As rolled out of either the Seattle or Wichita plant, the B-52E hardly differed from the B-52D. It was equipped with more reliable electronics, and the more accurate AN/ASQ-38 bombing navigational system replaced the B-52D's final AN/ASQ-48. The relocation of some equipment and a slight redesign of the navigator-bombardier station increased crew comfort and provided better access to instruments and greater maintenance ease. Other dissimilarities between the 2 models grew from post-production modifications.
As an improved B-52D, the B-52E development dated back to the end of 1953.
The beginning of large-scale production, the opening of the Wichita plant, and the 7-wing program endorsed in late 1953 did not satisfy General LeMay. The program's long-range increase to 408 aircraft, as approved in March 1954, remained short of his command's requirements. On 20 June 1955, the Air Force Council recommended that the B-52 program be raised to 576 and that production be accelerated. Secretary Talbott approved the council's recommendation, but pointed out that money remained the limiting factor and only 399 aircraft would be produced on an accelerated basis, beginning in mid-1955. The further increase to 576, the Secretary indicated, would depend entirely on the amount of funds obligated in the coming 2 years. On 15 August 1955, Donald A. Quarles replaced Harold Talbott as Secretary of the Air Force. In September 1955, on the assumption that money would indeed be forthcoming, SAC began to plan the equipping of 11 bombardment wings, each with 45 B-52s. Five command support B-52s would be added to each wing once every unit had been converted as programmed. In the spring of 1956, the Subcommittee on the Air Force of the Senate Armed Services Committee undertook a review of American airpower. Asked for his opinion, General LeMay again urged that the B-52 production be increased. In December, the President's budget set the B-52 program at 11 wings, and reprogrammed procurement to acquire 53 additional B-52Es, starting in mid-1957, when fiscal year 1958 funds would become available.
The B-52E procurement was covered by 4 definitive contracts, funded in fiscal years 1956 and 1957. The first one, AF33(600)-31267, concluded on 26 October 1955, was essentially a B-52D contract to which 26 B-52Es were attached. The second, AF33(600)-32863, signed on 2 July 1956, counted 16 B-52Es and 44 further improved productions (B-52Fs). All such aircraft were to be built in Seattle. The other 2 contracts, AF33(600)-31155 of 10 August 1955 and AF33(600)-32864 of 2 July 1956, also involved other B-52s (either D or F models), but covered 14 and 44 B-52Es, respectively. All would come from the new Wichita plant.
The Seattle-built B-52E was first flown on 3 October 1957, 3 weeks ahead of its Wichita counterpart. A few B-52Es began reaching the Strategic Air Command in December 1957.
Besides sharing the initial deficiencies of other B-52s, the B-52E introduced a new problem. The aircraft's new ASQ-38 bombing-navigation system at first was not as accurate as had been anticipated. It was difficult to maintain, and replacement parts were in short supply. The ASQ-38 problems at first appeared relatively minor, but grew in importance as soon as the B-52E entered the Big Four modification program. Moreover, since the same bombing-navigation system would be installed in all subsequent B-52s, extensive engineering changes were initiated to improve low-level terrain avoidance for the long term. The modifications promised to be time-consuming and costly, and they gave way to a special project, Jolly Well, which exchanged major parts of the ASQ-38 and replaced the terrain computer-another critical component of the overall system. Jolly Well was completed in 1964, after successful modification of the ASQ-38 of 480 B-52s-B-52E, F, G, and H models.
The B-52E production ended before mid-1958, the last 3 aircraft being accepted by the Air Force in June. Of the 100 B-52Es accepted by the Air Force, 58 came from Wichita which thus began to assume production leadership over Seattle. All B-52Es were accepted in FY 58, between October 1957 and June 1958. Cost per sircraft was: $5.94 million: Airframe, $3,700,750; engines (installed), $1,256,516; electronics, $54,933; ordnance, $4,626; armament (and others), $931,665.56. The B-52E cost less than any other B-52. Although production kept on increasing, the price of ensuing models did not go down. On the contrary, in-production structural improvements, better engines, more sophisticated components, and other technological pluses boosted costs.
The second B-52E built (Serial No. 56-632) was assigned from the start to major test programs. It was used for prototyping landing gears, engines, and other major B-52 sub-systems, test results contributing significantly to the improvements featured by subsequent B-52 models. Also, the B-52E test plane underwent permanent modifications in order to participate in highly specialized development projects. Small swept winglets were attached alongside the nose of the reconfigured bomber-NB-52E. A long probe extended from the nose of the modified plane and the NB-52E wings displayed nearly twice the normal amount of controlling surfaces. In addition, traditional mechanical and hydraulic linkages to move the control surfaces were replaced by electronic and electrical systems. Internally, the NB-52E was loaded with a multitude of special electronic measuring systems. The aircraft was first used to develop an electronic flutter and buffeting suppression system. This would decrease the fatigue and stress of aircrews flying at low level. The N configuration participated in another project, known by the acronym LAMS-Load Alleviation and Mode Stabilization. During the LAMS flights, sensors noted gusts and activated the control surfaces to cut down on fatigue damage to the aircraft. In mid-1973, the NB-52E flew 10 knots (11.5 mph) faster than the speed at which flutter normally would disintegrate the aircraft. This was made possible by the aircraft's winglets (canards), which reduced 30 percent of the vertical and 50 percent of the horizontal vibrations caused by air gusts. The NB-52E's contributions were significant, but its cost was relatively low-$6.02 million. Over the years, barely more than $500,000 had been spent to bring the aircraft to its permanent testing configuration. In 1973 its career was nearing its end; the Air Force planned to retire the NB-52E in mid-1974.
The Secretary of Defense's decision to reduce SAC's bomber fleet by mid-1971 affected the B-52Es more than it did the B-52Ds. While the B-52Ds of units inactivated in 1967 went to other operational wings, excess B-52Es were designated non-operational active aircraft. This meant that the aircraft were stored with operational units, maintained in a serviceable condition, and periodically flown. However, no additional crews or maintenance personnel were authorized for these planes. A few B-52Es were permanently retired in 1967, but only because they had reached the end of their operational life by accumulating a specified number of flying hours under conditions of structural stress. This phaseout pattern was retained in the following years. In mid-1973, the Air Force still carried 48 B-52Es in its inventory, but they were not part of the active operational forces.
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