Category Archives: Bombers

Aircrafts of the USAF

The US Air Force is known across the world for its superior air power dominance.  What is it that sets the USAF apart from other Air Forces? It comes down to  technology, practice (war games) and skill.

The USAF’s air fleet consists of custom-made airframes that enable them to carry out and complete different missions effectively. Of course the aircrafts need a pilot to navigate, operate and maneuver them in order to ensure successful completion of each operation assigned to them.  

Here’s a list of some of the mean machines that make up a part of the total USAF fleet.

B-52 Stratofortress

The Stratofortress is a long-range bomber aircraft.  It has been in use since the 1950s and was one of the primary vehicles used during the war in Vietnam. The B52s have since been outfitted with the latest technical military advances so that it can continue Its mission in executing the extensive range of tasks it has always been capable of taking on. In times of conflicts, the B-52 serves the USAF for strategic attacks, close air support, maritime and counter-air missions, and surveillance and its ability to fly up to 80,000 feet makes it invulnerable to many of today’s ground to air missiles.

B-2 Spirit

The next generation of bomber. The stealth bomber B-2 Spirit has the ability to carry both nuclear and conventional armaments on board.

B-1B Lancer

The bomber B-1B Lancer currently forms the backbone of the USAF’s combat fleet. It is capable of carrying out multiple missions with large quantities of weaponry that includes both non-precision and precision weapons. The aircraft boasts the largest payload capacity in the USAF fleet.

F-15

The highly maneuverable F-15 fighter is designed for greater air dominance in air-to-air combat. The upgraded F-15E variation comes with the additional capability of executing air-to-ground combat missions with exceptional precision.

F-16 Fighting Falcon

Most of you might be familiar with this one already. The multi-purpose F-16 aircrafts are used by the USAF for both air-to-ground and air-to-air combat. These solid machines are compact and offer greater maneuverability for missions.

F-22 Raptor

This  is the only combat ready fighter jet belonging to the fifth-generation. It is the most recently employed aircraft in the USAF. The fighter offers stealth combined with advanced avionics, exceptional maneuverability, and supercruise mode for unmatched aerial supremacy.

HH-60G Pave Hawk

The HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter is used for operations involving personnel recovery from hostile territories. It is also used for humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and search and rescue ops.

HC-130

The HC-130 aircraft and its variants are serving the USAF as personnel recovery platforms. They are primarily used for evacuations and disaster response. This particular aircraft can operate and land on a diverse assortment of airfields.

MC-130

This aircraft provides mid-air support, refueling, resupply, exfiltration, and infiltration for the special-operations forces. The aircraft is also used for carrying out secondary psychological missions, like air dropping leaflets to influence emotions and behaviors of particular groups of individuals.

T-6A Texan II

This aircraft is the basic trainer aircraft serving the USAF. The T-6A Texan II is used to provide primary flying skills, knowledge, and training to the US Navy and Air Force pilots.

T-38 Talon

The T-38 Talon too, is a USAF training jet. Its basic purpose is to train pilots for high-altitude supersonic flying missions. These missions are usually carried out by the A-10, B-1B, F-15E, and F-22 aircrafts.

U-2S/TU-2S

This beauty is used for high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance. The aircraft is capable of operating in all sorts of environmental and weather conditions. The U-2S/TU-2S plane is designed to capture HD photographic imagery and monitor for signals intelligence.

We bet you’re far more learned about the USAF than you were before you read this post. Currently the USAF uses 39 distinct aircrafts for its operations. Each aircraft and its variations serve a specific purpose. Without these aircrafts it’s safe to say that the USAF is incomplete.

B-36 Peacemaker

This huge piston driven airplane, dubbed “Peacemaker” has broken more records than any other aircraft. Not so much in its performance, but in its physical characteristics.

The Convair B-36 was a Cold War strategic bomber built by Convair and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1949 to 1959.

B-36 Bomber
B-36 Peacemaker Bomber

The B-36 used a piston engine, also called reciprocating engine, which is identical to the characteristics of a car engine and was the largest of its type to ever be constructed. The B-36’s wingspan was 230 feet, which was the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft.

This aircraft was the first bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons and was incorporated in SAC. It had a range of 10,000 miles and was able to carry a maximum payload of 72,000 lbs.

It was also the world’s first manned bomber with an unrefueled intercontinental range.

The B-36 aircraft was decommissioned in 1959, however, the Peacemaker was the inspiration for long range and payload standards that set the stage for the newer fleet of intercontinental bombers, such as the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, which used jet powered engines.

View the B-36 up close

B-17 Flying Fortress

The B-17 was a four engine heavy bomber designed by Boeing who won the Army Air Corps contract over Douglas and Martin. Heavy bombers are designated as those that carry the heaviest loads of armaments and deliver them to enemy targets abroad with the maximum amount of air-to-ground explosives.

B-17 Flying Fortress
Boeing B-17E. (U.S. Air Force photo) Public Domain, Creative Commons

Initially developed in the 1930s, The B-17 is known for its heavy nighttime bombing of German industrial complexes during World War II. Besides bombs, the plane carried .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns for defense.

Although attacking German industries was their direct mission, the overall strategic plan was in preparation for the Normandy invasion in 1944.  In addition, the aircraft frequently complimented the British Air Force in German bombing raids throughout the war. One of the most daring and successful set of bombing raids was against the German oil fields. In one incursion alone, over 27,000 tons of explosives were dropped on these oil fields, knocking out a large percentage of the German army’s fuel reserves; thereby, leaving the German war machinery virtually grounded. This was also part of the strategic planning for the D-Day invasion. But these raids were not without heavy losses for the allies. Over 900 B-17s and over 10,000 American airmen were lost during these runs over Germany’s oil fields.

In the big picture however, the B-17 leads all other bombers in dropping the most amount of bombs to this day.

The aircraft became notable as an icon for famous warplanes, being able to succeed in its mission by putting up a formidable defense and returning to base even after sustaining heavy damage.

During these year and due to its success, there were a variety of these planes built. Specifically, over 11 variants of this plane were constructed.

B-17G Variant
B-17G Variant. Public Domain, Creative Commons

The specifications for the B-17 are as follows:

·         Crew: 10: Pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier/nose gunner, flight engineer/top
turret gunner, radio operator, 2 waist gunners, ball turret gunner, tail gunner
·         Length: 74 ft 4 in
·         Wingspan: 103 ft 9 in
·         Height: 19 ft 1 in
·         Wing area: 1,420 sq
·         Weight: 36,135

This formidable aircraft’s role during World War II
is depicted well in this video.

B-29 Superfortress

From the lessons learned of the potent B-17 came the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and it is no coincidence that it got its name from its predecessor, the Flying Fortress. The B-29 was a four engine propeller-driven, first fully pressurized heavy bomber that saw combat near the end of World War II and during the Korean War.

B-29 Superfortress
Boeing-Whichata B-29 Assembly Line – 1944″ by United States Army Air Forces – United States Air Force Historical Research Agency – Maxwell AFB, Alabama from “History and Units of the United States Air Force”, G H J Sharrings, European Aviation Historical Society, 2004. Photo credit given as from USAFHRA.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boeing-Whichata_B-29_Assembly_Line_-_1944.jpg#/media/File:Boeing-Whichata_B-29_Assembly_Line_-_1944.jpg

It surpassed the B-17 in a number of ways, which included a pressurized cabin, an electronic fire-control system and remote controlled machine gun turrets. Specifically, the aircraft carried eight .50-cal. machine guns, two .50-cal. machine guns and one 20mm cannon in a tail turret, and up to 20,000 pounds of bombs. The machine guns were imperative, as they were the only defense against enemy fighters (howerver, many times, the bombers were escorted by allied fighter aircraft as well). Larger than the Flying Fortress, the Superfortress was one of the largest aircrafts to have seen service during World War II.

Designed in 1940, the B-29 made its maiden flight on Sept. 21, 1942. The bomber saw much activity in the Asian theater in 1944 and 1945, where it made many bombing runs over Japan and its islands – Saipan, Guam and Tinian, after lifting off from (what was then) US Army Air Force bases in China.

The Superfortress was the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945 and on Aug. 6th on Hiroshima. The explosive force was equivalent to about It 15 kilotons of TNT. ‘Little Boy’ was the code name for the type of atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress named ‘Enola Gay’, piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., commander of the 509th Composite Group of the United States Army Air Forces. These planes were assigned to the 393d Bombardment Squadron, 509th Composite Group at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah.

The decision to drop the atomic bombs was made after allied forces agreed that the alternative – to land and overtake the Japanese islands could have run into casulaties of over 200,000. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also well know for thier industrial military complexes.

After World War II, the B-29s continued their successful missions in the Korean War thearter of operations.

B-29 Superfortress Specifications

Armament: Eight .50-cal. machine guns in remote controlled turrets, plus two .50-cal. machine guns and one 20mm cannon in the tail; 20,000 lbs. of bombs. It carries four Wright R-3350s engines at 2,200 hp each.

B-29 Engine
B-29 Wright R-3350 Engine

Additional Specs
Maximum speed: 357 mph
Cruising speed: 220 mph
Range: 3,700 miles
Span: 141 ft. 3 in.
Length: 99 ft.
Height: 27 ft. 9 in.
Weight: 133,500 lbs.

Boeing B-47 Bomber

The Boeing B-47 Stratojet was a subsonic long range, six-engine, jet-powered strategic bomber. It was developed as per specs for a jet bomber by the US Air force in 1945. Its initial design was based on a scaled down version of the piston-engined B-29 Superfortress, but this model was equipped with four jet engines. In addition to the incorporation of jet engines for the new bomber, this plane was the was the first  to incorporate the swept wing design concept.

Previous to its predecessors, the wings were perpendicular to the body of the aircraft. Swept wing brought the wings back at a specific angle which helped decrease aerodynamic drag. Typical angles ranged from 0 for a straight-wing aircraft, to 45 degrees or more for fighters and other high-speed planes. The B-47 flew at high altitude, which helped to avoid interception by air to ground missiles and fighter aircraft. It carried between 20,000 – 25,000 lbs. of bombs, as well as 2 – .20mm cannons in the remote tail turret.

Boeing B-47 Bomber
Boeing B-47E-65-BW (S/N 51-5257, the last Boeing-built block 65 -E model) during rocket-assisted take off test, with a Lockheed F-80 as a chase plane.

The swept wing design was the result of the accelerated research and development of military aircraft during World War II and helped provide the next generation of bombers. Additional changes was to have the B-47’s engines carried in nacelles (a housing unit that holds engines, separate from the fuselage) placed under the swept wing area. This new design contributed to modern jet aircraft of today.

The B-47 entered service in 1951, but never fought in battle. Never the less, as a bomber, its primary mission was to bomb the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, which was the defensive strategy of the Strategic Air Command. Subsequently, the B-47 had played a significant role in nuclear deterrence,. This was part of SAC’s bomber initiative between the Cold War years of the 1950s and 1960s.

The aircraft carried a crew of three, the Pilot, Copilot and Navigator and had additional missions, such as photographic reconnaissance, electronic intelligence and weather reconnaissance.

Although the B-47 was successful as an intimidating deterrent against potential Soviet aggression, it did have physical limitations, such as the amount of munitions it could carry and consequently, the development for a newer, more powerful jet bomber mineralized in the 1950s.

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.

The B-2 Spirit

Built by Northrop Grumman, the B-2 Spirit is an all altitude attack stealth bomber, capable of flying missions from 50,000 feet, with a range of more than 6,000 miles. Using technology from the earlier and most successful SR-71 super sonic reconnaissance “Black Bird of the Skies”, the B-2 emerged. Developed in top secrecy in the 1980s, stealth technology took aircraft design to a new level of sophistication.  The top secret B-2 was made public on November 22, 1988, when it was rolled out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, Calif.

Watch as this bird of beauty takes over the skies at the McChord Air Show

In partner with its sister, the B-17 Nighthawk stealth fighter, these two sophisticated flying machines were partially responsible for the downfall of Communism. When development of these top secret projects were revealed to the public, it raised fear in the Soviet Union, as Mikhail Gorbachev felt there was no way for the Soviet military to be able to catch up to this type of technology. This, in conjunction with the failing Soviet economy, Gorbachev was preparing for a democratic republic; hence, in 1961, under then President Ronald Regan, the Berlin Wall fell and along with it Soviet Communism.

Though the B-2 was originally designed primarily as a nuclear bomber, but it was first used in combat, dropping conventional bombs during the Kosovo War and later in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is designated as ‘stealth’ due to its black covering, its dynamic shape and technology to reduce radar signatures, or more precisely, the Radar cross-section (RCS). RCS represents the measure of how detectable radar equipment can sense an object. The aircraft is designed to penetrate anti-aircraft defenses and is able to deploy both conventional and thermonuclear weapons.

The B-2 maintains a crew of two people and can drop up to eighty 500 lb class JDAM Global Positioning System guided bombs or sixteen 2,400 lb  B83 nuclear bombs. The B-2 is the only aircraft that can carry such large loads under the stealth designation.
There is talk of new stealth aircraft on the way. It only remains to be seen what new stealth technology is coming our way!