50th anniversary of B-52 delivery

  • Published
  • By J. Manny Guendulay
  • 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Even though it recently turned 50, the B-52 Stratofortress is still capable of dropping or launching the widest array of weapons in the U.S. inventory. And its lifespan has been calculated to extend beyond the year 2040.

June 29 marked the 50th anniversary for the B-52, also known as the “Big Ugly Fat Fellow,” or perhaps more familiar to most -- the “Buff.”

It was June 29, 1955, when Brig. Gen. William Eubank, the 93d Bomb Wing commander at the time, delivered the first B-52 to the 4017th Combat Crew Training Squadron of the 93rd Bomb Wing at Castle Air Force Base, Calif.

The retired general recalled his introduction to the B-52 while at the same time bidding farewell to one of the aircraft it replaced -- the B-47 Stratojet.

“It looked a lot like the B-47 to me, but it drives more like a truck. This thing is heavy on the controls, but a real good performer,” he said describing his first impression of the B-52. “It’s a real good airplane, and I’m glad to see it’s still around.”

That initial B-52, aircraft number 52-8711, was the first of more than 740 Stratofortresses and the beginning of a bombing community rich with history. Historical, maybe, but the nation’s oldest active-duty bomber is still a key player today in the war on terrorism.

While visiting Barksdale during a June 29 ceremony commemorating the aircraft, General Eubank said he could not believe the legacy of flight that the B-52 would leave behind.

“I’m real proud of the jet and that I had the first operational wing, but I had no idea that the bomber would have so long of an operational life span,” he said.

For more than 40 years, the B-52 has been the primary manned strategic bomber force for the United States. It is a long-range, heavy bomber capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet, and can carry nuclear or precision-guided conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability.

A total of 744 B-52s were built, with the last, a B-52H, delivered in October 1962. Only the H-model is still in the Air Force inventory and is assigned to Air Combat Command and the Air Force Reserve here and at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

The first of 102 B-52Hs was delivered to Strategic Air Command in May 1961. The H-model can carry as many as 20 air-launched cruise missiles. In addition, it can carry the conventional cruise missile that was launched from B-52G models during Operation Desert Storm, officials said.

In a conventional conflict, the B-52 can perform air interdiction, offensive counterair and maritime operations. During Desert Storm, B-52s delivered 40 percent of all the weapons dropped by coalition forces, officials said. It is highly effective when used for ocean surveillance and can assist the Navy in anti-ship and mine-laying operations. Two B-52s, in two hours, can monitor 140,000 square miles of ocean surface.

All B-52s are equipped with an electro-optical viewing system to augment the targeting, battle assessment, flight safety and terrain-avoidance system, thus further improving its combat ability and low-level flight capability, officials said.

Starting in 1989, an ongoing modification has been incorporating the Global Positioning System, heavy stores adapter beams for carrying 2,000-pound munitions and additional smart weapons capability.

The use of aerial refueling gives the B-52 a range limited only by crew endurance. It has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,800 miles.

The aircraft’s flexibility was evident during the Vietnam War and, again, in Operation Desert Storm. B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and they decimated the morale of Iraq’s Republican Guard, officials said.

The Gulf War involved the longest strike mission in the history of aerial warfare when B-52s took off from here, launched conventional cruise missiles and returned -- a 35-hour, nonstop combat mission.

During Operation Allied Force, B-52s opened the conflict with conventional cruise missile attacks and then transitioned to delivering general purpose and cluster bombs on enemy positions and staging areas.

Airmen of the 2nd BW wanted to commemorate the June 29 anniversary with a flyover of Castle AFB, but it was canceled because of an in-flight emergency.

The 8th Air Force museum is also commemorating the anniversary by adding postcards and signed pictures of General Eubank to its inventory.

The B-52B that General Eubank flew is one of four of its kind still in existence and is displayed at the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, Neb.