The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a bomber made for missions of extraordinarily long range. During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, it flew the longest strike mission in history, taking off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, flying to Iraq and launching its cruise missiles, then returning to Barksdale 35 hours after it left—all without stopping. B-52s flew numerous sorties against a variety of targets during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. First deployed in February 1955, the B-52 has proven its endurance over the years, and is expected to remain in service to the middle of the twenty-first century.
Over a period of eight years that ended in October 1962, a total of 744 B-52s were built and delivered. The only models remaining in service are B-52Hs, which are assigned to Air Force Air Combat Command and the Air Force Reserves. The H model, of which 102 were built, is made to carry as many as 20 air-launched cruise missiles.
Over the years, the B-52 has been modified to incorporate ever more advanced weaponry, as well as global positioning and electro-optical viewing systems. Heavy stores adapter make it possible to carry munitions of enormous weight. The aircraft weights 185,000 pounds (83,250 kg) empty, and can take off with a weight of 488,000 pounds (219,600 kg). It can travel 8,800 miles (14,080 km) without refueling, and aerial refueling gives it a range limited only by the needs of the mission and the crew. Its ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,151.5 m).
The same plane that bombed North Vietnam remained in service to bomb Iraq over a quarter-century later. It was also used in Operation Allied Force, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) campaign against Serbia in 1999. Engineering analysis conducted at the end of the twentieth century indicated that the B-52 could remain in service past 2045—a full 90 years after its initial deployment.
█ FURTHER READING:
Boyne, Walter J. Boeing B-52: A Documentary History. New York: Jane's, 1982.
Holder, William G. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: AERO, 1988.
Keaney, Thomas A. Strategic Bombers and Conventional Weapons: Airpower Options. Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1984.
Mandeles, Mark David. The Development of the B-52 and Jet Propulsion: A Case Study in Organizational Innovation. Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1998.
B-52 Stratofortress. Federation of American Scientists. < http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/bomber/b-52.htm > (March 8, 2003).
B-52 Stratofortress. U.S. Department of the Air Force. < http://www.af.mil/news/factsheets/B_52_Stratofortress.html > (March 8, 2003).