B-52 Stratofortress

One of the most formidable bombers ever built is the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Originally developed in the 1940s, it is in its fifth decade of service and has been classified as the country’s first long-range, swept-wing heavy bomber.

B-52H Bomber             B-52H of the 2d Bomb Wing with weapons at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana

Upon presentation to the army in 1946, there was dissatisfaction with the overall design of what was then a proposal for a propeller driven aircraft. The Boeing staff returned to their hotel and redrew the design for it to become a jet bomber. After the next presentation, the army approved the design.

At the start of the Korean War, production began for 13 B-52s. Production continued throughout the decades, advancing from the B-52A to the much higher tech model B-52H. A total of 744 B-52s were produced between 1952 and 1962.

The B-52s were used extensively under authority of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) during the Cold War. They flew 24 hours per day, with refuling in mid-air and were used in a ‘defensive’ posture to make clear to the Soviets that the United States can immediately respond to any aggressive movements that the Russians would take.

Boeing B-52
Boeing B-52

This approach helped coin the phrase ‘The best defense is a good offense’, and the tatic was used most successfully to deter an attack from the Soviet Union. Many attribute the B-52 bombers to be one of the contributing factors towards keeping the United States and the Soviet Union from going into an all out war.

The Viewnam war saw significant escalations of B-52 bombings, almost on a daily basis. Earelier in the war, there were miscalculations and tragic accidents, resulting in two B-52s coliding and eight airman who persihed. One of the most intense bombing raids was near the end of the war, where major targeted facilities in Hanoi and Haiphon were continously bombed. It was labeled Linebacker II and was the largest heavy bomber strikes launched by the US Air Force since the end of World War II.

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, B-52s flew about 1,620 sorties and was credited for the reason why Iraqi troops were continously giving up without a fight.

Aerial top/side view of gray B-52 overflying barren land
B-52 lower deck by user: Desertsky85450 – source. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the aircraft has since been modified to carry more sophisticated weapons, such as guided Cruise and Harpoon missiles, as well as internal modifications and the need for it to adapt to the ever changing dynamics of the political and military theater, but the general specifications remain:

The bomber weighs about 390,000 lbs., with four powerful jet engine on each side and is capable of carrying the following armaments:

General Purpose Bombs 
Non guided bombs dropped from aircraft. Classified by their weight, called nominal weight or caliber.
MK82: Low-drag general-purpose bomb (500 lb.)
MK84 – Largest of the MK80 series (2000 lb.)
MK117 – General Purpose Bomb (750 lb.)
BDU-48 – Labeled the ‘dumb bomb’, it is a ten pound ordinance that simulates 500 and 1000 pound bombs, but does nothing more than releases a cloud of smoke upon impact.

CBU (Cluster Bomb Unit)
Cluster bombs are designed to send smaller bomblets across a designated area upon impact.
CBU-87 – 40 Noted as Combined Effects Munition, it can be outfitted to become a precision guided bomb.
CBU-89 – 42 Called the GATOR mine system, it is a system of  anti-tank and anti-personnel bombs designed in conjunction with   cluster dispensers

Laser Guided Bombs
GBU-10 (Guided Bomb Unit-10) A 2,000 pound general purpose laser guided bomb or penetrating warhead
GBU-12 Same as the GBU-10, but with the addition of a nose-mounted laser seeker
GBU-28  laser-guided “bunker busting” bomb, AKA “Deep Throat”-

JDAM Joint Direct Attack Munition –  JSOW

Missiles
Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles (CALCM)
Harpoon (Anti-Ship Missile)
AGM-142 (Television guided missile) 

Mines
MK56 
MK62 
MK63 
MK65 

NUCLEAR
Advanced Cruise Missiles (ACM)
Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM)

Learn some interesting trivia facts about the B-52.

The successor to the B-52 is the supersonic stealth B-2 bomber. Capable of penetrating enemy terrority without detection.

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