The B-52 Is America's Longest-Serving Plane – And The Most Badass
Popular Mechanics South Africa|Popular Mechanics March/April 2021
Like many of America’s legendary aircraft, the B-52 was built to offset the Soviet threat that characterised the Cold War. The US needed a bomber to reach far-flung Soviet targets, defeat their air defences, and carry a massive atomic payload.
Alex Hillongs

Boeing’s initial 1948 designs included swept wings and six massive turboprop engines – a nod to the Soviets’ long-range bomber, the Tupolev Tu-95 Bear. But when one brash army officer fielded Boeing’s proposal and told the aeronautical designers to ditch the props, they came back with an all-new, eight-engine jet bomber. One Boeing historian would later call it ‘the perfect form of the subsonic jet’.

The first B-52 Stratofortress hit the skies on 15 April 1952, three years after the Soviet Union developed its first atomic weapon. It would take three more years for the nearly 49 metre-long B-52 to enter service, and once it did, the US was eager to demonstrate its newfound bombing capabilities.

It was the addition of looped-hose in-flight refuelling technology that made the bomber a truly global threat. In January 1957, three B-52s conducted a simulated bombing run over the Malay Peninsula before landing safely a record two days later at March Air Force Base in California – less than half the time it took for Boeing’s B-50 Superfortress to fly non-stop around the world in 1949.

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