Wow, look wh0 turns 60 on Sunday. Yup, April 15 marks the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the nation’s ubiquitous B-52 Stratofortress bomber.
On April 15, 1952 legendary Boeing test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnson brought the XB-52 (shown above) prototype aloft for the first time, six years after the company was awarded the contract to develop the plane by the ARMY Air Force and two years before it entered service with the newly independent Air Force. Think about this, 60 years before the B-52’s first flight, airplanes didn’t exist. Remember, the Air Force’s newest B-52 just turned 50.
(The Air Force fact sheet on the aircraft incorrectly lists its initial operational capability date as 1952. The B-52 entered limited service in 1954.)
Read up on the history of the B-52’s development. It took nearly ten years of fits, starts and redesigns to get the revolutionary and long-lasting jet bomber into service. It may give you some perspective whenever you get frustrated with how long it’s taking to field the current crop of next-generation weapons like the new long-range bomber.
Here’s what Air Force Global Strike Command, the 21st Century successor to the legendary Strategic Air Command, has to say about the incredible milestone that its BUFFs have reached.
Air Force Global Strike Command will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the B-52 Stratofortress on April 15, 1952. This flight was made by the YB-52 prototype in Seattle.
Air Force Global Strike Command will commemorate the airframe’s anniversary with events centered around the theme: “The B-52: An Icon of American Airpower.”
During the celebratory campaign, AFGSC will recognize the heritage and accomplishments of the B-52 and the people – both past and present – responsible for the development, acquisition, operation, maintenance and security of the weapon system.
The B-52’s long and rich heritage is illustrated by stories of families who have up to three generations of Airmen who worked on the B-52, such as 1st Lt. Daniel Welch, a B-52 co-pilot at Minot. Welch is a third-generation crew member on the airframe.
According to Welch, his grandfather flew every B-52 model and commanded Welch’s current squadron at Minot, the 23rd Bomb Squadron. Welch’s father was also a B-52 crew member during his time in the Air Force.
Through the course of the year, the Command will highlight the history of deterrence and combat capabilities the B-52 has provided through its distinguished career, in conflicts from Vietnam to Operation Enduring Freedom.
Some accomplishments to be highlighted throughout the year include:
April 15, 1952 – The first flight of the YB-52 Stratofortress will be commemorated with a long-duration flight from AFGSC Headquarters at Barksdale.
May 10 through Oct. 23, 1972 – Operation Linebacker – Linebacker was the first continuous bombing effort conducted against North Vietnam since the bombing halt instituted by President Lyndon B. Johnson in November 1968.
June 18, 1965 – Operation Arc Light – The first use of the B-52D Stratofortress as a conventional bomber from bases in the U.S. to Guam to support ground combat operations in Vietnam.
Aug. 2, 1994 – B-52’s first round-the-world bombing mission.
Oct. 26, 1962 – Strategic Air Command received the last B-52 from production line
Dec. 18 through 29, 1972 – Operation Linebacker II – This operation saw the largest heavy bomber strikes launched by the U.S. Air Force since the end of World War II.