Aircraft

B-52 Stratofortress: All You Need To Know About The US Military Aircraft

The iconic strategic bomber has been around since 1954.

The B-52 bomber has been a symbol of power and advanced warfare capability for the US and its allies for decades.

The first model flew in 1954 and the aircraft has been in service through the Cold War, Vietnam and the conflicts in the Middle East.

Known as the ‘Stratofortress’, the long-range bomber has seen continual upgrades – prompting many to suggest it could live to see 100.

Here’s everything you need to know about the aircraft.

Capability

The B-52 has eight engines, but is able to operate with only two of those functioning.

It can hit 1,000km per hour and fly for 8,800 miles without refuelling.

From RAF Fairford, in Gloucestershire, where the US has previously deployed the bomber, the B-52 could easily reach both Moscow and Tehran.

The 'Stratofortress’ can hit subsonic speeds up to 50,000 feet (15,166m), carrying nuclear or precision-guided conventional weapons, as well as gravity or cluster bombs.

The US maintains that 364,000sq km of ocean surface can be monitored by the bomber in just two hours – a mass one-third larger than the UK – to support naval operations below.

RAF Typhoons fly with USAF B-52 281019 CREDIT RAF
A US Air Force B-52 flanked by RAF Typhoons (Picture: RAF).

History

A total of 744 B-52 aircraft were built by Boeing, in eight different models – the last aircraft delivered in 1962.

Since the emergence of the bomber, it has been deployed across numerous decades.

During the Cold War, it flew patrols at various altitudes as part of deterrence strategies against potential Soviet Union hostility.

The aircraft was used again during the Vietnam War – part of the three-and-a-half-year bombardment campaign named Operation Rolling Thunder.

Years later, following numerous upgrades, the  'Stratofortress’ was deployed to bombing operations during the First Gulf War.

B-52 variants successfully destroyed multiple troop targets, installations and bunkers in Iraq as part of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

In 1996, two B-52 bombers flew a round trip from their Louisiana base to Baghdad to destroy power and communication centres, the 34-hour journey marking the longest distance flown for a combat mission at the time.

A B-52 aircraft takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Two of the planes broke a combat flight record in 1996 from the same base (Picture: US Air Force).

In 2001, the aircraft provided close air support during the War On Terror in the Middle East, before Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, where it conducted night mission strikes.

More recently, combat sorties were flown against the so-called Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria in 2016.

What's Next?

Teams at Boeing have constantly developed the B-52 capability and modernisation does not look to be slowing down.

A weapons payload upgrade is listed on the organisation's website and is set to increase the smart bomb capacity by 50%.

Meanwhile, a radar modernisation programme is on course for 2026, part of efforts to keep the bomber effective beyond 2050.