Designed for the strategic Cold War mission of carrying nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union, the B-52 Stratofortress today is still equipped to carry nuclear weapons, both freefall and in the form of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM), but can also carry various precision weapons and carry out a range of missions its designers probably never envisioned. Sixty years since first flight, the 744 Stratofortresses built have dwindled to 85 active and 9 reserve Buffs, but it is a testament to a remarkable aircraft that so many remain in service six decades from the time the first B-52 left the ground.
The B-52 Stratofortress Today I Photos
A B-52H Stratofortress drops a load of M-117 750-pound bombs during a training run on Dec. 19, 2003. During Desert Storm, B-52s delivered 40 percent of all the weapons dropped by coalition forces. The first Gulf War saw the longest strike mission in the history of aerial warfare when B-52s took off from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., launched conventional air-launched cruise missiles and returned to Barksdale – a 35-hour, non-stop combat mission. U.S. Air Force photo A B-52H Stratofortress from the 419th Flight Test Squadron from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., releases a Joint Direct Attack Munition during a test. The JDAM turned the B-52 into a precision bomber able to loiter above a battlefield for hours and deliver multiple bombs on multiple targets. Air Force photo A 40th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron pilot signals ready with a "thumbs-up" sign prior to a B-52 bombing mission over Iraq April 11, 2003. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard Freeland A B-52 Stratofortress heads towards Iraq March 24, 2003, armed with a combination of air-launched cruise missiles and joint direct attack munitions. The venerable bomber played a key role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This B-52 is from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and is assigned to the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron. U. S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cesar Rodriguez Capt. Jason McNutt maneuvers his B-52 Stratofortress into position beneath a KC-135 Stratotanker for aerial refueling. The B-52 bomber crew from the 40th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron dropped 45 500-pound bombs on targets in Iraq on April 4, 2003. The B-52's massive fuel load enables it to have an endurance limited only by the crew's need to eat and sleep. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard Freeland A B-52 Stratofortress flies a routine mission Nov. 12, 2008 over the Pacific Ocean. The B-52 was deployed from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Andersen AFB, Guam, part of a continuing operation of maintaining a bomber presence in the region. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald Air Force Global Strike Command officials assumed responsibility for the Air Force's nuclear-capable bomber force, including the B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit shown here, Feb. 1, 2010. This action completed the step-by-step transfer of all Air Force long-range, nuclear-capable assets to the Air Force's newest major command. U.S. Air Force photo Capt. Jeff Rogers (left) and 1st Lt. Patrick Applegate in the lower deck of a B-52 Stratofortress at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., on Aug. 21, 2006. The officers were with the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung A B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., drops live ordnance over the Nevada Test and Training Range May 12, 2003 during an Air Force firepower demonstration. The demonstration showcased the Air Force's air and space capabilities. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brian Ferguson A B-52 Stratofortress takes off April 13, 2011, during an exercise at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Dow A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress flies past the USS Nimitz as two U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornets fly in intercept positions April 23, 2008. The B-52 was from the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Despite its age the B-52 is still a formidable threat to any potential adversary. U.S. Navy photo