v1.0.1 / 1 of 2 / 01 jul 03 / greg goebel / public domain
* The United States Air Force (USAF) was hesitant to adopt the B-52, with the preliminary design program taking a roller-coaster ride and the project nearly abandoned several times. However, Boeing persisted with the machine, and the Air Force finally decided it was the weapon they wanted.
After that uncertain start the USAF ended up buying over twice as many B-52s as originally planned, in one of the most expensive military procurement programs in US history. The big bombers went on to the flight lines of USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases to become the backbone of America's nuclear deterrent against the Red Menace in the early 1960s.
* Even before the end of World War II, the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) were looking forward to a next-generation strategic bomber to follow the huge Convair B-36, then in development. In late 1945, the USAAF began evaluating their requirements for such a new bomber, and on 13 February 1946 issued a formal specification for it, specifying greater speed than the B-36 and an operational radius of 8,050 kilometers (5,000 miles).
This was a mighty tall order. The Boeing company responded with a design with the company designation of "Model 462", which looked something like a scaled-up B-29 Superfortress with six Wright "T35" Typhoon turboprop engines, providing 4,100 kw (5,500 HP) each. The USAAF liked the idea, and on 5 June 1946 awarded Boeing a study contract for the machine, which was presently given the military designation "XB-52". The contract specified a full-scale mockup but not a functioning prototype.
The first flight prototype of the "XT35" engine was fitted to the nose of a Boeing B-17 Fortress bomber and began flight tests in September 1947, but as far as the Model 462 was concerned it was irrelevant. The USAAF had decided the bomber design couldn't meet the range specifications and cancelled the contract in October 1946.
* The design team for the project, led by Boeing Chief Engineer Ed Wells, had gone back to the drawing board and produced a set of "Model 464" concepts, which were at first basically scaled-down Model 462s with four turboprops, instead of six. The "464-16" was designed to carry a large bombload over a relatively short range, while the "464-17" was designed to carry a small bombload over a long range. The Air Force (as the USAAF became in 1947) was interested in the 464-17 concept but concluded that it still wasn't what they wanted, as it didn't amount to much of an improvement over the B-36.
Some Air Force brass wanted to kill the effort completely at this point, but the designers were allowed to explore improved concepts. By August 1947, they had gone through several more iterations, finally stabilizing for a while on the "Model 464-29", with a 20-degree swept wing, mounting four Pratt & Whitney (P&W) XT57 turboprops; landing gear consisting of four two-wheel assemblies in a row along the centerline; and defensive armament consisting solely of a tail turret.
The Model 464-29 didn't really answer the requirement, either. The Air Force was beginning to want better performance, and was also very interested in Northrop's flying wing bombers, which appeared to be the way of the future at the time. The XB-52 project edged back towards cancellation.
Boeing's engineers kept up the momentum as best they could in this uncertain time, coming up with yet another concept, the "Model 464-35". The Air Force's adoption of inflight refueling meant that the 464-35 didn't have to be as big as earlier design concepts. It also had more aggressively swept wings, but it retained the four big turboprop engines, though fitted with contrarotating propellers.
* In the meantime, events put the XB-52 project on firmer ground. In June 1948, Stalin imposed a blockade on Berlin, bringing the Cold War on in earnest. The Air Force immediately brought the B-52 project back to the front burner, awarding a contract for a mock-up and two flying prototypes, with the first prototype to be ready by early 1951. Government funding began to ramp up.
A Boeing design team, including George Schairer, Vaughn Blumenthal, and Art Carlsen, went to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and presented the 464-35 design to the Air Force representative, Colonel Pete Warden, on Thursday, 21 October 1948. Warden replied that the USAF was no longer interested in turboprop propulsion as it couldn't provide adequate performance or reliability. The Air Force wanted a jet-powered aircraft.
This must have come as a surprise to the Boeing team, since the company had proposed turbojet-powered versions of the bomber in the previous few months and been told bluntly to forget it by other senior Air Force officials. However, Warden had become a believer in and an advocate for turbojet propulsion, and had been encouraging Pratt & Whitney to develop an advanced turbojet engine, the "JT3", which would become famous as the "J57". Warden felt that the JT3 engine would be the powerplant of choice for the new bomber.
The Boeing group quickly threw off any confusion caused by this about-face. After some brainstorming at the hotel, they called Warden on Friday morning and told him they would have a new proposal fitting his requirements by Monday morning.
The design team had brought along a proposal for a medium bomber that would use four Westinghouse J-40 turbojets and seemed like a good starting point for updating the 464-35 design. The team was joined by Ed Wells, H.W. Withington, and Maynard Pennell. The group of engineers worked from their hotel room in Dayton to scale up the medium bomber proposal to twice size, with eight JT3 engines mounted in pairs on pylons, fitted under a 35 degree swept wing. The 35-page proposal for the "464-49" was ready for Colonel Warden by Monday morning, along with a balsa-wood model Wells had built from materials obtained from a Dayton hobby shop.
The Air Force was very interested in this proposal, and the design team continued to tweak it to come up with a definitive design concept, the "464-67", in November 1949. The company began construction of the two prototypes on that basis but the USAF continued to waffle, considering alternatives for their strategic bomber requirement, such as enhancing the Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber, then in advanced development, into an improved version designated the "B-47Z"; and a jet-powered, swept-wing version of the B-36, the "Convair YB-60".
Fortunately for Boeing, General Curtis LeMay, as of October 1948 commander of the Air Force's "Strategic Air Command (SAC)", remained enthusiastic about the XB-52. It still took over a year to get a commitment to the Boeing machine, with Boeing finally awarded a contract for 13 "B-52As" on 14 February 1951. The program now shifted into high gear.
Even after this milestone, ambiguities lingered on. USAF Headquarters decided that the service didn't have a need for a long-range bomber like the B-52 and wanted them all built as reconnaissance aircraft. SAC, in contrast, wanted to build the machine to operate both as a bomber and as a reconnaissance aircraft, with a reconnaissance pod plugged into the bombbay for such missions. In October 1951, USAF HQ handed down an order that the new machines would be built as "RB-52" reconnaissance machines. In practice, the aircraft would still use the removeable reconnaissance pod, meaning that on paper SAC had lost. In practice, LeMay had got his way.
* Development of the two prototypes had gone forward in the meantime. The first prototype was given the designation "XB-52" and the second the designation "YB-52". The second prototype was given a "Y" code, which would normally indicate an evaluation machine, rather than an "X" code as was appropriate to its experimental status, because the Air Force had scrounged funding for it from their Logistics Command, which was not formally allowed to fund experimental aircraft.
The XB-52 was rolled out on 29 November 1951. The rollout was done late at night and with the aircraft bundled under tarps to help maintain secrecy. Unfortunately the XB-52 suffered a catastrophic failure of its pneumatic system during ground testing that caused extensive damage to the trailing edge of the wing that sent it back inside the factory for lengthy repairs before it could perform a flight.
The YB-52 was rolled out on 15 March 1952 and actually performed the first flight, on 15 April 1952, with Boeing test pilot A.M. "Tex" Johnson and Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend at the controls. The flight lasted a little under three hours, with takeoff from Boeing Field in Seattle and landing at Moses Lake, in central Washington.
The flight went well, with a few minor technical problems as would be expected for such a big and complicated machine. Johnson complained that control forces were too high, making the machine tiring to fly, but they had been set high deliberately for whatever reasons and so that was easy to fix. Other than that, Johnson reported that the YB-52 was "a hell of a good airplane."
The flight trials went better than expected at first, the machine demonstrating no fundamental design flaws that would have dictated time-consuming major rework. Most of the test flights were initially from Boeing Field. Some factions in the Air Force wanted the tests to be conducted from Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California, since that was where the main USAF flight test center was based, and there was concern that notoriously damp Seattle weather would slow down testing.
Boeing protested that it would be easier to make fixes if the flight tests were conducted from the factory airfield, and that Seattle weather wasn't as bad as people made it out to be. In any case, the expense of moving the trials to Edwards kept it from happening, but in fact the weather did start to bog down the flight test schedule. As a result, the test flights were shifted to Moses Lake, over the mountains and in the sagebrush where rainy weather was generally not a problem, and then to Fairchild AFB farther east in the state.
The XB-52 joined the test program with its initial flight on 2 October 1952. By this time, the schedule had slipped a few months and the "new" machine was welcome. Some difficulties had cropped up and the Air Force wanted them resolved so the bomber could be put into service. Problems included unfriendly flight characteristics when the machine was nearing a stall; inadequate brakes; and, in particular, poor reliability of the new J57 engines.
The XB-52 and YB-52 remained in use as test aircraft through the 1950s. The XB-52 was later modified with J75 engines replacing the outboard pods of two J57s, making it a six-engined aircraft. Although the YB-52 was donated on paper to the USAF Museum in Dayton, both aircraft ended up being scrapped during Lyndon Johnson's presidential administration, sometime in the mid-1960s.
* The XB-52 set the basic pattern for all that followed, though there would be many detail variations in later machines. It incorporated many concepts from the earlier Boeing B-47 bomber, but it was in no way a simple scale-up of the B-47 design.
The XB-52 was a big, boxy machine with a high-mounted wing swept back 35 degrees and a conventional tail arrangement. It was powered by eight P&W YJ57-3 engines with 38.7 kN (3,950 kgp / 8,700 lbf) thrust each. The J57s were fitted in four pods, two engines to a pod, suspended on pylons below and forward of the wing. The inboard pods were 10.4 meters (34 feet 2 inches) from the centerline and the outboard pods were 18.29 meters (60 feet) from the centerline. Interestingly, in practice a pod suffering an uncontrollable fire would generally fall off the wing, sparing the rest of the aircraft, a "feature" Boeing engineers would later describe as an "unexpected benefit".
The wings were thick, with a chord (ratio of cross-sectional height to width) of 15% at the root, tapering to 8% in the outer wing. They could flex from 3 meters (10 feet) down to 6.7 meters (22 feet) up. The heavy engines helped dampen wing flutter. There were two oversized "Fowler-type" flaps -- extending well behind the trailing edge of each wing -- with an aileron between the two flaps, plus a row of spoilers on top of the wing.
Sources are peculiarly inconsistent on the number of spoilers. Some sources claim that all variants ahd seven above each, but others claim that the XB-52 had three above each wing, while the YB-52 had six, this number being retained in all following B-52 versions except the last two, which had the magic seven. Whatever their number, the spoilers could be used asymmetrically to help the ailerons with roll control, or symmetrically to act as airbrakes, eliminating the need for a secondary "deceleration parachute" as used on the B-47. However, the aircraft still required a main drag parachute, 13.4 meters (44 feet) in diameter, stowed under the tail.
Most of the flight surfaces used manual control. The oversized vertical tailplane was hinged so it could be folded down to allow the aircraft to fit into a hangar. The horizontal tailplane was of "all moving" configuration, with no elevators on the rear and the entire tailplane adjusted for pitch control.
The wings and the fuselage were loaded up with flexible fuel bladders, providing a total capacity of 147,120 liters (38,820 US gallons). The bladders were used, instead of integral fuel tanks, to prevent leaks that would have been caused by the flexing of the airframe in flight. When fully fueled, the wingtips drooped 2.74 meters (nine feet) while sitting on the runway. They normally curved upward in flight. Fuel trim would be maintained manually by the copilot, following a set of regulations. No service B-52 would ever have an automatic fuel-trim system.
The landing gear scheme was unusual and elaborate, and in fact was kept secret during development. The main landing gear was organized in four big twin-wheel trucks mounted in the fuselage. The trucks were arranged in pairs, fore and aft of the bombbay. Each truck in each pair opened under opposite sides of the fuselage, with the truck on the left retracting forward and that on the right retracting backward. The trucks rotated 90 degrees to lie flat in the fuselage when retracted. Each truck could be extended or retracted independently.
The trucks could be steered up to 20 degrees in either direction from the centerline, allowing the bomber to takeoff or land at an angle in a crosswind. The steerable landing gear also helped during landings if an outboard engine failed. Some sources claim, plausibly, that the forward trucks could be turned 55 degrees off the centerline for taxiing. A small, stalky outrigger landing gear was fitted in the outboard section of each wing to prevent the wingtips from dragging the ground. Each outrigger retracted sideways into the wing, towards the fuselage. The outriggers would in principle permit a safe landing if only one truck in each pair could be extended. If the wing tanks had been drained, the outrigger wheels would usually not touch the ground on a landing.
As with the B-47, the landing gear arrangement prevented the bomber from performing a nose-up rotation during takeoff. To deal with this issue, the B-47 had been designed to sit on the runway with a nose-up attitude. In contrast, the B-52's fuselage was kept level, while the wing was canted up six degrees instead. This meant that the machine could be climbing rapidly when the nose was still pointed down, an experience that probably felt something like riding in an elevator.
System power was provided by a set of air turbines, protected by flak curtains, driven by engine bleed. They provided power to electric generators, hydraulic pumps, the cabin pressurization and climate conditioning system, and other systems. Engine bleed was also used for de-icing the engine inlets, but the windscreen and other elements were de-iced with an electrical heating system.
The XB-52 and YB-52 used a twelve-pane "all round vision" fighter-style canopy with pilot and copilot sitting in tandem. The canopy could be blown off to allow them to eject upward. Details of what other crew the two initial prototypes carried, in the space below the pilot and copilot, is unclear and was probably variable, depending on the flight-test phase.
The bombbay was 8.5 meters long by 1.8 meters wide (28 by 6 feet), and had three sets of doors along its length. The doors could be folded up to improve access by armorers. A tail turret was planned as defensive armament, but the two prototypes were not armed and did not have full operational avionics. In service, B-52s would also be fitted with a belly camera for post-strike reconnaissance, but it is unclear when this feature was implemented and if it was implemented in all variants.
* The two initial prototypes were followed by three B-52A evaluation aircraft, the initial order for 13 having been changed, with the other 10 to be operational "B-52Bs". The first B-52A was rolled out from the Boeing Seattle plant on 18 March 1954 and made its initial flight on 5 August 1954. The other two were also rolled out from Boeing-Seattle in 1954.
The B-52As featured a new side-by-side cockpit scheme, eliminating the fighter-style canopy, and a tail turret fitted with four 12.7 millimeter (0.50 caliber) Browning M3 machine guns with 600 rounds per gun. However, the B-52As were still not fitted with full operational avionics kit.
The new cockpit had been planned since before the flight of the two prototypes. It had been adopted after General Curtis LeMay, commander of the Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC), inspected a mockup of the XB-52 and expressed strong dislike of the tandem seating arrangement. A side-by-side seating arrangement, he argued, would provide greater space for instrument indicators, and permit improved cooperation between the pilot and copilot.
The pilot, copilot, and electronic warfare officer (EWO or "e-dub") sat in the upper flight deck, with upward-firing ejection seats, while the navigator and "radar navigator" (bombardier, more or less) sat in the lower flight deck, sometimes called the "black hole" or "hell hole", on downward-firing ejection seats. Access to the cockpit was through a door on the bottom. Despite the size of the aircraft, the crew accommodations were hardly roomy. The cockpit was pressurized, with the consequence that the forward section of every B-52 built quickly acquired a "wrinkled" appearance due to pressurization and depressurization. It gave the aircraft a somewhat weary appearance even when it was fairly new.
The tail gunner sat in the turret and could direct the guns with an "A-3A" fire control system (FCS). He could go forward through a non-pressurized crawlway over the bombbay to join the rest of the crew if necessary. The turret could be blown off the tail of the aircraft in an emergency to allow the gunner to escape.
The B-52A was powered by P&W J57-9W engines, with 44.5 kN (4,535 kgp / 10,000 lbf) "dry" thrust each, or 49.0 kN (4,990 kgp / 11,000 lbf) "wet" thrust with water injection. Water injection added mass flow to boost thrust on takeoff, and had not been available in the evaluation J57s used in the two prototypes. It provided a substantial kick, though the engines were thunderously noisy when it was engaged and poured out thick ugly black smoke. The water, which was mixed with methanol as anti-freeze, was stored in a tank near the aircraft's tail.
An auxiliary fuel tank with a capacity of 3,787 liters (1,000 US gallons) was attached near each wingtip. Unlike the two prototypes, the B-52As were fitted with a boom receptacle behind the cockpit for inflight refueling. The refueling receptacle was retained in all following models of the B-52.
The three B-52As remained in service for a long time as test and special purpose aircraft, with some of their roles mentioned later. One of them was scrapped in 1961, while at least one of the remaining two still survives as a static display.
* The "B-52B" was very similar to the B-52A but had (more or less) operational systems. 50 were built, all by the Boeing Seattle plant. 27 of these were "RB-52s", mentioned earlier, with provision for the installation of a pressurized reconnaissance capsule in the bombbay. Ironically, by this time, the Air Force had finally made up their minds that the B-52 was first and foremost a strategic bomber, and that the reconnaissance role was strictly secondary.
The reason for the "more or less" qualifier above was because Boeing and the Air Force had serious troubles obtaining workable operational systems. The B-52 was supposed to use the "MA-2" bombing-navigation system (BNS), but the MA-2 ran into troubles, and so early production B-52Bs were fitted with the "K-3A" BNS, used on the Convair B-36. However, the B-52 flew at a substantially higher altitude than the B-36 and the K-3A simply didn't have the range to work properly. The K-3A's manufacturer, Philco, implemented some temporary fixes to boost the power output of the targeting radar, but later B-52B production featured a better solution in the form of the "MA-6A" BNS, an improved version of the K-3A.
The other major systems problem with the B-52B was the tail turret and its FCS. Nine of the first ten RB-52Bs were fitted with the "quad-fifty" tail turret and A-3A FCS of the B-52A, but this was not a satisfactory solution, As a result, 18 RB-52Bs and 16 B-52Bs were fitted with an entirely different tail turret, fitted with twin M24A-1 20-millimeter cannon and an "MD-5" FCS. This didn't work out much better, so the last 7 B-52Bs reverted to the quad-fifty turret, with a supposedly "improved" version of the A-3A.
Most of the B-52Bs were fitted with J57-P-29W or similar J57-P-29WA engines,
but the last five were fitted with J57-P-19W engines. All these J57s had the
same thrust rating, with 46.7 kN (4,760 kgp / 10,500 lbf) "dry" thrust and
53.9 kN (5,490 kgp / 12,100 lbf) "wet" thrust, but the J57-P-19W had
compressor blades made of titanium, not steel, making it somewhat lighter.
BOEING B-52B STRATOFORTRESS:
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spec metric english
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wingspan 56.39 meters 185 feet
wing area 371.6 sq_meters 4,000 sq_feet
length 47.74 meters 156 feet 7 inches
height 14.73 meters 48 feet 4 inches
empty weight 74,412 kilograms 164,080 pounds
combat weight 123,356 kilograms 272,000 pounds
MTO weight 190,476 kilograms 420,000 pounds
max speed at altitude 1,010 KPH 628 MPH / 546 KT
service ceiling 14,420 meters 47,300 feet
takeoff length 2,500 meters 8,200 feet
operational radius 5,758 kilometers 3,576 MI / 3,110 NMI
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
performance figures given with combat load
* An RB-52B was the first B-52 to go into formal operational service at Castle AFB, California, on 29 June 1955. Despite its complexity and size, the B-52 proved generally reliable in service, though the hydraulic systems and the air turbines did cause troubles that took time and effort to resolve. Most of the early B-52 variants also suffered from nagging fuel line leaks that would take several years and a number of update programs to get under control.
The aircraft was demanding and only the most experienced crews were allowed to fly it. It also required that many airbases be upgraded with new runways, hangars, maintenance facilities, and so on to support the big bomber. In the late 1950s, the need to disperse B-52 operations to as many airfields as possible, including overseas installations, to protect them from a nuclear first strike led to a multiplication of this demand on resources.
On 21 May 1956, a B-52B flying from Eniwietok Island in the Pacific performed the first airdrop of a US hydrogen bomb in the CHEROKEE test, part of the REDWING series of nuclear shots.
It was the first time the B-52 dropped a live nuclear bomb. The weapon, a Mark 15 "Zombie" with a yield of almost four megatonnes, was dropped over Bikini Atoll. Due to a procedural screwup, the bomb detonated 30 seconds too soon, with the B-52 and other aircraft flying in the exercise caught up in the blast. They were badly beaten up but survived, which was fortunate as bailing out was not an option under the circumstances. B-52s would perform other test drops of nuclear weapons until 1963, when the US signed the Nuclear Test-Ban treaty, which prohibited above-ground testing to reduce releases of radioactivity into the environment.
Starting on 16 January 1957, three B-52Bs flew around the world nonstop under Project POWER FLITE, using mid-air refueling to stay aloft 45 hours and 19 minutes. The exercise was a clear demonstration of SAC's ability to reach any place in the world, just as the nuclear test drops demonstrated what the B-52 could do when it got there.
* The next variant, the "B-52C", was very similar to the B-52B, with the same J57 engine variants and generally similar avionics. The most visible difference from the B-52B was the fit of a huge 11,365 liter (3,000 US gallon) external tank under each wing. The water-injection tank in the rear fuselage was also eliminated, with a water-injection tank now placed in each wing root.
The B-52C was delivered in natural metal finish, with a coat of white paint on the underside to reflect the flash of a nuclear explosion, which would also be retroactively applied to the B-52Bs. B-52s were also fitted with "flash curtains" that could be put over the windows to block out the glare or a nuclear fireball, though it is unclear when this feature was introduced into production.
The B-52C could carry up to four "B28" fusion bombs, with a variable yield up to well over a megatonne. This weapon was replaced after 1961 by the "B43" with megatonne yield, and then later the "B61", with yield in the range of a few hundred kilotonnes, and the 1-megatonne "B83". The bomber could carry a total of 10,900 kilograms (24,000 pounds) of conventional bombs.
Although most of the B-52Cs were fitted with the "improved" A-3A FCS used on late-production B-52Bs, it turned out to be not much of an improvement, and so the very last B-52C was fitted with the "MD-9" FCS, which was finally a workable and effective piece of gear.
35 B-52Cs were delivered from Boeing-Seattle, making it the rarest of all production B-52s. They were all compatible with the bombbay reconnaissance capsule, though none of them formally received an "RB-52C" designation. Initial flight was on 9 March 1956, with delivery in June, and all B-52C production was completed in that year. In addition, seven B-52Bs were upgraded to something close to B-52C specification under the "Sunflower" program.
* The "B-52D" was nearly identical to the B-52C, with the MD-9 FCS as used on the last B-52C. The only significant difference was that the ability to carry the reconnaissance pod was deleted. 101 B-52Ds were built at Boeing-Seattle, while 69 more were made at Boeing-Wichita, the first B-52 model to be built at that plant. A Wichita-built B-52D was the first of that variant to fly, on 14 May 1956.
* The "B-52E" was externally similar to the B-52D, but featured improved internal systems. Soviet air defenses had improved to the point where high-altitude bombing was no longer practical, and so SAC switched to low-level tactics. The B-52E included new systems to support the low-level mission, most significantly an IBM-integrated AN/ASQ-38 navigation & bombing system, featuring Raytheon AN/ASB-4 radar and GPL AN/APN-89 Doppler navigation.
The AN/ASQ-38 would be fitted to all following B-52 variants, but it didn't prove entirely satisfactory as it often failed to perform to specification in operation and was troublesome to maintain. An upgrade program named "Jolly Well" would be implemented across most of the B-52 fleet in the early 1960s to bring the AN/ASQ-38 up to a more satisfactory level of performance and maintainability.
42 B-52Es were built at Boeing-Seattle and 58 at Boeing-Wichita. First flight of a B-52E was on 17 October 1957.
* The "B-52F" was very similar to the B-52E, but featured new J57-43W engines, with 49.8 kN (5,080 kgp / 11,200 lbf) "dry" thrust and 61.2 kN (6,235 kgp / 13,750 lbf) "wet" thrust, in a revised pod configuration. Each pod had its own water-injection tank in the wing next to the pylon, and there were three inlets under the pod, two for oil coolers and one for a 40 kilowatt alternator. The alternator was powered by the left-hand engine in the pod through a Sundstrand drive in a blister on the left side of the pod. The alternator replaced the original and unreliable bleed-air turbines.
44 B-52Fs were built by Boeing-Seattle, the last B-52s to be delivered from that plant, and 45 were built by Boeing-Wichita. First flight of the B-52F was on 6 May 1958, with the last delivered in early 1959.
* The "B-52G" was the most heavily produced Stratofortress variant. It featured substantially increased internal fuel tankage. Having eliminated the hot piping for the bleed-air turbines in the B-52F allowed Boeing to rethink the wing fuel storage scheme, leading to fit of reliable integral tanks in the wing, replacing the fuel bladders. Integral fuel increased to 176,507 liters (46,572 US gallons) and the wingtip tanks were reduced to 2,650 liters (700 US gallons), for a total fuel capacity of 181,808 liters (47,970 gallons).
The airframe had a number of improvements that reduced its empty weight by several tonnes, though as it turned out the redesigned wing would lead to troubles. The gunner was moved forward to sit with the rest of the flight crew, next to the EWO, and used an AN/ASG-15 FCS with a TV link to control the guns. The brake chute was moved from under the tail to the top, where the gunner's position had been in earlier versions. Moving the gunner forward would eventually prove to be something of a drawback, since aircrews appreciated having someone back in the tail to keep an eye on the dangerous "6:00" position.
The cockpit accommodations for the crew were significantly improved relative to earlier models, making long-duration flights less tiring. One of the important improvements was better climate control, since traditionally the upper deck crew tended to roast, while the lower deck crew froze.
The nose was lengthened a bit, while the height of the vertical tailplane was cut by 2.44 meters (8 feet), making the B-52G instantly recognizable compared to early B-52 models. The short tailplane had been experimentally validated on one of the three B-52As; some sources claim this modified machine was redesignated the "XB-52G", though it was far from a full prototype of the B-52G.
If previous variants had six spoilers above each wing, as some sources claim, they were increased to the definitive seven in the B-52G, while the ailerons were eliminated, apparently to reduce weight. Roll control was now provided strictly by the spoilers. Pilots would find the lack of ailerons something of an inconvenience, particularly during midair refueling operations.
The B-52G was fitted with a pylon under each wing to carry a "GAM-77 (later AGM-28) Hound Dog" nuclear-armed turbojet-powered cruise missile. This capability was added with the 55th production B-52G and then retrofitted to early B-52Gs. The engines of the two Hound Dog could be used to provide additional thrust for the bomber on take-off, with the fuel for the missiles replenished from the B-52's own tanks in flight. The B-52G's cockpit also had a needle indicator controlled by the Hound Dog's guidance system. This was used to test the missile, essentially allowing the Hound Dog to "fly" the B-52 while still attached to the pylon.
The Hound Dog, which was for some obscure reason apparently named for the Elis Presley hit tune "You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog", was developed to help deal with the Soviet Union's extensive and growing surface-to-air missile (SAM) network. It was not a very accurate weapon, but it had a big warhead and a maximum range of 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) on a high-altitude flight profile, though much less range at low altitude. Even its shortest range allowed a B-52 to stand off out of range of Soviet SAMs and smash their launch sites from a safe distance. This would open a "hole" in the defensive barrier to allow the bomber to enter and perform precision strikes on its targets.
The B-52G also stowed four ADM-20 "Quail" decoys in the bombbay. The Quail was a little boxy aircraft that folded up for stowage; it was lowered out of the bombbay on a special rack to unfold its wings and then be released. Once in flight, it had performance and a radar cross section similar to that of the B-52. It had a sophisticated guidance system by the standards of the time, allowing it to make two course changes and one speed change.
It is unclear if any earlier versions of the B-52 were originally built with wing pylons. However, it is clear that the Hound Dog and Quail were eventually carried by many of the earlier B-52 variants.
All 193 B-52Gs were built at Boeing-Wichita, though Boeing-Seattle provided the forward fuselage. The first B-52G performed its initial flight on 31 August 1958, with deliveries beginning in that year and ending in 1961.
* The Air Force was expecting to field the North American B-70 Valkyrie supersonic bomber after the B-52, and so the B-52G was supposed to have been the final production model. However, the B-70 would run into problems and only two would be built, to be operated strictly as experimental machines; and the USAF was also interested in obtaining the "GAM-87 Skybolt" air-launched ballistic missile, and so Boeing was given a contract to build the final B-52 variant, the "B-52H", as a Skybolt launch platform.
The B-52H was to carry four Skybolts, with two on each underwing pylon. In fact, the Skybolt would be cancelled in December 1962 due to cost overruns, and the B-52H would never carry it operationally. It would make do with the Hound Dog, and would also carry Quails.
As SAC had moved to low-level tactics by that time, the B-52H was given structural reinforcements. It was also fitted with the P&W TF33-3 turbofan, a derivative of the J57, with 75.6 kN (7,710 kg / 17,000 lbf) thrust. A B-52G had been temporarily fitted with these engines to validate their use for the B-52H, with some sources claiming this machine was redesignated the "YB-52H".
Although the TF33s were a new design with some flaws that would lead to a service update program in the early 1960s, they were otherwise a great improvement over the J57 all around. The TF33s eliminated the noisy and dirty water injection scheme of the J57, but still provided much greater maximum thrust, and provided a smoother, quieter ride that made life easier for its crews.
The TF33s were also much more fuel-efficient, which meant the B-52H had about
20% greater range than the B-52G. The Air Force demonstrated the increased
range of the B-52H when, on 10:11 January 1962, one of them flew from Kadena
AFB on Okinawa to Torrejon AFB in Spain nonstop, unrefueled, a distance of
20,177 kilometers (12,532 miles).
BOEING B-52H STRATOFORTRESS:
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spec metric english
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wingspan 56.39 meters 185 feet
wing area 371.6 sq_meters 4,000 sq_feet
length 49.05 meters 160 feet 11 inches
height 12.40 meters 40 feet 8 inches
empty weight 78,340 kilograms 172,740 pounds
combat weight 138,940 kilograms 306,360 pounds
MTO weight 221,325 kilograms 488,000 pounds
max speed at altitude 1,012 KPH 629 MPH / 547 KT
service ceiling 14,540 meters 47,700 feet
takeoff length 2,200 meters 7,420 feet
operational radius 7,730 kilometers 4,800 MI / 4,175 NMI
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performance figures given with combat load
Late production B-52Hs featured a second stores pylon on each wing, positioned between the two engine pods. These short pylons were used to carry AN/ALE-25 chaff dispenser pods, which each contained twenty Tracor AN/ADR-8 6.35 centimeter (2.5 inch) folding-fin chaff rockets. The chaff rockets could be fired manually by the crew, or automatically by the bomber's defensive countermeasures system. The pylons were retrofitted to earlier B-52H production and to the B-52Gs.
* The first B-52H performed its initial flight on 6 March 1961. Boeing-Wichita built 102, with the last rolled out on 22 June 1962, after a total production of 744 B-52s of all types at a cost of $4.5 billion USD. At its peak, the B-52 equipped 42 SAC bomber squadrons, dispersed to 38 different airbases.
Incidentally, back in 1953 the Air Force had only contemplated obtaining a fleet of 282 B-52s, but the number kept creeping upward during the decade as the service began to realize that the B-52 was not really the "interim" machine they had expected it to be. In fact, nobody in their wildest dreams would have ever guessed how long it would remain in service.
Although most of the B-52Hs were delivered with the same wing design as used on the B-52G, the last 18 were fitted with a modified and strengthened wing. The original B-52G wing turned out to be more prone to structural fatigue from the new low-level operations than the wings of earlier B-52 models. The weakness of the wing led to the crash of a B-52G near Goldsboro, North Carolina, on 24 January 1961, and implementation of temporary fight restrictions and a high-priority program to strengthen the wing. All earlier B-52Hs and all B-52Gs were refitted with the stronger wing in the 1962:1964 timeframe. The re-winging effort was conducted more or less in parallel with a more general program of structural reinforcements for most of the B-52 fleet under the designation "High Stress".
In addition, late production B-52Hs were fitted with improved avionics for the low-level role, including modifications to existing systems and addition of radar altimeters and terrain avoidance gear. These features were retrofitted to most earlier B-52s in operational service through the "Big Four" program, which was also performed in the early 1960s.
* A handful of the production B-52s were modified for special applications where an aircraft with heavy hauling and high-altitude capabilities was required.
The best-known of the special modifications were three B-52s used by the US National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) to launch the X-15 experimental rocket "X-plane", the NASA lifting body experimental craft, Pegasus air-launched boosters, and other payloads. The first of the NASA B-52s was one of the three B-52As, which in the late 1950s was passed on to NASA control and redesignated the "NB-52A". It was fitted with a strengthened right stores pylon to carry the X-15 and was operated by the NASA Dryden Center.
The NB-52A was retired in 1968 to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona, having been replaced by a similarly modified B-52B, which of course became the "NB-52B" and is still in service. It is the oldest flying B-52. This particular B-52B had been built in 1952 and is nicknamed "Balls-8" from its tail number, "008".
The NB-52B is on the way out, however. Since experimental flights are relatively infrequent, the NB-52B has a low-time airframe, but it is very difficult to maintain as all its systems are obsolete, forcing Dryden engineers to scour boneyards and museums for spares and on occasion even machining them from scratch. For this reason, in 2001 NASA Dryden obtained a "new" B-52H, built in 1961, to allow the retirement of NB-52B as early as 2003, hopefully to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. The Air Force intends to support the B-52H to 2040 or even beyond, and spares should not be as severe a problem.
The "new" B-52H, of course redesignated "NB-52H", is now being reconditioned and modified for its first NASA drop mission, possibly as early as December 2002. Unlike its two predecessors, the NB-52H has been given a modern NASA gloss white-and-blue paint job, making it one of the best-dressed B-52s ever to fly.
Dryden wants to fit a improved strengthened pylon to the aircraft. Funds are not yet available for the job, but it is a high priority. The new strengthened pylon on the NB-52H will be set farther forward than the pylon on the NB-52B, which had to have its inboard flaps removed to accommodate drop payloads. The extended pylon on the NB-52H will allow the flaps to be retained, reducing landing speed.
The USAF retained formal ownership of the first two NASA B-52s, but various bureaucratic shuffles make it uncertain who will eventually "own" the NB-52H.
* In the late 1960s, one or more B-52s were modified under the supersecret "Senior Bowl" program to carry and launch the "D-21" high-speed reconnaissance drone on modified Hound Dog pylons.
The D-21 was a ramjet powered machine, intended primarily to perform reconnaissance of the Chinese nuclear center at Lop Nor, and was originally to be launched from the back of an "M-21", a modified Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. However, launch separation of the D-21 from the M-21 proved troublesome, leading to the fatal crash of an M-21 in 1966.
The project was then redefined for B-52 launch, with the D-21 attached to a big solid-fuel booster rocket to get it up to speed and altitude. A handful of D-21 launches were performed, including semi-operational missions over China, with dismal results. Given improved satellite reconnaissance and detente with China, the program was cancelled in the early 1970s.
* One B-52E was used to test the GE XTF99 high-bypass ratio turbofan for the Lockheed C-5A Galaxy transport, with the big engine replacing one of the NB-52E's inboard engine pods. Initial flight of this machine, which was designated "NB-52E", with the XTF99 was 30 June 1968.
A second B-52E used for various test duties was also designated "NB-52E", and a B-52D used in a similar fashion was designated "NB-52D". A number of B-52s of differing variants were assigned to long-term duty as test machines and given the designation "JB-52", and some others were permanently grounded to be used for instructional duties, and given the designation "GB-52".
* In service, crews called the B-52 the "Buff", for "Big Ugly Fat Fella" or something close to that, and also as a contraction of sorts of "B-Fifty-Two". Well-known aviation writer Walter J. Boyne, who was an Air Force captain when he first encountered the B-52, gave a neat pocket description of what it was like to fly the thing:
When you took off, the wings flew before the fuselage, so the flight surfaces had to be used while the wheels were still on the ground. The crosswind landing gear took some getting used to. You could be looking out the side window while landing. The control surfaces were small so you used trim a lot, and it had a stabiliser trim not found on the B-47. Visibility was better than the B-47. Side-by-side seating was a hell of a lot better.
It gave you a very good ride at altitude. The wings flexed. Turbulence was readily dampened. But at low level ... it was like being hammered. You'd really get thrown around in your harness. You'd get knocked around. The aeroplane responded to more than one gust variation at a time and hence was never in synch. If the B-47 was a truck, the B-52 was an eighteen-wheeler [tractor-trailer rig].
Put it this way: the Buff pounded along while the B-47 cleaved the air. The spoilers took some getting used to. It wasn't like having conventional aileron control.
The B-52 was not difficult to land. You had a lot of mass coming down of the sky for a reunion with the ground. When you were lined up, you didn't have any trouble landing on the spot where you intended. You did not want to land nosewheel-first because the aircraft could porpoise [bounce fore and aft]; that could ruin your whole day, but it was almost impossible to do. Normally the rear trucks landed first.
Up until the mid-1960s, the Buff served as the first line of America's strategic nuclear deterrent, providing a bridge between the B-47 and the arrival of the US strategic nuclear missile force. Originally, the B-52 had been intended as a high-altitude bomber, but the improvement of the Soviet air defense network led SAC to adopt low-level tactics, allowing Buff crews to evade Soviet surface to air missiles (SAMs), though at the expense of a rough ride that was hard on aircrews and airframes.
In October 1957, the Air Force implemented an "alert" strategy for the B-52 force. A third of the force, including both bombers and their supporting Boeing KC-135 tankers, was to be always available for takeoff on a live nuclear attack mission within 15 minutes. The aircraft were set up on standby in dedicated flightline alert facilities, known as "Christmas trees" for their layout, which included "alert shacks" where the crews could reside, dashing to the aircraft when the alarm was sounded.
The Air Force refused to comment on whether all B-52s on alert status were fully armed, though it is certain that at least a good proportion of them were. The standard nuclear weapon for the B-52 in the 1960s was the B28 fusion bomb. Four B28s could be carried on a "clip" that could be towed out to the flightline and quickly loaded into into the B-52's bombbay. Two clips could be accommodated in the bombbay, but it appears that usually only one was loaded, with the remaining space taken up by Quail decoys.
The B-52 could also carry the more powerful "B41" and "B53" fusion bombs, with a yield roughly an order of magnitude greater than that of the B28, and the "B57", a tactical weapon with a yield in the range of about ten kilotonnes. These three weapons were introduced in the 1960s.
An upgrade program was conducted in 1963 and 1964 to fit the engines of a number of B-52s with pyrotechnic cartridge engine starters, with the starters fired off simultaneously to get all eight engines up to speed immediately and cut the amount of time it took to get the bomber into the air. More B-52s were refitted with cartridge starters in a follow-on program a decade later.
The aircraft would get into the air as fast as possible, one following another off the runway. Such "minimum-interval takeoff (MITO)" exercises were hazardous, since there was a danger of a disastrous pileup, greatly aggravated by the clouds of black smoke pouring from water-injected J57s fitted to all Buffs except the B-52H that reduced visibility to near-zero for all but the first aircraft in the stream.
The alert system meant long and tedious work weeks, and was hard on marriages and family life. Much of the time on alert was spent reviewing mission plans and procedures and ensuring that paperwork was in order, with occasional surprise practice alerts to keep the crews on their toes. Failure to follow proper procedures was punished by severe disciplinary measures. There was also the underlying tension that the crews were really preparing for the Apocalypse. Even if they survived their missions, their bases would very likely be vaporized, along with their homes and families.
The target list of the B-52 and other nuclear strike elements in the US arsenal was outlined by a series of ultra-secret "Strategic Integrated Options Plans (SIOPs)", which determined the order in which targets would be attacked and what platform would attack them. As the US strategic missile force was built up, the B-52 were increasingly assigned to mobile targets could not be easily targeted with missiles.
* SAC claimed they achieved the one-third alert level by May 1960. In March 1961, US President John F. Kennedy raised the alert level to half the force, and SAC claimed they met this goal in October 1961. In reality, it appears that some "imaginative accounting" was used to claim compliance, with the actual number of aircraft immediately available for combat falling well short of the stated goals. Given the logistical difficulties involved, the alert system was still impressive.
In the spring of 1959, SAC leadership had proposed an extension of the ground alert system, the "airborne alert" system, in which a number of bombers were kept armed and in the air at all times. While SAC proposed that a sizeable percentage of the B-52 force be kept on airborne alert, in practice the expense and complexity of the scheme meant that only a handful of aircraft were assigned this duty. Formally, SAC described it as a "training effort" in this timeframe.
The airborne alert system was greatly expanded during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, with alert status raised to a "threshold of war" level. Bombers orbited outside of Soviet airspace, the crews prepared to attack the instant they received the order. After the crisis the airborne alert force was reduced to a much more modest level, with about a dozen B-52s kept in the air with a load of nuclear weapons.
The "Dirty Dozen" stayed on patrol through most of the 1960s, but the scheme had serious liabilities. On 15 October 1959, a B-52F on airborne alert had collided with a Boeing KC-135 tanker over Kentucky and crashed with two nuclear weapons on board. The weapons were recovered intact and there was no release of radioactive materials. However, on 17 January 1966, a B-52G collided with a KC-135 in a similar accident over Palomeres in Spain. The resulting crash caused the rupture of two of the four bombs on board, leading to a troublesome environmental cleanup operation. Just as bad or worse, one the bombs disappeared into the ocean off the coast, leading to an intensive search to find it and make sure it was accounted for. The weapon was discovered on 15 March and finally recovered on 7 April.
The entire incident was worldwide front-page news and a major embarrassment. The airborne alert system stayed in place for the moment, but in late January 1968, a B-52G crashed on the Greenland ice pack while trying to perform an emergency landing at Thule AFB. There was another release of radioactive materials and consequently a big cleanup effort.
That was the end of the airborne alert system. B-52s no longer flew with nuclear weapons as a regular practice, though nuclear-armed Buffs still stood by in the alert areas. By this time, the US strategic missile force was well up to strength, and the need to keep B-52s flying around, waiting to nuke the Reds on a moment's notice, was no longer as great. Other tools were available for that job.