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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

B-52 A

Manufacturer's Model 464-201-0

The B-52A differed in several major respects from the prototype B-52. It looked more like an older type of bomber because of its enlarged nose that provided side-by-side pilot seating. To accommodate additional equipment, the forward compartment was extended 21 inches. Other improvements consisted of a 4-gun, .50-caliber tail turret, electronic countermeasures equipment, a chaff dispensing system, and J57-P-1 W engines. The engines were fitted for water injection, 360 gallons of water being carried in a rear fuselage tank. Although the A -model was capable of "flying boom" flight refueling, its unrefueled range was increased by providing two 1,000-gallon auxiliary fuel tanks supplementing the normal 35,600-gallon fuel load.

Restricted to testing, the B-52As were nevertheless considered as the first B-52 productions. While they were also 14 months behind schedule, extenuating circumstances abounded. As early as 1950, Boeing urged AMC to prepare for production, claiming that 1 year in lead time could be gained by securing tooling, materials, and other items without delay. "I can say in all honesty;" Boeing's Vice President wrote, "that I believe the $13 million investment would be the cheapest insurance premium our Government ever paid." That the Air Force did not leap into action made sense at the time, since alternative aircraft remained under consideration. Later, when the XB-52 materialized, the aircraft appeared so complicated that even the contractor doubted that a B-29-type of mass production could be applied to the B-52. Comparing the 2 bombers, Boeing's President was quoted as saying, would be like comparing a kiddie-car and a Cadillac. In fact, designing the B-29 had required 153,000 engineering hours; the B-52, 3,000,000. In any case, it would take until August 1952, long after the YB-52 flew, to get the rival YB-60 out of potential production (The YB-52 made its first flight on 15 April 1952; the YB-60, on the 18th-Convair flying its modified B-36 only 14 days after receipt of the prototype's eighth engine. The initial scarcity of 157 engines (also used by North American F-100 Super Sabres) presented problems. The worried Boeing contractor was being troublesome and kept on reminding the Air Force that the company had been led to believe that it would receive priority allocations of the new engines-particularly over Convaic The issue, however, did not reach serious proportions. The Air Force lost interest in the YB-60 in August 1952, after the aircraft's performance flaws tarnished its first bright prospects. The B-60 project was officially canceled in January 1953, the 2 experimental planes being scrapped in July 1954.); several more months for SAC to dispose of the B47Z competitor, and until mid-1953 for the B-52 program to get truly under way. Boeing B-47Z, also earmarked to receive J57 engines, was the last stumbling block to large-scale B-52 production. SAC won the debate in late 1952, after preparing a convincing new study of the problems at hand. To begin with, the B47Z had a limited growth potential, but the B-52 was in its comparative infancy. The B-52 could carry more atomic weapons than the B-47Z. The latter, because of its weight limitations, would be less suitable to deliver hydrogen bombs. With almost uncanny vision, the SAC study concluded that it would be a serious mistake not to procure an adequate B-52 force.

Had the Air Force endorsed Boeing's early request for tooling, it is questionable whether this would have made much difference. Because of the Korean conflict, the tooling industry was unable to meet the demands of the aircraft manufacturers. Another related problem prevailed, however. After World War 11, many trained aircraft personnel of necessity migrated to other jobs. These people had to be regrouped and retrained. And, with industry booming nationwide as a result of the Korean War, military procurement began to compete with commercial production. Although Boeing selected subcontractors in the spring of 1951, (immediately following the production letter contract for 13 B-52As), the low priority assigned to the B-52 by the Air Staff was a formidable handicap. Boeing used 2 main criteria for its selection-availability of labor and wartime experience. The major subcontractors eventually picked were the A. O. Smith Co., of Toledo, Ohio, for landing gears; the Kaiser Manufacturing Co., of Richmond, Calif., for profile milling items; the Rohr Aircraft Corporation of Chula Vista, Calif., for drop tanks, power pods, and tail compartments; the Briggs Manufacturing Co., of Detroit, Mich., for rudders, elevators, vertical fin flaps, ailerons, spoilers, and outboard wings; and the A. O. Smith Co., of Rochester, N.Y., for weldments. Also, at its inception, the program was assigned "S" priority position #63 which was exceedingly low and augured poorly for the successful accomplishment of stated production schedules (1 aircraft per month, at first; 4, later). It was not until September 1952 that the priority level was raised to #27, but by this time slippages had occurred that were not recoverable.

Even more serious, according to an Air Force team that analyzed the situation, was "a general inability to adequately plan for the magnitude and complexity of the program." In summary, the protracted B-52 development was caused on one hand by revolutionary changes in aircraft design and propulsion; on the other, by uncertainty within the Air Force as to how far and in what direction it could go in utilizing these changes. As to the early production delays, the program's low priority was an obvious factor. Another cause, the Air Force believed, were defects in the overall organization originally set up by Boeing. Finally, production slipped to allow incorporation of mandatory changes that were identified during the early testing phases of the X and YB-52s.

The procurement plans of 1951-1952 underwent many changes. In keeping with almost traditional patterns, the B-52's early production was shaped by deletions, additions, and reconfigurations. The letter contract of February 1951 was amended on 9 June 1952-several months before the definitive contract was signed. Consequently, although 13 B-52As had been initially ordered, only 3 were built. As was usually the case, the second model in the aircraft series bore the brunt of the changes. Against this routine background, important events unfolded. The Air Force, during the first half of 1953, finally endorsed a sizeable B-52 program. Made official in August 1953, the decision called for 282 aircraft-enough to equip 7 SAC wings. Since the Air Force wanted Boeing to deliver the aircraft between October 1956 and December 1958, another plant would be needed. Actually, an additional plant had been approved in mid-1951 and canceled within a few weeks. But this time, the decision stood firm. Harold Talbott, who had succeeded Mr. Finletter as Secretary of the Air Force on 4 February 1953, announced the action on 28 September. Boeing's second facility, established at Wichita, Kansas, eventually surpassed the Seattle plant in B-52 production.

The Air Force chose to honor its new bomber months before it flew, with a factory roll-out ceremony attended by Gen. Nathan F. Twining, Air Force Chief of Staff since 30 June 1953. Addressing the several thousand people assembled at Boeing's Seattle plant, General Twining said: "The long rifle was the great weapon of its day . . . . Today this B-52 is the long rifle of the air age." The very existence of these global jet giants, General Twining stressed, would be a powerful deterrent against attack, for the Stratofortresses were designed to deliver devastating blows deep behind any aggressive frontier.

The Air Force accepted the initial B-52A (Serial No. 52-001) in June 1954 --2 months before the aircraft's first flight--and returned it immediately to Boeing for use in the test program. For the same purpose, the other 2 B-52As were also loaned to Boeing as soon as accepted.

The Air Force accepted 3 B-52As-the total built by Boeing. The 10 other B-52As, ordered in early 1951, were completed as B-52Bs. All 3 B-52As were accepted in 1954, 1 each in June, August, and September. End of production was anounced in 1954. B-52A production ended in September, with delivery of the third plane.

$28.38 million makes the B-52A somewhat cheaper than the X and YB-52s, but not much. Air Force records carried the production B-52As at such seemingly fantastic prices because the aircraft were essentially experimental, with much of the initial tooling and new development costs charged against them. Costs were: Airframe, $26,433,518; engines (installed), $2,848,120; electronics, $50,761; ordnance, $9,193; armament, $47,874.

The last B-52A (Serial No 52-003) was redesignated NB-52A in 1959 (The letter N was a prefix used by the Air Force to denote that an airplane (bomber, fighter, and other aircraft alike) was assigned to a special test program and that the aircraft had been so drastically changed that it would be beyond practical or economical limits to bring it back to its original or to standard operational configuration. Besides the familiar X and Y, 3 other so-called classification letters were used as status prefix symbols: namely, the letter G, which denoted an aircraft permanently grounded, utilized for ground instruction and training; J, temporarily reconfigured for special tests; and Z, in planning or predevelopment stage. As of late 1973, all 3 services of the Department of Defense still applied this medium to identify the status of their aircraft.), after being modified to carry the North American rocket-powered X-15. The origin of the X-15 project dated back to the mid-1950s, when the United States became deeply interested in the space age and manned space flight. The program was a joint venture by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a federal agency established by Congress in 1915, did research for the benefit of commercial and military aviation. The advisory committee was absorbed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the fall of 1958, becoming in the process the organizational core of the newly created agency. ),the Air Force, and the Navy, with the X-15 conceived as a means to obtain technical data on hypersonic aeronautics. As it turned out, the immediate beneficiary of the X-15 flights was the manned space program, and the X-15 established itself as a most successful research aircraft. But the NB-52A's mother ship role, although less spectacular, was important and later a second B-52 became involved. For its part, the B-52A had to undergo extensive as well as permanent modifications by North American and USAF technicians. Specifically, a 6- by 8-foot section was cut out of the B-52's right wing flap to make room for the X-15's wedge tail. A pylon to mate the X-15 to the NB-52 was installed between the bomber's inboard engines and the fuselage. Lines and wires that held the X-15 below the NB-52 passed through this pylon. Large liquid oxygen tanks were placed in the B-52's bomb bays for topping off the X-15's liquid oxygen system prior to separation. A closed circuit television system was added so that the B-52 crew could carefully watch the X-15 and its pilot prior to launch. Finally, there was an elaborate launch control system to make sure that the X-15 was released at precisely the right instant. Captive flights to check out the X-15 and X-15/B-52 combination began at Edwards AFB on 10 March 1959. On 8 June, the first true flight occurred, but the rocket was not lit and the X-15 was flown as a glider. The first rocket-powered flight came in September, with the NB-52A eventually participating in 59 of the 199 X-15 flights conducted before the program's end in 1968.

The B-52A phaseout began in 1960, when the first of the 3 aircraft was retired after being test flown from Edwards AFB at take-off weights up to 415,000 pounds.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:35:08 ZULU