The B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions.
(First Published December 16, 2015)
The B-52H Stratofortress is a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions. The bomber is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet (15,166.6 meters). It can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability.
In a conventional conflict, the B-52 can perform strategic attack, close-air support, air interdiction, offensive counter-air and maritime operations.
During Desert Storm, B-52s delivered 40 percent of all the weapons dropped by coalition forces. It is highly effective when used for ocean surveillance and can assist the U.S. Navy in anti-ship and mine-laying operations. In two hours, two B-52s can monitor 140,000 square miles (364,000 square kilometers) of ocean surface.
All B-52s can be equipped with two electro-optical viewing sensors, a forward-looking infrared and advanced targeting pods to augment targeting, battle assessment and flight safety, further improving its combat ability.
Pilots wear night vision goggles, or NVGs, to enhance their vision during night operations. Night vision goggles provide greater safety during night operations by increasing the pilot’s ability to visually clear terrain, increasing the peacetime and combat situational awareness of the aircrew and improving their ability to visually acquire other aircraft.
B-52s are equipped with advanced targeting pods. Targeting pods provide improved long-range target detection, identification and continuous stabilized surveillance for all missions, including close air support of ground forces. The advanced targeting and image processing technology significantly increases the combat effectiveness of the B-52 during day, night and less than ideal weather conditions when attacking ground targets with a variety of standoff weapons (e.g., laser-guided bombs, conventional bombs and GPS-guided weapons).
The use of aerial refueling gives the B-52 a range limited only by aircrew endurance. It has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,800 miles (14,080 kilometers).
For more than 60 years, B-52s have been the backbone of the strategic bomber force for the United States. The B-52 is capable of dropping or launching the widest array of weapons in the U.S. inventory. This includes gravity bombs, cluster bombs, precision guided missiles and joint direct attack munitions. Updated with modern technology, the B-52 is capable of delivering the full complement of joint developed weapons and will continue into the 21st century as an important element of our nation’s defenses. The Air Force currently expects to operate B-52s through 2050.
The B-52A first flew in 1954, and the B model entered service in 1955. A total of 744 B-52s were built, with the last, a B-52H, delivered in October 1962. The first of 102 B-52H’s was delivered to Strategic Air Command in May 1961. The H model can carry up to 20 air-launched cruise missiles. In addition, it can carry conventional cruise missiles that were launched in several contingencies starting in the 1990s with Operation Desert Storm and culminating with Operation Inherent Resolve in 2016.
The aircraft’s flexibility was evident in Operation Desert Storm and again during Operation Allied Force. B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of Iraq’s Republican Guard. On Sept. 2-3, 1996, two B-52Hs struck Baghdad power stations and communications facilities with 13 AGM-86C Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missiles, or CALCMs, as part of Operation Desert Strike. At that time, this was the longest distance flown for a combat mission involving a 34-hour, 16,000-statute-mile round trip from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
In 2001, the B-52 contributed to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom, providing the ability to loiter high above the battlefield and provide close air support through the use of precision guided munitions. The B-52 also played a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom by launching approximately 100 CALCMs during a night mission March 21, 2003.
In 2016, the B-52 returned to the Central Command area of responsibility for the first time in a decade. B-52s flew approximately 1,800 combat sorties against ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq contributing to the decline of ISIS in the region.
Only the H model is still in the Air Force inventory and is assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota, and the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, which fall under Air Force Global Strike Command. The aircraft is also assigned to the Air Force Reserve Command’s 307th Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB.
Primary Function: Heavy bomber
Contractor: Boeing Military Airplane Co.
Power plant: Eight Pratt & Whitney engines TF33-P-3/103 turbofan
Thrust: Each engine up to 17,000 pounds
Wingspan: 185 feet (56.4 meters)
Length: 159 feet, 4 inches (48.5 meters)
Height: 40 feet, 8 inches (12.4 meters)
Weight: Approximately 185,000 pounds (83,250 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 488,000 pounds (219,600 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 312,197 pounds (141,610 kilograms)
Payload: 70,000 pounds (31,500 kilograms)
Speed: 650 miles per hour (Mach 0.84)
Range: 8,800 miles (7,652 nautical miles)
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,151.5 meters)
Armament: Approximately 70,000 pounds (31,500 kilograms) mixed ordnance—bombs, mines and missiles. (Modified to carry air-launched cruise missiles)
Crew: Five (aircraft commander, pilot, radar navigator, navigator and electronic warfare officer)
Unit Cost: $84 million (fiscal 2012 constant dollars)
Initial operating capability: April 1952
Inventory: Active force, 58 (test, 4); ANG, 0; Reserve, 18
(Current as of June 2019)
Point of Contact
Air Force Global Strike Command, Public Affairs Office; 245 Davis Avenue East, Suite 198; Barksdale AFB, LA 71110; DSN 781-1305 or 318-456-7844; e-mail: email@example.com