When the B-52 Stratofortress entered operational service with the 93rd Heavy Bombardment Wing on June 29, 1955, no one could predict that the bombers would still be in service more than half a century later. The B-52, which was designed as a winged nuclear deterrent for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in the event of war with the Soviet Union, has outlived SAC by more than 20 years. Fortunately the B-52 never had to be put to the test with regard to its ability to penetrate Soviet airspace, but it has rendered valuable service to the U.S. Air Force over many decades, with no end in sight.
B-52 Stratofortress: The SAC Years | Photos
Members of a Strategic Air Command B-52 combat crew race for their always ready-and-waiting B-52 heavy bomber. Fifty percent of the SAC bomber and tanker force was on continuous ground alert, ready to be en route to target within the warning time provided by the ballistic missile early warning system. One of the bomber's two Hound Dog missiles hangs from the inner wing pylon in the foreground. U.S. Air Force photo A B-52F leaves clouds of black smoke behind from its J57 jet engines, which employed water injection to boost thrust during takeoff. Note the AGM-28 Hound Dog missiles loaded on the inboard wing pylons. U.S. Air Force photo A B-52 Strategic Air Command crew from the 99th Bombardment Wing on the flight line of Westover Air Force Base, Ma. 1958. U.S. Air Force photo The Boeing KC-135 was a vital teammate for the B-52 in its strategic mission. Here, the first KC-135 Stratotanker built refuels a B-52 Stratofortress for the first time. The KC-135, which first flew Aug. 31, 1956, like the B-52 has served on past all expectations of service life. Photo courtesy of The Boeing Company A Boeing B-52C Stratofortress in flight. Fifty B-52Bs and RB-52Bs were eventually modified to B-52C standard, in addition to 35 new B-52Cs introduced beginning in March 1956. The B-52C introduced the big 3,000-gallon external wing tanks and came in bare metal finish with white anti-flash undersides. U.S. Air Force photo A B-52G with Short Range Attack Missiles (SRAM). The SRAM was built to give U.S. Air Force strategic bombers like the B-52, B-1, and FB-111 standoff capability as well as the capability of attacking air defense sites en route to their main targets. The SRAM was essentially superseded by the Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). Photo courtesy of The Boeing Company A B-52G Stratofortress banks to the right near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., during Global Shield 79. The exercise was the largest and most comprehensive Strategic Air Command exercise in more than 20 years, and was launched worldwide in July 1979. U.S. Air Force photo The definitive, and final B-52 was the H model, with shorter tail, M61 20mm gatling tail gun, greater gross weight, fuel capacity, and range, and in the years to come, a string of upgrades and modifications that would keep it operating decades longer than its designers could ever have imagined. Photo courtesy of The Boeing Company. An air-to-air high angle right side view of a B-52 Stratofortress aircraft in flight during exercise William Tell '80. The development of surface-to-air-missiles changed the tactics of the B-52 to that of a low-level penetrating bomber. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. William Franqui Three U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52G Stratofortress aircraft from the 2nd Bombardement Wing take off from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. Three cells of six B-52s and KC-10 Extender aircraft took off seconds apart under combat conditions during a minimum interval takeoff (MITO) exercise. The exercise was part of an operational readiness inspection by the USAF Strategic Air Command Inspector General Team. U.S. Air Force photo A view from inside the cockpit of a B-52 Stratofortress bomber showing pilot and co-pilot as they fly their giant aircraft on a training mission. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Stewart. A B-52 Stratofortress aircraft taking off at sunset during exercise Distant Mariner, May 13, 1988. Not known for its looks, the B-52 is still a popular aircraft. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Stephen B. Jones An air-to-air overhead view of a B-52 Stratofortress aircraft. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Bill Thompson