .

The ADM-20 Quail was available as a new weapon for the G-Model - a jet-propelled missile which, due to its flight characteristics, radar cross-section and electromagnetic radiation, simulated a B-52 to the opposing radar.

From 1958 to February 1961, Boeing 193 B-52G produced, more than any other version. The first flight took place on August 31, 1958. Commissioning began on February 13, 1959, one day after the last B-36 bomber was retired. From now on, the SAC bomber fleet consisted exclusively of jet-powered aircraft.

The greater difference between empty and take-off weight resulted in a greater structural load on the wings, so that improvements were made here from 1961 to 1964.

The B-52G was used in the Vietnam War from mid-1972, with seven machines being lost. During the Second Gulf War in 1991, they launched attacks against Iraqi targets. By 1994 all copies had been taken out of service. The B-52G was the last model with turbojet engines.


B-52H in old camouflage
Boeing B-52H during a test drop of Joint Direct Attack ammunition

When in 1959 there was still no new type of bomber in sight to replace the B-52, Boeing began work on another - last - version, the B-52H (model 464-261) - the only version still in use today Use is. It received the new TF33 turbofan engine , which Pratt & Whitney had developed from the J57 turbojet. The new design works without water injection and consumes less fuel. This increased the range to up to 16,000 kilometers. The US Air Force had the four 12.7 mm M3 rear guns replaced by a six-barrel Gatling gun of the M61 Vulcan type , which was also remotely controlled . The striking force was to be increased by the AGM-48 Skybolt , a two-stage solid rocket with a long range and a nuclear warhead, which, however, never reached operational readiness.

A G-model converted to the YB-52H with the new engines flew for the first time on July 10, 1960, the first production model on March 6, 1961. In May of the same year, the first B-52H began its service with the Strategic Air Command , the last of 102 machines built (serial number 61-0040) and thus the last B-52 ever was taken over by the Air Force on October 26, 1962.

According to the US Air Force, production costs amounted to 9.28 million US dollars per copy of the H version (taking inflation into account , this corresponds to a current value of around 80 million US dollars). Of this, the airframe accounted for 6.08 million and the engines for 1.64 million. The average maintenance cost in the mid-1970s was $ 1,182 per flight hour.

Modernizations 1971–2003

From 1971 to 1976 all 270 still active B-52G and B-52H were equipped for their low-level flight missions with an electro-optical vision system, consisting of an infrared camera ( FLIR ) and camera optics with residual light intensifier . The converted aircraft could be recognized by two bulges under the bow. The same machines were also upgraded from 1971 to use the AGM-69 SRAM , a short-range nuclear air-to-surface missile procured to replace the AGM-28 Hound Dog .

Further modernizations and new weapons followed in the 1980s. From 1980 to 1986 a program for the renewal of the avionics ran . From 1982 to 2005 the B-52 was the only aircraft in the US armed forces to use cruise missiles , initially the AGM-86 ALCM , from 1990 the AGM-129 ACM and since October 2003 the AGM-158 JASSM . The AGM-158 has only been ready for use from the B-1 Lancer since August 2005 . Fighting against ships has been possible with the AGM-84 Harpoon since 1985 , and free-falling atomic bombs of the B61 and B83 types are still available.

Since attacks by enemy fighters seemed increasingly unlikely, the rear gun was removed from all B-52s between 1991 and 1994, which also eliminated the rear gunner. The AGM-142 Have Nap air-to-surface missile has been part of the weapons arsenal since 1992. In 1994 the electronics were further upgraded with a GPS receiver, encrypted communication and interfaces for new guided weapons such as the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon .

Ideas for retrofitting to new engines

There were several plans to replace the eight TF33 engines on the B-52H with more modern ones. In June 1996, Boeing proposed four Rolls-Royce RB211s as new engines and promised savings of six billion US dollars if all 94 machines were converted (later reduced to 4.7 billion US dollars for 71 machines). Studies by the Air Force and the Institute for Defense Analysis showed additional costs of 1.3 and one billion US dollars respectively compared to the maintenance and maintenance of the TF33. According to this, Boeing had overestimated inflation, the expected increase in fuel prices, the susceptibility to maintenance and the maintenance costs of the existing engines and had thus come to the predicted savings potential.

After a total of 13 engine retrofitting studies had been carried out by the USAF since 1996, it is planned to replace the previous TF33 with eight engines of similar size, weight and thrust as of 2019. The continued use of the previous engine nacelles makes it possible to manage without extensive structural changes to the airframe. This is intended to lower maintenance costs and increase engine efficiency by at least 20%. The decision to choose an engine is to be announced in mid-2020 and then two B-52H will be converted before the 74 engine sets will be procured from 2026. The retrofitting project is expected to be completed in 2034. Competitors in the competition are Rolls-Royce with the F130 as a variant of the BR725 turbofan and General Electric, which offers the CF34-10. In addition to a general overhaul of all TF33 engines, Pratt & Whitney also proposes a completely new design.

The B-52 became the first aircraft with which the US Air Force tested the use of alternative fuel. On September 19, 2006, a B-52H took off from Edwards Air Force Base for a test flight using a 50:50 mixture of ordinary JP-8 fuel and synthetic fuel obtained by the Fischer-Tropsch process on two engines has been.

Planned further modernizations

The Air Force had been planning since 2004 to equip the B-52 for use in electronic warfare . For this purpose, it was to have devices for two electronic containers under the wings, similar in shape and size to the previous external tanks. The provisionally called B-52 SOJ (for Stand-Off Jammer , German: distance disturbance ) should disrupt the communication of the enemy from a distance. The plan was to purchase 36 pairs of tanks and convert 76 B-52Hs. According to the original plans, the first copies should be converted by 2009 and fully operational in 2012. At the end of 2005, however, the Air Force abandoned the project as the cost had risen from the originally estimated one billion US dollars to seven billion. As a result, the Ministry of Defense stopped applying for funding for the 2007 financial year. Instead, the Air Force has contractually secured the cooperation of the United States Navy , which, until 2012, will accompany operations by air force squadrons with EA-6B Prowler , which are designed for electronic warfare, if necessary .

On 16 June 2006 the military leadership announced that Boeing a contract for 150 million US dollars received. In the program called Smart Weapons Integration Next Generation (SWING) , the weapon electronics and mounts of the bomber are to be modernized by the end of 2020 in order to be able to accommodate and use new weapon systems. These include the small precision bomb Small Diameter Bomb , the cruise missiles AGM-158B JASSM-ER with increased range and decoys Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD). By April 2016, six B-52s are to be equipped and tested with the new system called “1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade (IWBU)”. After successful testing, 38 B-52s are to be equipped with the new system by October 2017. The 1760 IWBU also enables the bombers to internally accommodate GPS-controlled ammunition, thereby significantly increasing the performance and efficiency of the B-52 in operations where high precision is required.

On May 21, 2009, a B-52H with CONECT (Combat Network Communications Technology) took off for its maiden flight. With this technology update, the B-52 can access the Air Force's digital communications network and connect to Air Force command centers, ground forces, and others. This allows the B-52 to receive and send information or mission updates during flight, for example. This means a plus in flexibility and security.

In January 2016, it was announced that Harris Corporation had received a contract to improve the B-52's electronic countermeasure system against radar-guided weapons. The system should be simplified, improved and lighter at the same time.

The Air Force is also planning to install a new radar in the B-52, but there has not yet been a specific contract with a company, an existing radar will probably be adapted to the B-52.

Perspectives for further use

US Air Force B-52 on an Egyptian base near Cairo, 1983

Since 1986 was the B-1 Lancer first time a successor ready, which, unlike the Stratofortress even at supersonic speeds and more defended airspace in flying low operating and also could carry (at least theoretically) an almost twice the bomb load. The stealth bomber B-2 Spirit took over as another long-range bomber since 1997, especially against highly defended targets. Since none of the new bombers can use as many different weapons as the B-52 and it is the only launch platform for strategic cruise missiles for the USAF, it remains in service.

Of the total of 744 B-52s built, 94 were still in active service with the US Air Force at the beginning of 2006, all of them H-models with turbofan engines. 44 of them are kept ready for use at all times. After the Strategic Air Command was dissolved in mid-1992, they were assigned to Air Combat Command (84 machines) and Air Force Reserve Command (nine machines) and were stationed at Barksdale , Louisiana and Minot , North Dakota Air Force bases . There is also a B-52H from the Air Force Materiel Command for test purposes at the Edwards base in California and the NASA mother ship NB-52H, also in Edwards.

As early as the late 1990s, the Department of Defense planned to reduce the number of B-52s to 76, which the US Congress rejected. As a compromise, 18 of the 94 B-52s were given the status of “wear reserve”. The force planning published in the Quadrennial Defense Review Report in February 2006 provided for the number of B-52s to be reduced to 56 over the next few years, and the money saved as a result in the modernization of the B-52, B-1 and B-2 -Bomber to invest. Since October 2006, the congress has allowed a maximum of 18 machines to be decommissioned subject to certain conditions, with 44 B-52s to be permanently operational.

According to the law, further shutdowns are permitted at the earliest when an at least equivalent replacement for the Stratofortress is ready for use, which the Air Force is aiming for in 2018. While parts of the fleet are expected to remain in service until at least 2040, the first B-52H was decommissioned on July 30, 2008, and another 17 followed by mid-2009.

Part of the fleet is to be technically modified in such a way that it cannot carry nuclear weapons in order to comply with the New START treaty concluded with Russia .


NB-52B (NASA-008) with the test aircraft X-43

Three different copies of the B-52 were rebuilt over the years, were given the designation NB-52 and served NASA as a mothership (mother ship); Among other things, they carried manned and unmanned experimental aircraft and rockets to great heights in order to unplug them for tests. NASA operated the aircraft, but they remained the property of the US Air Force with appropriate markings and license plates.

The third and last B-52A built (serial number: 52-003) was the first machine of its kind: It was supposed to carry the X-15 for research into supersonic flight and was rededicated as the NB-52A in early 1959. The USAF installed a pylon to accommodate the X-15 under the right wing between the fuselage and the first engine nacelle. A piece of the wing trailing edge measuring around 1.8 × 2.4 meters had to be removed to make room for the tail unit of the X-15. The first flight to test this configuration took place on March 10, 1959 at Edwards Air Force Base in California, on June 8, the X-15 was disengaged for the first time and slid to the ground without propulsion as planned, the first flight of the X-15 with rocket propulsion followed on September 17, 1959. The NB-52A performed 59 of a total of 199 X-15 flights before it was decommissioned in 1968. It was then given to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson , Arizona.

The NB-52B (52-008) has also been flying for NASA since 1959. It started the remaining 140 flights of the X-15 and transported, among other things, solid rockets of the space shuttle for test purposes. Their last deployment took place as part of the X-43 program. When it was transferred back to the Air Force on December 17, 2004, it was NASA's oldest aircraft, the oldest still airworthy B-52, and at the same time the one with the fewest flying hours. Since then, NASA-008 has been on display at Edwards Air Force Base ( 34 ° 59 ′ 35 ″  N , 117 ° 53 ′ 1 ″  W ).

As a replacement, NASA took over its third mothership so far on July 30, 2001 , the NB-52H (61-0025), an H-model built in 1961, which was converted by the end of 2004.


Strategic Air Command

The B-52 has long been the backbone of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). The first machine was delivered to a task force on June 29, 1955 and replaced its predecessor, the Boeing B-47 Stratojet. On May 21, 1956, the first US test of a hydrogen bomb was dropped over Bikini Atoll by a B-52 , with the target marking being missed by four miles due to a mistake by the crew ( Operation Redwing Cherokee).

From October 1957 to 1991 the SAC applied a more stringent alarm concept, according to which the bombers should be in the air 15 minutes after the alarm was raised. Among other things, the Minimum Interval Takeoff (MITO) procedure was developed for this purpose, in which the bombers of a squadron started one after the other at extremely short intervals. In addition, the SAC announced in early 1961 that B-52s with nuclear weapons on board were constantly in the air as part of a permanent readiness to fly. In the operations known as the Chrome Dome , the bombers flew twelve 24-hour missions a day on three routes, one of which led from the USA across the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean and back.

On October 22, 1962, the SAC increased the number of Chrome Dome uses to 66 daily because of the Cuban Missile Crisis, until they were reduced to normal again after the end of the crisis. At the end of February 1968, the Luftwaffe changed its operational doctrine and ended the flying nuclear readiness of its B-52, which was due to a number of accidents involving nuclear weapons (see below).

Shortly after delivery of the first B-52 began, it was already apparent that the high-flying subsonic atomic bomber could be shot down by a simple anti-aircraft missile. As early as 1955, the Air Force and Boeing carried out the first investigations, which investigated the exposure to gusts at low altitude, but did not raise any serious problems. But in 1961 the first cracks appeared in the machines of the SAC, partly in machines with only 300 flight hours. The machines from the G series were structurally changed and were therefore increasingly used for low-level flight operations within the standby. Therefore, a 210 million was US $ initiated expensive remodeling program that partially compromised the formal dedication of the SAC. Nonetheless, there were repeated structural failures. For example, the vertical stabilizer of a B-52H was torn off during a test flight at low altitude.

The B-52 was conceptually obsolete in the early 1960s and efforts were made to replace the machine with more modern designs such as the B-58 Hustler , the B-70 Valkyrie and the B-1 Lancer . Ultimately, the B-52 remained in service because of its ability to carry and deploy very large loads, as well as its virtually unlimited range due to its in-flight refueling. The use of distance weapons enables promising missions to this day despite the low speed, poor maneuverability and large radar signature .


Two FAI absolute records were set with a B-52H: on January 11, 1962, a machine flew 20,168.78 km from Okinawa to Madrid without landing or refueling. For this record flight, the take-off weight, which is limited to 221 t during regular use, was increased to around 250 t, and the take-off was carried out with the aid of the solid fuel booster. The second absolute record on a circuit (18,245.05 km), even with an extreme take-off weight, followed on June 7, 1962. On December 14, 1960, a record (16,220.36 km) was set with a B-52G.


Non-nuclear incidents

Crash in 1994 at Fairchild Air Force Base
  • On June 24, 1994, a B-52H crashed during a training flight for an air show at Fairchild Air Force Base after the pilot Bud Holland had flown the aircraft outside of the permitted operational parameters and thereby lost control. All four crew members were killed.
  • On July 21, 2008, an unarmed B-52H of the US Air Force (20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron) crashed on the east coast of the Pacific island of Guam . The machine should have flown over a celebrating crowd on the 64th anniversary of the island's liberation from Japanese occupation. All six crew members were killed in the crash.
  • On May 18, 2016, a B-52H of the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, based at Minot Air Force Base, crashed shortly after takeoff at Andersen Air Force Base , Guam . There were no injuries in the crash.

Nuclear incidents

MK-39 hydrogen bomb found after the crash at Goldsboro

According to research by Eric Schlosser, the US government recorded at least 700 "significant" accidents and incidents between 1950 and 1968, in which around 1250 nuclear weapons were involved.

  • On October 15, 1959 collided near Hardinsberg ( Kentucky ) one with two atomic bombs equipped B-52 during flight refueling with a KC-135 . The two on the Air Force Base Columbus ( Mississippi stationed) machine crashed from about 7,500 meters above sea level, where all four crew members of the tanker and four of the eight crew members of the bomber were killed. The atomic bombs were recovered after the B-52 crashed, but some of them were burned.
  • On January 24, 1961, a B-52G of the 4241st Strategic Wing broke up after an explosion caused by a leak in the fuel supply in the right wing. Two MK-39 hydrogen bombs were released and crashed 20 km north of Seymour Air Force Base near Goldsboro in North Carolina. One of the bombs was recovered intact. The other bomb sank in the Nahunta swamp near Faro. It should still be located in the secured area at a depth of 17 m. Three crew members were killed in the crash. The US government later investigated the incident. One result: In one of the two bombs, three of the four safety mechanisms that were supposed to prevent an unintentional explosion failed. Only a simple safety switch had prevented the disaster. The effects of radioactive fallout if the bomb exploded - 260 times that of the Hiroshima bomb - would also have affected Washington and New York.
  • On March 14, 1961, a B-52F bomber with nuclear weapons had to descend to 3000 m due to a pressure drop in the cabin. Due to the increased fuel consumption, he could no longer reach his destination and suffered a crash landing near Yuba City (California), with the plane and the two bombs crashing into pieces. The series of such incidents prompted President John F. Kennedy to have the security interlocks on the bombs improved.
  • On January 13, 1964, a B-52D broke on the way from Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts to Turner , Georgia due to strong turbulence at an altitude of 9,000 m. The wreckage of the machine fell southwest of Cumberland , Maryland . Three crew members died. The two bombs transported were recovered with slight damage.
  • Another crash with a nuclear bomb load occurred on January 17, 1966 near Palomares , Spain . There a B-52H of the 68th Bomb Wing collided with a KC-135 tanker. Seven crew members lost their lives. Two of the four B28 hydrogen bombs on board the B-52 were destroyed. The last one was recovered from the Mediterranean on April 7, 1966 in a six million US dollar recovery operation by the submarine DSV Alvin . On tomato plantations in the area of ​​the crash site, 1,500 t of radioactively contaminated soil had to be removed and shipped to Aiken (South Carolina) in the USA .
  • On January 21, 1968, a B-52 with pilots John Haug and Joe D'Amario crashed on the ice in Greenland 11 km south of Thule Air Force Base . Three of the four hydrogen bombs on board fell into the Arctic Ocean and were found frozen. It was only after decisive intervention by the Danish government that the US undertook a large-scale, but unsuccessful, search for the fourth bomb. Finally in 1979 it was alleged that this bomb had been seized by the US special forces Navy SEAL with the support of the US Navy Construction Regiment ( Seabees ) in Baffin Bay . On November 10, 2008, the BBC reported on its website that the atomic bomb lost on January 21, 1968 has not been found to this day. The search was canceled at that time, as the Tagesschau online reported on November 11, 2008, without success. This was also confirmed by the American investigator, William H. Chambers, after 40 years. Accordingly, the fourth bomb with the serial number 78252 should still be missing. However, Chambers has told the Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) that he has been misunderstood by the BBC and that he does not want to be quoted by the media in the wrong context in the future.
    As a consequence of the media reports, in 2009 the Danish Foreign Minister commissioned the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) to prepare a report on the crash. The DIIS was supposed to investigate whether the 348 documents (around 2000 pages) that the BBC reporter Corera had used for his report in 2008 contained information that differed from the content of the 317 documents released by the US Department of Energy since 1986 . The report with the title “The Marshal's Baton - There is no bomb, there was no bomb, they were not looking for a bomb” (“The Marshal's Staff - There is no bomb, there was no bomb, they did not look for a bomb “) Concludes that all four bombs were destroyed on impact. The amount of plutonium found by the USA is roughly the same as that from four nuclear weapons. Other bomb components were also recovered from all four weapons, such as the deuterium - tritium tanks and the parachute containers, so that the loss of a complete weapon could be ruled out. However, an important component of a weapon was not found, which was probably the rod-shaped core made of highly enriched uranium from the fusion stage (“spark plug”). This is said to have been searched under water, but not found.

The two latter accidents resulted in severe radioactive contamination. In both Spain and Greenland, the USA had to have contaminated soil (or ice) removed and landfilled in its own country, including South Carolina and Texas. The accidents contributed significantly to the fact that the airborne readiness with nuclear weapons was lifted on February 26, 1968 by Secretary of Defense Clark McAdams Clifford ( Johnson Cabinet ).

By that time, land- and sea-based ICBMs had taken on the brunt of nuclear deterrence. Described by critics as a flying anachronism , the B-52 nuclear weapon carrier became an aircraft for limited conventional warfare .

On August 30, 2007, a US bomber mistakenly flew over US territory with nuclear weapons on board. The B-52 launched at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota brought twelve AGM-129 ACM cruise missiles to Barksdale in Louisiana in a three-and-a-half hour flight . Six of the weapons were armed with nuclear warheads; this was only noticed ten hours after landing.

Vietnam War

A B-52F bomber throws bombs on Vietnam from
On December 23, 1972, Soviet experts examined the wreckage of a B-52 near Hanoi

Ten years after its commissioning, the B-52 flew its first combat mission. In early 1965, B-52F began to be relocated from the USA to Southeast Asia. Under the name Operation Arc Light , the B-52 began serving in the Vietnam War on June 18, 1965 . From Andersen Air Force Base , Guam , 27 B-52Fs attacked targets in the south of the country. By the end of Arc Light eight years later, the bombers were flying over 126,000 sorties, up to 3,150 per month.

Other missions were in Operations Rolling Thunder and Niagara II . In the war, the variants D, F and G were used, with converted D-types bearing the main load and also being used for ground combat support. Up to 100 conventional bombs could be used. In addition to Guam, the air force bases Kadena in Okinawa and U-Tapao in Thailand served as home airports.

The most massive bombardments took place from December 18 to 29, 1972 as part of Operation Linebacker II , known in Vietnam as the "Twelve Day War", but in the US as the "Eleven Day War" - on December 25 there was a truce. Up to 130 B-52s flew simultaneous attacks on Hanoi and the main port city of Haiphong . Each bomber could carry up to 27 tons of bombs, which destroyed an area of ​​around two square kilometers in area bombing . In these devastating blows, around 15,000 tons of bombs fell in 730 missions in eleven days. 1300 Vietnamese were killed. The massive bombing of cities and civilians sparked protests around the world.

The vulnerability of a high-flying bomber to anti-aircraft missiles like the SA-2 Guideline and radar-guided interceptors like the MiG-21 quickly became apparent . The North Vietnamese armed forces claimed two B-52s were shot down by MiG-21s, including one on December 27, 1972 by Lieutenant Nguyen Van Tuan, while the United States cited surface-to-air missiles as the cause of the crash. Another killing was awarded to Phạm Tuan . While no B-52s were lost from 1965 to 1971, Operation Linebacker II ended with the loss of a total of 15 B-52s.

Many crew members of downed B-52s were killed, wounded or taken prisoner of war. Overall, the risks of using manned bombers against adequately defended ground targets became apparent here.

Gulf Wars

On the first day of Operation Desert Storm , on January 17, 1991, seven B-52Gs with a total of 39 AGM-86C cruise missiles attacked Iraqi targets. 35 of these were successfully launched, of which 33 reached their destination. The bombers had taken off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana the day before . The mission, during which the B-52s were refueled several times in the air, lasted 35 hours and was the longest combat mission of military aircraft to date.

Together with other coalition aircraft, US warplanes were supposed to weaken the Iraqi armed forces in the first phase of the war, called Instant Thunder , so that the coalition forces could advance rapidly north from Kuwait . The main task of the 75 B-52s deployed was to wear down the enemy ground troops through continuous area bombing . The attack on fixed targets, such as industry or infrastructure, played a subordinate role. Although the bombers achieved their operational targets, they were nowhere near as efficient as expected by the military command. While the B-52s and their crews were equipped and trained for autonomous low-level flight operations, they were deployed in Iraq from great heights in conjunction with combat aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft. The consequences were communication problems and a relatively low accuracy of hits during the bombing. In total, B-52G machines flew around 1,600 sorties during Operation Desert Storm . They undertook three percent of all air missions in this war, but dropped 30 percent of the total bomb mass. There were no losses from enemy influence. Some B-52G were hit by anti-aircraft weapons. One machine (59-2593) crashed after a failure of the electrical system and subsequent incorrect operation of the fuel supply, killing three crew members.

In Operation Desert Strike , B-52Hs of the 2nd Squadron of Bombers flew their first war effort on September 3, 1996 from Guam when they fired 13 AGM-86Cs at targets in southern Iraq.

In 1998, Stratofortress bombers took part in Operation Desert Fox , which ran from December 16 to 20, and attacked Iraqi targets with over 90 cruise missiles .

The B-52H took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom , launched in March 2003, with 28 machines . In addition to GPS-guided bombs, they also used laser-guided weapons for the first time in conjunction with the new Litening II (AN / AAQ-28) target acquisition and marking system .


As of March 1999, B-52s flew around 270 attacks against Yugoslav targets in the Kosovo war as part of NATO's Allied Force operation , dropping 78 cruise missiles and over 11,000 bombs.


In Operation Enduring Freedom , which began on October 7, 2001 , the Stratofortress was used for the first time to provide ground combat support with precision bombs. The prerequisite for this was the new type of information processing by the US armed forces in real time and the use of GPS- controlled bombs ( JDAM ). Typically five missions per day were flown from the British base of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which is over 4000 kilometers away . They dropped some of their bombs on predetermined targets, after which the bombers circled at a high altitude in an assigned combat zone and waited for new targets. Sometimes only 20 minutes passed from the reconnaissance of a target by ground troops to the bombing near the own lines.

From November 2001, the bomber operations increasingly shifted to the Taliban's presumed retreat areas in eastern Afghanistan . A large part of the estimated more than 3,000 civilian casualties (October 2001 to March 2002) can be traced back to the area bombing by B-52s, landmines and landslides triggered by the bombing of the Tora Bora cave complexes with large bombs.

Syria / Iraq (Inherent Resolve)

In support of Operation Inherent Resolve , the fight by the US and its allies against the Islamic State, the USAF relocated an unspecified number of B-52s to the Al-Udeid base in Qatar in early April 2016 .


Retired, partly dismantled B-52 in Davis-Monthan (Arizona)

As a carrier of strategic nuclear weapons, the B-52 falls under the START agreements concluded in 1991 to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in the USA and the Soviet Union (or their successor states Russia , Belarus , Kazakhstan and Ukraine ). According to this agreement, decommissioned B-52s have to be flown to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona and cut into large pieces in the neighboring 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). If their destruction is not confirmed by personal checks by the opposing party, the wreckage must be placed in the open air for at least 90 days for detection by Russian reconnaissance satellites .

However, not all of these bombers were subject to the disarmament treaties. Their value in this regard is also not easy to understand for outsiders. According to the rules of the START-I Treaty, which was fully implemented in 2001, each of the 94 B-52H, which could each hold up to 20 cruise missiles with a nuclear warhead, had a count of ten warheads, while the 91 B-1 and 21 B-2 Long-range bombers were only ever considered to be one warhead, even if they could load up to 16 free-falling atomic bombs. It was only under the START II treaty, which was agreed in 1993 but never came into force, that bombers counted with the actual number of their usable nuclear weapons. For the planned 76 B-52H that was 940 warheads. With the SORT agreement signed in May 2002, the US government announced a further reduction in its strategic nuclear weapons, but only wants to include weapons that are immediately ready for use in its count, so that the B-52 fleet would only be weighted with around 500 warheads. although she can use almost twice as many.



Without developed for the B-52 Pratt & Whitney J57 - jet engine , the success of the bomber would not have been possible. Other aircraft used jet propulsion, swept-back wings or air refueling to increase range, but it was not until the B-52 in 1952 that these new technologies were successfully combined with large dimensions and high weight. Boeing's design proved to be relatively mature from the start, so that only minor changes to the design were necessary during testing and the entire production phase up to 1961, mostly structural reinforcements. Hardly any bomber project in the USA since the 1930s and certainly not after the 1950s had fewer technical problems than the B-52.

With the B-17 and B-29, Boeing was the leading American manufacturer of bombers as early as the 1940s. With the development and construction of the B-47 and especially the B-52, Boeing consolidated its position. It was only when supersonic speed became a requirement for bombers in the 1960s that Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation and North American Aviation were able to overtake Boeing due to their experience in this area (including the F-102 and X-15 ) and received the Award for the next bomber projects B-58 and B-70 , which did not meet expectations or were canceled. Boeing used its experience in bomber construction and from then on concentrated on the production of passenger jets ( B 707 ) and military transport aircraft ( C-135 ), but still benefits from modernization programs for its B-52.


In the 1950s and early 1960s, the B-52 bombers played a central role in the strategy of deterrence through the readiness for massive retaliation with nuclear weapons. After 1964, the number of ready to use intercontinental ballistic missiles began to surpass that of the bomber, the USAF always developed new weapons and capabilities for the Stratofortress, the B-52 so that gradually developed into the most versatile bomber of the US Air Force. This was not only due to the flexibility of the bomber, but also to a lack of alternatives: The planned successors either did not get beyond the test stage ( B-70 ) or were procured much later than planned ( B-1 ). In addition, the availability of the B-52 has increased over the years and reached around 79 percent in 2002, compared to just 66 percent for the B-1 and a full 42 percent for the B-2 .

The counterpart to the B-52, which is comparable in its military significance, is the Soviet / Russian Tupolev Tu-95 Bear , which was developed around the same time and is still flown today .


Approval of the B-52 by the USAF:

version 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 TOTAL price
XB-52 1                   1  
YB-52 1                   1  
B-52A   3                 3 $ 29,383,466
B-52B   2 34 14th             50 $ 14,430,872
B-52C       35             35 $ 7,277,088
B-52D       26th 144           170 $ 6,678,775
B-52E         29 71         100 $ 5,857,962
B-52F           79 10       89 $ 6,608,933
B-52G           6th 108 74 5   193 $ 7,692,913
B-52H                 57 45 102 $ 9,285,776
TOTAL 2 5 34 75 173 156 118 74 62 45 744

The price is the “fly away price”, which includes the airframe, the engines, the electronics, the equipment and the armament.

Technical specifications

Three-sided view of the B-52
B-52H at takeoff
B-52H at the Royal International Air Tattoo , 2006
Parameter B-52D data Data from the B-52H
length 47.72 m
Wingspan 56.39 m
Wing area 371.6 m²
Wing extension 8.56
Wing loading

minimum (empty weight): 207 kg / m²
maximum (max. take-off weight): 549 kg / m²

minimum (empty weight): 224 kg / m²
maximum (max. starting weight): 595 kg / m²

height 14.72 m 12.40 m
Empty mass 77,100 kg 83,250 kg
Max. Takeoff mass 204,120 kg 221,150 kg
Fuel capacity k. A. 181,610 l
Top speed 1,027 km / h (at optimal altitude) 1,014 km / h (at optimal altitude)
Marching speed 847 km / h (at optimal altitude) k. A.
Service ceiling 13,680 m 16,765 m
Rate of climb k. A. 31.85 m / s
Use radius k. A. 7,210 km
Transfer range 9,978 km

16,232 km (without additional tanks)

crew 6 persons 6 people (since 1994: 5 people)
Engines 8 × jet engines Pratt & Whitney J57-P-19W 8 × jet engines Pratt & Whitney TF33- P-3/103
Thrust 8 × 53.83 kN 8 × 75.6 kN
Thrust-to-weight ratio

maximum (empty weight): 0.57
minimum (max.starting weight): 0.22

maximum (empty weight): 0.74
minimum (max.starting weight): 0.28


B-52H with possible weapon load

B-52A / B / C / E

Pipe armament for self-defense

  • 1 × rear stand unit Bosch Arma MD-9-Defensive Fire Control System (DFCS) with a quad mount in a rotating dome with 4 × 12.7 mm Browning M3 machine guns with 600 rounds of ammunition per MG. The stern stand unit is operated by a crew member. A fire control radar and a television camera are built in to aid aiming. The MG can fight a target detected by the radar manually or automatically. At the end of the unit, four MGs and the target lighting radar are built into a movable spherical screen.

Explosive ordnance up to 31,500 kg in the internal bomb bay and at two external load stations

In the internal bomb bay

Unguided bombs

  • 8 × B28IN / RI / FI (free fall bomb with 1.45 MT nuclear explosive device)
  • 8 × B43 (free-fall bomb with a nuclear 1.0 MT explosive device)
  • 2 × B53-Y2 (free-fall bomb with nuclear 9-MT explosive device)
  • 8 × B61 Mod 7 (free-fall bomb with a nuclear 340 kT explosive device)
  • 8 × B83 (free-fall bomb with a nuclear 1.2-MT explosive device)

At the two inner SUU-67 / A-Heavy Stores Adapter Beam external load stations

Cruise missiles

At the two outer external load stations

  • 2 × additional tanks for 3785 liters (1000 US gallons) of kerosene
  • 2 × additional tanks for 11,356 liters (3000 US gallons) kerosene (from B-52C)

B-52D / F

In the internal bomb bay

Unguided bombs

  • 8 × B28IN / RI / FI (free fall bomb with 1.45 MT nuclear explosive device)
  • 8 × B43 (free-fall bomb with a nuclear 1.0 MT explosive device)
  • 84 × Mark 82 LDGP (241 kg / 500 lb free fall bomb) (B-52F 27 bombs only)
  • 42 × M117A1 (372 kg / 820 lb free fall bomb )

At the two inner SUU-67 / A-Heavy Stores Adapter Beam external load stations

Guided bombs

Unguided bombs

  • 24 × Mark 82 LDGP (241 kg / 500 lb free fall bomb)
  • 24 × M117A1 (372 kg / 820 lb free fall bomb )
  • 24 × CBU-2 / A (cluster bomb with 360 × BLU-3 / B "Pineapple" bombs)

B-52 G / H

Pipe armament for self-defense

  • 1 × Avco-Crosley AN / ASG-21 system rear stand unit with a movable mount with a six-barreled 20 mm Gatling machine cannon General Electric M61A1 "Vulcan" with 1180 rounds of ammunition. The stern stand unit was operated by a crew member who was on an ejector seat and who was in the front section next to the EW officer. The fire control radar AN / ASG-15 and a television camera were installed as a target aid. The MK could fight a target detected by the radar manually or automatically. They were expanded in 1991 and replaced by ECM systems .

In the internal bomb bay

Unguided bombs

  • 8 × B43 (free-fall bomb with a nuclear 1.0 MT explosive device)
  • 2 × B53-Y2 (free-fall bomb with nuclear 9-MT explosive device)
  • 8 × B61 Mod 11 (free-fall bomb with a nuclear 10-340 kT explosive device)
  • 8 × B83 (free-fall bomb with a nuclear 1.2-MT explosive device)
  • 27 × CBU-52 / B ( cluster bomb in SUU-30B / B bomb shell with 220 bomblets BLU-61A / B)
  • 27 × CBU-58 / B (cluster bomb in SUU-30H / B bomb shell with 650 bomblets BLU-63 / B)
  • 27 × CBU-71 / B (cluster bomb in SUU-30H / B bomb cover with 650 bomblets BLU-68 / B)
  • 6 × Aerojet General / Honeywell CBU-87 / B or CBU-103 (wind-corrected 430 kg cluster bomb with 202 fragment / incendiary bombets each)
  • 6 × Lockheed Martin CBU-89 / B or CBU-104 Gator (450 kg cluster bomb in SUU-64 case with 94 mines)
  • 6 × Textron CBU-97/105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon (450 kg cluster bomb in SU-66 / B casing with 10 × armor-piercing BLU-108 projectiles)
  • 27 × M117 (372 kg / 820 lb free-fall bomb)
  • 27 × Mark 82 LDGP (241 kg / 500 lb free fall bomb)
  • 27 × Mk.62 (227 kg / 500 lb Quickstrike sea ​​mine )
  • 8 × Mk.65 (907 kg / 2000 lb Quickstrike sea mine)

Only in the H version in the internal bomb bay (see planned modernizations )

Guided bombs

At the two Heavy Stores Adapter Beam external load stations

Anti-ship missile

Cruise missiles

Guided bombs

Unguided bombs

  • 18 × Mark 82 LDGP (241 kg / 500 lb free fall bomb)
  • 18 × M117 (372 kg / 820 lb free-fall bomb)
  • 18 × CBU-52 / B (cluster bomb in SUU-30B / B bomb shell with 220 bomblets BLU-61A / B)
  • 18 × CBU-58 / B (cluster bomb in SUU-30H / B bomb cover with 650 bomblets BLU-63 / B)
  • 18 × CBU-71 / B (cluster bomb in SUU-30H / B bomb cover with 650 bomblets BLU-68 / B)
  • 18 × Aerojet General / Honeywell CBU-87 / B or CBU-103 (wind-corrected 430 kg cluster bomb with 202 fragment / incendiary bombets each)
  • 18 × Lockheed Martin CBU-89 / B or CBU-104 Gator (450 kg cluster bomb in SUU-64 case with 94 mines)
  • 18 × Mk.62 (227 kg / 500 lb Quikstrike marine mine )

Self defense

Active measures

  • 12 × AN / ALE-20 flare launchers , each with 16 × heat flare flares
  • 8 × AN / ALE-24 decoys, each with 140 × chaff decoys
  • 1 × ITT AN / ALQ-172 (V) 2 (electronic jammer)
  • 1 × AN / ALQ-122 multi-target generator
  • 1 × AN / ALT-32H / L high frequency jammer
  • 4 × ADM-20- "Quail" - decoy , stowed in the bomb bay

Passive action

  • APR-25 / ALR-46 radar warning sensor
  • Northrop Grumman (Litton) AN / ALR-20A radar warning sensor
  • AN / ALR-46 (V) (digital radar warning sensor)
  • 8 × Northrop Grumman AN / ALQ-155 radio frequency jammers
  • 1 × Northrop Grumman AN / ALQ-153 stern radar warning sensor


In addition to the radar, the AN / ASQ-151 Electro-Optical Viewing System (EVS) was installed under the nose of the B-52G from 1972. This should enable the approach to targets in low flight in any weather. The EVS contains a residual light amplifier - television camera and a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR or anticipatory infrared image) system.

With the introduction of the easily exchangeable target lighting and navigation containers, the 35-year-old EVS system could be replaced with the litening container; this is now being replaced by the subsequently used Sniper ATP container.

Reception in art and culture

Since the B-52 Stratofortress is one of the most famous military aircraft, it also plays a role in numerous works of literature, art and film. One of the most famous works is Stanley Kubrick's satirical film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (German title: Dr. Seltsam or: How I learned to love the bomb ). One location of the film is the replica of the cockpit of a B-52, which cannot be ordered back due to its radio system destroyed by a Russian anti-aircraft missile attack and which ultimately drops a hydrogen bomb over the Soviet Union. In 1957 the film Bombers B-52 (German title: Bomber B-52 ) was released with Karl Malden in the lead role. Another film that features both the B-52 and SAC is The 1963 Commodore, starring Rock Hudson and Rod Taylor . The most elaborate German-language production is Hartmut Bitomsky's documentary B-52 from 2001, which was nominated for the Adolf Grimme Prize in 2004.

A hairstyle from the 1960s with pinned up hair, also known as the beehive hairstyle or beehive hairstyle , is named after the bulbous nose shape of the B-52, especially in the USA . The American pop band The B-52’s chose its name after the same hairstyle of its two female members. There's also a cocktail called the B-52 , although it's unclear whether its name derives from the bomber as it's one of several layered shorts in the B-50 range.

The American writer Dale Brown wrote several novels in which a special unit of the Air Force used, among other things, modified B-52 bombers in fictional conflicts. In his novels, the aircraft are equipped with guided missiles, lasers and state-of-the-art radar systems, among other things.


  • Marcelle Size Knaack: Encyclopedia of US Air Force Aircraft and Missile Systems. Vol. 2. Post-World War II Bombers 1945–1973. Washington, DC 1988, pp. 203-294, ISBN 0-912799-59-5 .
  • Lori S. Hawthorne-Tagg: Development of the B-52 - The Wright Field Story. Aeronautical Systems Center History Office, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio 2004.
  • Tony Thornborough, Peter E. Davies: Boeing B-52. Stratofortress. Crowood Press, Marlborough 1998, ISBN 1-86126-113-6 .

Web links

Commons : Boeing B-52  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Patrick Hoeveler: 2nd place: First Flight 1952 . In: Flug Revue online . Retrieved December 26, 2014.
  2. KS: USAF wants to replace B-1 and B-2 with B-21: Boeing B-52 is to fly by 2050. February 13, 2018, accessed March 12, 2020 .
  3. Picture of a B-52 in a crab walk . In: .
  4. US General Accounting Office (Ed.): Air Force Depot Maintenance: Information on the Cost-Effectiveness of B-1 and B-52 Support Options. Washington, DC, September 1997, pp. 30 ff.
  5. Jamie Hunter: A Force in Transition - Bomber Supplement . In: Combat Aircraft October 2019, p. 46 f.
  6. ^ John Pike: The Nuclear Information Project. In: . April 23, 2000. (English)
  7. John A. Tirpak: Washington Watch. In: Air Force Magazine. Air Force Association, Arlington Va. 2006,3, p. 14 f. ISSN  0730-6784 .
  8. Jane's Defense Weekly , June 18, 2008, 13.
  9. ( Page no longer available , search web archives: US Department of Defense, contract published June 16, 2006. )@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /
  10. ^ Joseph Raatz: Upgrade gives B-52 more teeth . In: . September 23, 2013, accessed March 6, 2016. (English)
  11. Online report. In: Flugrevue . August 6, 2009.
  12. ^ Phillip Swarts: Air Force prolongs the life of the venerable B-52 . In: . February 22, 2016, accessed March 6, 2016. (English)
  13. ^ Quadrennial Defense Review Report . In: . February 2006, p. 46. (PDF)
  14. ^ National Defense Authorization Act 2007, Title 1, Section 131.
  15. B-52 Stratofortress Service Life. In: .
  16. Jane's Information Group , Jane's Defense Weekly, Aug. 6, 2008, p. 31.
  17. James Drew: USAF stripping 30 B-52Hs of nuclear weapons capability. In: September 24, 2015, accessed on September 24, 2015 (English): "As US Air Force Global Strike Command anticipates the introduction of the nuclear-capable Long-Range Strike Bomber in the mid-2020s, the command is de-arming its air -launched cruise missile-carrying Boeing B-52 bombers to comply with New START treaty limits with Russia. "
  18. ^ Scott D. Sagan: The Limits of Safety. Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons. Princeton 1993, ISBN 0-691-03221-1 , pp. 63, 169.
  19. FAI Record # 8647
  20. B-52 Bomber Sets Speed ​​Record, 1962 . In: YouTube .
  21. FAI Record ID # 8517
  22. FAI Record ID # 8518
  23. American B-52 bomber crashed off Guam.
  24. B-52 crashes in Guam. CNN , May 19, 2016, accessed May 19, 2016 .
  25. B-52 Crashes at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Smoke Seen For Miles. , May 18, 2016, accessed May 18, 2016 .
  26. a b The atomic bomb almost exploded over America in 1961. In: . 21st September 2013.
  27. Schlosser's book Command and Control , ISBN 978-1-84614-148-5 , was published in September 2013 .
  28. ^ The Guardian : US nearly detonated atomic bomb over North Carolina - secret document. ; Eric Schlosser: The people who are most anti-nuclear are the ones who know most about it.
  29. cf. Reinhard Wolff: The missing atomic bomb. In: . November 11, 2008.
  30. Tagesschau: USA lost atomic bomb on Greenland ( Memento from December 2, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  31. - USA lost atomic bomb in Greenland.
  32. 'Deutschlandfunk: Ticking bomb or journalistic boomerang? BBC in need of explanation.
  33. ^ The Marshal's Baton - There is no bomb, there was no bomb, they were not looking for a bomb - DIIS Report on the 1968 crash of a B-52 bomber near Thule Air Base in Greenland.
  34. Josh White: In error, B-52 flew over US with nuclear-armed missiles. In: Washington Post . September 6, 2007. (English)
  35. ^ Robert F. Dorr: Stratofortress ... The Big One from Boeing. In: AIR Enthusiast Forty-one, Midsummer 1990, p. 35.
  36. US General Accounting Office / National Security and International Affairs Division (ed.): Operation Desert Storm. Limits on the Role and Performance of B-52 Bombers in Conventional Conflicts. Washington, DC 1993, p. 4 ff.
  37. Marc W. Herold et al. a .: ( Page no longer available , search in web archives: A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan. ) 2002 (January 30, 2006)@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  38. Thomas Wiegold: USA relocates B-52 bombers for the fight against ISIS. In: eyes straight ahead! April 9, 2016, Retrieved April 9, 2016 .
  39. Fight against IS: USA relocates B-52 bombers to Qatar. In: Spiegel Online. April 9, 2016, Retrieved April 9, 2016 .
  40. ^ Amy F. Woolf: US Nuclear Weapons - Changes in Policy and Force Structure. Congressional Research Service. Washington, DC, January 27, 2006, pp. 21 ff.
  41. ↑ Degree of operational readiness, defined as the proportion of time in which an aircraft type can fulfill at least one of its operational purposes
  42. Statistical Digest of the USAF 1953, p. 185; 1954, p. 70; 1955, p. 80; 1956, p. 91; 1957, p. 97; 1958, p. 72; 1959, p. 68; 1960, p. 62; 1961, p. 70; 1962, p. 72
  43. Statistical Digest of the USAF 1961, p. 79 f.
  44. ^ A b Thomas B. Cochran: Nuclear Weapons Databook. Chapter 3: US Nuclear Stockpile . Volume 1, 1984. pp. 42-44.
  45. a b c d e Thomas B. Cochran: Nuclear Weapons Databook. Chapter 5: Strategic Forces . Volume 1, 1984. pp. 148-151.
  46. ^ A b c Thomas B. Cochran: Nuclear Weapons Databook. Chapter 3: US Nuclear Stockpile . Volume 1, 1984. pp. 49-50.
  47. Brown's novels with synopsis .
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on April 28, 2006 in this version .