Q. What can weigh more than 40 elephants is wider than half a football pitch and can travel more than half way around the world without stopping?
A. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
The B-52 Stratofortress is one of the most impressive aviation developments of the last century, an aeroplane that has a combat history spanning more than four decades, has set world records throughout its 50 years of operational use, and is arguably the most successful combat aircraft of all time.
To celebrate the release of a new Boeing B-52 Stratofortress Owners’ Workshop Manual for the B-52, Haynes has compiled these top facts about the aeroplane:
- The B-52 holds the record for the longest-ever combat mission in terms of distance flown, two B-52s having flown 16,000 miles (25,700km) – more than half the circumference of the Earth – from the Pacific island of Guam to Southern Iraq and back during Operation Desert Strike in September 1996.
- The aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of 220,000kg (488,000lb), the equivalent of around 40 fully grown African elephants
- In 2003, over a period of 5 months, B52s dropped over 1,816,000kg (4,000,000lb) of ordnance over Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
- The wingspan of a B-52 is 56m (184ft), the distance of half a football pitch
- The B52D 'Big Belly' models used during the Vietnam war could carry 49,260kg (108,500lb) of bombs.
The B-52 evolved from a contract won by Boeing in 1945 to develop a turboprop-powered successor to the post-war Convair B-36 ‘Peacemaker’. The initial design featured a straight wing and six turboprop engines, but as the Air Force’s requirements changed, jet power was specified, and the B-52 concept metamorphosed into what was effectively a new aeroplane, featuring swept wings and eight jet engines. The first flight of a B-52 finally took place in 1952, and the first aircraft entered service with the USAF in June 1955.
In a career that has seen this massive bomber transformed from a brute-force purveyor of World War 2-style carpet bombing to a modern strike aircraft using precision-guided munitions, the B-52 has been the most visible element of America’s nuclear deterrent since its entry to service in June 1959. It has seen combat across multiple theatres, from south-east Asia to Afghanistan, the Balkans to Iraq. Today, it is the oldest aircraft in the United States’ arsenal.
With an upgrade planned before 2015 the aircraft is projected to serve until the mid-2040s which will make its service life a predicted 90 years, longer than any other aeroplane.
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress Owners’ Workshop Manual provides a unique insight into the design, evolution, operation and maintenance of what remains a highly classified aircraft, despite its age, drawing on official technical documents, and narratives from experienced aircrew and maintainers. With the aid of detailed photographs and technical illustrations, many previously unpublished, the B-52’s airframe, avionics, weapons systems and engines are covered in unparalleled detail.
Steve Davies is a freelance military and commercial aviation photojournalist and author. He has written more than a dozen critically acclaimed books, and has worked as an adviser for a range of military aviation TV documentaries in the UK and US. His photography has been used by the aviation press, and leading defence contractors and aviation corporations
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