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Greatness defined in an aircraft

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Andrew Crawford
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
For more than six decades, the B-52 Stratofortress has become an iconic symbol of freedom and deterrence to enemies, even when it sits idle.

Air Force Global Strike Command's B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions. The bomber is capable of flying at subsonic speeds and can carry a wide array of weapons, including nuclear or precision guided conventional weapons.

Over the years, the aircraft has changed and evolved to meet new mission requirements and demands, said Robert Michel, 5th Bomb Wing historian.

"The B-52A first flew in 1954, and the B model entered service in 1955,"said Michel. "A total of 744 B-52s were built with the last, a B-52H, delivered in October 1962. Only the H model is still in the Air Force inventory and is assigned to Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Force Reserve Command."

Comparing different bombers strengths and weaknesses is difficult. Much like the B-52, the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is an American strategic bomber able to carry conventional and nuclear weapons. However, the B-2 also features low observable stealth technology and has an unrefueled range of 6,000 miles making it 2,800 miles short of the B-52's top flying range on one tank of fuel.

In addition to conventional conflict, the B-52 can perform strategic attack, air interdiction, offensive counter-air maneuvers, close air support and maritime operations, added Michel. During Operation Desert Storm, B-52s delivered 40 percent of all the weapons dropped by coalition forces.

The aircraft's flexibility was evident in Desert Storm when B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers and decimated the morale of Iraq's Republican Guard, said Michel. The Gulf War involved the longest strike mission in the history of aerial warfare at that time when B-52s took off from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., fired conventional air launched cruise missiles and returned to Barksdale -- a 35-hour, non-stop combat mission.

The aircraft is highly effective when used for ocean surveillance, and can assist the U.S. Navy in anti-ship and mine-laying operations, Michel explained. Two B-52s, in two hours, can monitor 140,000 square miles of ocean surface.

All B-52s are equipped with an electro-optical viewing system that uses platinum silicide forward-looking infrared and high resolution low-light-level television sensors to augment targeting, battle assessment and flight safety. These features further improve their combat ability and low-level flight capability.

Additionally, Aircrew may use night vision goggles to enhance their vision during low-light missions; providing greater safety and increasing the pilot's ability to visually clear terrain, avoid threats and see other aircraft in a covert or lights-out environment.

On-going modifications incorporate the global positioning system, external and internal weapon data bus upgrades and a full array of advance weapons currently under development.

Finally, a recent modification is the addition of an advanced targeting pod, which offers infrared and electro-optical tracking and laser designation of stationary and moving targets. Additionally, an electronic data link and global messaging system has been added and can be used in conjunction with, or independent of, the advanced targeting pod.

"The B-52 Stratofortress has been the backbone of the manned strategic bomber force for the United States for more than 50 years," said Michel. "The B-52 will be a capable platform through the 21st century and an important element for the nation's defense."