Increased gross weight (420,000 instead of 405,000 pounds), the MA-6A bombing navigation system, and more powerful engines were the main differences between the B-52B and the preceding B-52A. Also, in contrast to the B-52As, some of the B-52Bs could be fitted with "capsule" equipment for reconnaissance duties, the result of another policy reversal. In the latter case, the 6-man crew B-52B became an 8-man RB-52B crew.
Boeing started working on the B-52B design in February 1951, concurrent with signature of the first production document.
Because the aircraft design was derived from the B-47, the B-52B (as well as the fairly similar B-52A) benefited from the start from hard-earned experience. Always hovering over the program was the specter of the B-47's initial deficiencies and delays. Both the contractor and the Air Force seemed determined that the B-52 would not endure such problems. Characteristics of the intensive B-52 development were 670 days of testing in the Boeing wind tunnel, supplemented by 130 days of aerodynamic and aeroelastic testing in other facilities. In essence, Boeing personnel designed, built, and developed the B-52 as a well-knit, integrated packaged system. Parts were thoroughly tested before being installed in the new bomber. Improvements suggested by the YB-52's early flight tests appeared on B-52B production lines. That these changes were few remained worthy of note. Test reports were generally pessimistic, concerning themselves with every aerodynamic fault, however serious or minor, suspected or real. In 1953, more often than not, the published account of a B-52 test flight included the unusual statement that "no airplane malfunctions were reported." But the B-52B development was lengthy. Moreover, several B-52Bs, although earmarked for SAC, were diverted to the test program before joining the operational forces. The B-52B's early participation in complex flight tests soon pinpointed desirable production improvements-giving way in turn to new models in the series. Nevertheless, the airplane was considered to be outstanding, and the praise of Maj. Gen. Albert Boyd, the Wright Air Development Center's Commander, would long be remembered. General Boyd, who was also one of the Air Force's foremost test pilots, in May 1954 said that the B-52 was the finest airplane yet built. In a lighter mood, the general told his staff that someone should try to discover how "we accidentally developed an airplane that flies so beautifully."
Letter Contract AF33(600)-22119 of September 1952, which called for 43 RB-52Bs, gave way to a definitive contract that was signed on 15 April 1953. In May 1954, an amendment to this contract reduced the number of RB-52Bs by 10 (leaving 33 RB-52Bs on order) and directed construction of the canceled planes in the configuration of the next model series (RB-52C). The May 1954 amendment also added 25 other RB-52Cs on the 15 April 1953 contract. Hence, even though a sizeable B-52 program had been approved in mid-1953, Boeing in May 1954 had only 88 airplanes under contract-3 B-52As, 17 RB-52Bs (per definitive contract AF33(038)-21096 of November 1952), 33 RB-52Bs, and 35 RB-52Cs. Moreover, forthcoming procurement would not affect the current program-the first new order in August actually calling for still another B-52 model. Just the same, the modest program so far endorsed was not immune to further changes. Of significance, from the early procurement standpoint, was an Air Force decision, made official on 7 January 1955, that flatly reversed the Air Staff directive of October 1951. It gave the B-52 first priority as a bomber and once again relegated the aircraft's reconnaissance potential to a secondary role (The January 1955 decision coincided with a procurement order for several specialized reconnaissance versions of the Martin B-57 Canberra. These planes would all go to the Strategic Air Command, sometime in early 1956. In the ensuing years, SAC also got a contingent of high-altitude, reconnaissance U-2s, developed by Lockheed and first flown in 1955. ). As a result of the new decision, the 50 RB-52Bs and 35 RB-52Cs were redesignated B-52Bs and B-52Cs, respectively. Besides, as finally built, 23 of the 50 B-52Bs could not be used for reconnaissance.
As planned in early 1951, B-52 deliveries were due to start in April 1953. A 15-month slippage soon occurred, because of the Korean War and its many implications. Revised production schedules set up in June 1952 called for the B-52Bs to be delivered between April and December 1954, but additional procurement (finalized in April 1953) extended deliveries to April 1956. Meanwhile, the Air Force accepted 2 B-52Bs in 1954-1 in August and 1 in September. However, scheduled deliveries were suspended for 90 days, while Boeing engineers sought to correct cracking in the landing gear trunnion forgings. This second loss of time was never recouped, the last B-52B reaching the Air Force in August 1956-3 months behind schedule. Yet, once the Air Force decided to go ahead with large-scale procurement, the bulk of the production program went forward with few delays.
Boeing first flew the B-52B in December 1954. Like the B-52A (and subsequent models in the series), the B-52B Stratofortress was impressive. The new aircraft had twice the wingspan and nearly 3 times the wing area of the B-17, and its 8 engines delivered 10 times the power of the B-29. The B-52B's tail fin stood as tall as a 4-story building, while the bomber's length of almost 157 feet spanned over half the length of a football field. The B-52B's wingspan of 185 feet represented a greater distance than that travelled by Orville Wright in his historic first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
SAC assigned its first B-52, a B-52B (Serial No 52-8711) that could be converted for reconnaissance, to the 93d Heavy Bomb Wing, at Castle AFB, California. The 93d, a former medium bomb wing flying late model B-47s, used its new aircraft for crew transition training. SAC had planned from the start that the B-52s would be integrated into B-36 units on a 1-for-1 replacement basis-with retired B-36s being salvaged. Also, units would be converted 1 squadron at a time to facilitate B-52 operations and to prevent problems likely to arise in the assignment of maintenance equipment. Combat ready on 12 March 1956, the 93d Wing regressed to a non-ready status 2 months later, when it was authorized 15 additional B-52s. The wing was again fully operational on 26 June 1957, after crew training had become its primary mission (The Air Training Command had no B-52 school, and SAC's new bombers had to become operational as soon as possible. The best way to solve the problem was for SAC to handle the training of B-52 crews with a combat crew training squadron. This did not create a precedent, the same procedure having been used in SAC's B-36 training program at Carswell AFB, Tex. The 4017th Combat Crew Training Squadron was established at Castle AFB on 8 January 1955, as an integral part of the 93d Wing. When the B-52 training task became too great for 1 squadron, the wing's 3 other squadrons took over flight training, with the 4017th assuming ground instruction and the administrative phase of the program. As a rule, the training program consisted of 5 weeks of intensive ground school and 4 weeks of flight training, totaling between 35 and 50 hours in the air. ). Most of the B-52Bs produced were assigned to the 93d. A few early B-52Bs were first earmarked for testing, but they too ended with the heavy bomb wing.
Uncertain B-52 delivery schedules precluded proper budget planning, affecting in turn crew training, maintenance scheduling, and stocking of spare parts. There were shortages of ground support equipment, dual bomb racks, crew kits, electronic countermeasure components and training items. Delayed construction of maintenance facilities, the lack of warehouse space to store flyaway kits, as well as shortages of operational facilties for squadron briefings and other functions were serious handicaps. In addition, the failure of B-52 ramps and taxiways together with runway deterioration interfered with operations. These initial problems, practically resolved at Castle AFB by the end of 1955 (Castle AFB's parking ramp and runways were strengthened to handle 450,000-pound loads (the forthcoming B-52C's expected take-off weight). The width of the taxi strips was increased 175 feet. In October 1955, postflight B-52 docks, as well as operations and engineering buildings were under construction. A large hangar had been completed. ), were to prove far more severe at many of SAC's future B-52 bases.
Fuel leaks, icing of the fuel system, imperfect water injection pumps, faulty alternators and, above all, deficient bombing and fire-control systems were the main troubles of the early B-52Bs. However, these deficiencies as a whole were not as severe as those usually encountered by a new bomber, and far less distressing than those experienced by the B-47 at the same stage of its career. In any case, most of the B-52B's initial problems were not entirely unexpected. Air Research and Development Command and Air Materiel Command had been insisting for months that the aircraft should be perfected before delivery. Strategic Air Command, in contrast, steadfastly objected to further postponement (Most in the Air Force seemed to agree that production should wait until research and development had worked most of the kinks out of any new aircraft. Yet different opinions cluttered the key issue of determining at what point an article was ready for full-scale production. One might conclude that SAC, ill-equipped at the time for its awesome responsibilities, wondered how much caution and time it could reasonably afford. ), believing the aircraft should be accepted and modified at a later date-which they were. SAC's objections to more delay were not inconsistent. General LeMay continued to press for the best weapon system for his force. But after approval of a configuration as nearly perfect as possible, the SAC Commander thought too many immediate improvements, refinements, or additional requirements could well be self-defeating. As late as February 1955, SAC protested against "unneccessary changes;" pointed out that operational units would benefit from "more standardization" in the B-52s; and asked to participate in the coordination of all engineering change proposals. While AMC, which was assigned executive responsibility for the new bomber, did not wish to concede any of its engineering prerogatives, SAC did get its way. Some 170 engineering change proposals suggested for the first 20 B-52s were reduced to 60 by the end of March.
In October 1955, Boeing engineers had yet to solve the problem of cabin temperatures. The pilots, sitting high in the nose, were comfortable at a given heating setting. However, observer and navigator, sitting with their feet against the bottom of the fuselage, with the metal sometimes reaching 20 degrees below zero, suffered from the cold-the wearing of winter underwear, heavy clothing, and thick flying boots hardly helping. The problem was compounded by another factor for which the B-52 could not be blamed. The development of personal equipment lagged years behind airframe and engine. Crew MC- 1 spacesuits, parachutes, and other paraphernalia were uncomfortable. Crew fatigue from flying the new bomber was often insignificant, compared to that caused by wearing all this survival equipment. Conversely, if enough heat was turned on to keep the observer and navigator warm, the pilots became overheated. Pilots also criticized the new bomber's high-frequency communications system. First installed in the B-47, the AN/ARC-21 long-range radio was proving even less reliable in the B-52.
The J57 engines of the B-52 at first presented a serious problem. The principal difficulty persisting in mid-1955, when the aircraft started reach ing SAC, was that none of the various J57s performed adequately with water injection, a process due to augment the engine's thrust at takeoff. The YB-52's J57-P-3 engine had been discarded after many modifications failed to keep it from shutting down at high altitude, regardless of speed. In addition, the power-poor and therefore temporary P-3 could not use water (Even before the B-52 was built engineers recognized that a serious thrust problem would show up during a fully loaded takeoff, particularly on days when runway temperatures approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For a while, it seemed jet assisted takeoff units would be needed to provide reserve auxiliary thrust. The Air Force canceled such a project in April 1954, following Pratt and Whitney's successful development of a water injection system that promised to rectify the thrust deficiency. The unexpected difficulties that followed were serious, but not insurmountable.). Equally frustrating were concurrent difficulties with other models of the J57, which left the P-1 W as the only fully-qualified engine, even though its performance was substandard. Although fitted for water injec tion, this model had to be used as a dry engine. For lack of anything better, about one-half of the B-52B fleet was fitted with P-1Ws. The J57-P-9W slated to succeed the P-1, ran into trouble. It was a lighter engine, incorporating titanium components. Unfortunately, the titanium compres sor blades cracked as a result of both forging defects and of substandard metal containing too much hydrogen. A return to steel parts, at a weight penalty of 250 pounds, produced the J57-P-29W32 and J57-P-29WA engines, which equipped most other B-52Bs (The rate of water that could be injected in the P-29W engine was only half that of the P-29WA. Subsequent modifications brought the P-29W to the P-29WA's standard.). However, by mid-1956 the titanium problems had been solved and the P-19W, a higher-thrust version of the titanium-component P-9W, appeared on the last 5 B-52Bs.
The Air Force surmised that the first fatal B-52 accident in February 1956 was caused by a faulty alternator. Twenty B-52Bs, carrying the suspect equipment, were immediately grounded. In addition, the Air Force stopped further B-52 deliveries. In mid-May, after Boeing seemed reasonably convinced that the alternator problem was solved, more aircraft were accepted. However, the alternator problem later resurfaced. The B-52Bs were again temporarily grounded in July, this time because of fuel system and hydraulic pack deficiencies. Although this latest grounding did not last long, the 93d Wing's training program suffered. In mid-year, no combatready crews were available for the 42d Heavy Bomb Wing's new B-52s.
The lessons learned during the B-47 conversion program were put to good use in preventing many B-52 maintenance and supply problems. Specialists associated with jet engines, the repair of fuel tanks, and the maintenance of all kinds of systems (bombing, navigation, hydraulics, electrical, and the like), were dispatched to Air Training Command for schooling on B-52 components, their education proving easier than their original transition from propeller-type aircraft to the jet-powered B-47. Other steps were taken to avoid, or at least to minimize, potential difficulties. After 2 years of bickering with SAC, AMC finally consented to establish special holding accounts at various supply depots for ground support equipment. The "Z" accounts, as they were known by 1955, had two distinct advantages. First, they segregated the various equipment needed by the B-52. Secondly they ensured that the 800 or so B-52 line items, which they eventually comprised, would be used exclusively in support of such aircraft. Once the "Z" accounts were established, SAC made certain that all available support items were in place, whether at Castle or elsewhere, prior to the arrival of any B-52. Yet, the Air Staff agreed with SAC that much more would be necessary to thwart other possible support problems of the B-47 type. As a result, in the summer of 1955 the Air Staff asked AMC to study how to speed up the repair of future malfunctions reported by operational units. The Air Staff's request and ensuing discussions between AMC and SAC representatives gave way to Sky Speed, a program organized by AMC's Oklahoma Air Materiel Area. And, before long, Sky Speed set up 1 contractor maintenance team of 50 people at every B-52 base. The Sky Speed teams did not participate, even indirectly, in the important modification projects subsequently done at the Boeing-Wichita plant. Nor did they take over the depot workload of the San Antonio Air Materiel Area, which was responsible for the B-52 inspect and repair as necessary (IRAN) program. However, the teams did reduce the time B-52s spent at the depot by doing much of the work that would ordinarily await the IRAN cycle. The maintenance teams practically kept the aircraft flying, because they immediately corrected noted safety deficiencies, installed fixes, and performed a great many other technical chores. As a rule, it took an average of 1 week for a B-52 to go through a Sky Speed routine checkup, and each B-52 received at least 1 checkup per year. By 1958, Sky Speed had reaped such success that a similar program was being devised for SAC's KC-135s.
Sunflower, a modernization project handled by Boeing, brought 7 early B-52Bs to the configuration of the next model in the series (B-52C). Started in the summer of 1956 at the Wichita plant, the project involved the installation of approximately 150 kits. Sunflower took time to accomplish; the last modified B-52B was not returned to SAC until December 1957. B-52Bs underwent many other modifications. They participated in such projects as Harvest Moon, Blue Band, and Quickclip, all of which were first initiated for the benefit of subsequent B-52 models.
The Air Force took delivery of the last B-52B in August 1956. The Air Force accepted 50 B-52Bs, 27 of which qualified as RB-52Bs. The Air Force accepted 13 B-52Bs in fiscal year 1955 (the first one in August 1954); 35 in FY 56, and the last 2 in FY 57 (1 each in July and August 1956). This was done at a cost of: $14.43 million: Airframe, $11,328,398; engines (installed), $2,547,472; electronics, $61,198; ordnance, $11,520; armament, $482,284.34. Cost breakouts were sometimes undeterminable and occasionally misleading. For instance, contractor-furnished equipment such as electronics might be included in the airframe's cost, instead of being broken out to its proper category. Similarly, the costs of some components and subsystems were often lumped under armament, a category carried on Air Force records as "other, including armament."
Other configurations include the RB-52B-Development of the RB-52B, once briefly referred to as the RX-16 (The X-16 or RX-16 designation, first applied to a post-World War 11 reconnaissance project, was reserved for the test version of high-altitude aircraft and was never permanently used. ), dated back to the early part of 1951. The reconnaissance model featured multi-purpose pods carried in the aircraft's bomb bay (A pod is a compartment or container, often streamlined, attached or incorporated into the outer configuration of an airplane or rocket vehicle. The term is usually qualified. For example, a wing pod is a streamlined nacelle slung beneath an airplane's wing, especially for the installation of a jet engine or engines, while a pod gun was a housing for a machine gun. ). Initially, 17 pods were ordered, solely as flight test articles. The pods were pressurized and equipped with downward ejection seats for the 2-man crew. For search operations, the multi-purpose pod contained 1 radar receiver (AN/APR-14) at the low frequency reconnaissance electronic station, and 2 radar receivers (AN/APR-9) at the high frequency station. Each station had 2 pulse analyzers (AN/APA-11A), with which to process the collected data. The pod also housed 3 panoramic receivers (AN/ARR-88), and all electronic signals were recorded on an AN/ANQ-IA wire recorder. Photographic equipment consisted of 4 K-38 cameras at the multi-camera station, and 1 camera (either a T-11 or K-36) at the vertical camera station. For mapping purposes, the pod had 3 T-11 cartographic cameras. A December 1951 mockup inspection of the multi-purpose pod went well, no major changes being requested. SAC wanted a special electronic reconnaissance (or ferret) pod but this project did not encounter the same success. Work at Boeing progressed smoothly. Air Research and Development Command ascertained that I ferret pod-equipped aircraft could gather in a single flight all the electronic reconnaissance data formerly obtained by 3 conventional RB-52s. Nevertheless, the Air Staff canceled the project in December 1952, and a second SAC request in 1954 for a separate ferret pod did not fare any better. By 1955, however, the original multi-purpose pods had become "general purpose capsules," carrying the latest search, analysis, and direction-finding devices. While the more modern capsules might not satisfy all of SACs requirements, they constituted clever, if temporary, cost-saving expedients. The capsule, which could be winched in and out of the bomb-bay, added only 300 pounds to the weight of the basic aircraft. Finally, the capsule's installation was so simple that it took just 4 hours to convert a B-52 to the reconnaissance configuration. First flown at Seattle on 25 January 1955 (actually, several months ahead of latest schedules), capsule-equipped B-52Bs began reaching SAC's 93d Heavy Bombardment Wing on 29 June. Phaseout of the 27 RB-52Bs followed the B-52B's pattern.
NB-52B-After undergoing permanent modifications similar to those made on the last B-52A, the eighth B-52 production was redesignated NB-52B. In this configuration, the new bomber was credited with 140 of the 199 X-15 flights resulting from the NB-52/X-15 combination. After being dropped from the wing of the NB-52B mothership, the X-15 flew to altitudes of more than 250,000 feet and reached speeds exceeding Mach 6, with air friction heating its skin to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. The NB-52B also participated in many other important projects, including the lifting body research aircraft program sponsored by the Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Started in 1966, the program's test flights were still going on in late 1973, with Martin Marietta's needle-nosed X-24 soon to be tested with the NB-52B. The permanently modified B-52B was also used to test solid rocket boosters for the space shuttle. Moreover, as a mother ship, it was expected to play an active role in the remotely piloted research vehicle program, another joint project of the Air Force and NASA. The NB-52B, like the A -model, carried the price tag of the bomber from which it derived. In each case, however, an additional $2 million was spent to fit the basic aircraft for its many experimental tasks.
In March 1965, SAC began retiring B-52Bs that had reached the end of their structural service life, some of the planes going to the Air Training Command for ground crew training. The first B-52B (Serial No 52-8711), received by SAC 10 years earlier, deserved special treatment. On 29 September, it was donated to the Aerospace Museum at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, for permanent display. The remainder of SAC's 2 B-52B squadrons were earmarked for accelerated phaseout in early 1966, and by the end of June all B-52Bs had been sent to storage at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.
On 21 May 1956, an Air Research and Development Command B-52B, flying at 50,000-foot altitude above the Pacific Ocean, dropped a hydrogen bomb over the Bikini Atoll. It was the first time a B-52 was used as a carrier and drop plane for the powerful thermonuclear weapon.
On 24 and 25 November 1956, in a spectacular operation called Quick Kick, 4 B-52Bs of the 93d Wing joined 4 B-52Cs of the 42d Bomb Wing for a nonstop flight around the perimeter of North America. The most publicized individual flight was that of a 93d Wing B-52, which originated at Castle AFB and terminated at Baltimore, Maryland, covering some 13,500 nautical miles in 31 hours and 30 minutes. SAC promptly pointed out that the flight would have been impossible without 4 flight refuelings by KC-97 tankers. Also, flying time could have been reduced by 5 or 6 hours with the refueling help of a higher, faster flying all-jet tanker, such as the KC-135 then being developed by Boeing. SAC's 93d Air Refueling Squadron at Castle AFB received the command's first all-jet tanker on 28 June 1957. The acquisition of KC-135s meant a great deal to SAC. Mating the new tanker and the B-52 would pay high dividends. It would reduce refueling time and increase safety, the latter remaining a constant goal of the command. Specifically, with a KC-135, the refueling rendezvous could be conducted at the bomber's normal speed and altitude. In contrast, using a KC-97, the B-52 had to slow down and descend to lower altitudes than normal to accomplish the hookup-an exacting exercise.
From 16 to 18 January 1957, in another spectacular operation called Power Flite, 3 B-52Bs of the 93d Bomb Wing made a nonstop, round-the-world flight. With the help of several KC-97 inflight refuelings, the lead plane, Lucky Lady III, and its 2 companions completed the 24,325-mile flight in 45 hours and 19 minutes, less than one-half the time required on the Lucky Lady II flight-the first-ever nonstop round-the-world flight, accomplished in February 1949 by a B-50A that was refueled by KB-29M tankers. The National Aeronautic Association subsequently recognized Operation Power Flite as the outstanding flight of 1957 and named the 93d Wing as recipient of the Mackay Trophy.
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