The top bomber of all time was the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress which was first introduced in February of 1955. The B-52 is a long-range, strategic bomber with eight jet-powered engines and is capable of carrying up to 70,000 lbs. of weapons.
Sky power looms at the center of the Armed Forces History Museum’s parking lot. The commanding MiG-21 supersonic jet with its engine and afterburner cannot be ignored. You can almost hear the radio transmissions as the pilot calls for instructions or to report his successful downing of an enemy aircraft. Before stepping inside the museum, take a look inside the cockpit.
United States Air Force
The USAF has been flying the B-52 Stratofortress since 1955. Out of the original 13 ordered, only three were actually built. These three were turned back over to Boeing and used in their test program. New specifications emerged and the new order of 10 aircraft rolled out in a formal ceremony on March 18, 1954.
Additional variants continued to emerge, offering improvements to this already well planned aircraft. Some of the designs took into account the need for the B52 to respond to updated combat strategies that included the continual changing of the warfare environment, the need to fly under any weather situation and to be able to maintain a low-altitude to fly under radar in prohibited fly zones.
Cold War and Vietnam War
Cold War - Throughout the Cold War, the B52s were sent out on airborne alert missions. The aircraft would remain at high altitudes over designated areas just outside the Soviet Union, remaining on stand-by in the event of a nuclear war. When surface-to-air strike missiles threatened the high altitude aircraft, the B52 used in low-level infiltration as the Soviet terrain provided effective avoidance on radar.
Vietnam War - In 1964, the situation in Vietnam was escalating and in preparation, over 70 B52s were fitted with additional armament. By March of 1965, the first B52 flew its first combat mission in Operation Arc Light. By late 1965, the B52s were undergoing additional modifications to increase their bomb capacity. Once completed, the upgrades allowed the aircraft to carry up to 108 bombs, totally 60,000 lbs.
The service of the B52 continued on into the Gulf War, participating in over 1,600 sorties, delivering 40% of the weapons dropped. During the Gulf War, the B52 Stratofortress also broke the record for the longest combat mission, leaving Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, fueling enroute to to Iraq (and striking its targets) and returning back to the AFB. The flight totaled 14,000 miles and took 35 hours.
The B-52 remains active to date, in part due to its excellent performance and low maintenance requirements. Upgrades scheduled for the B-52 (between 2013 - 2015) will cement its future service 2040. The history of this aircraft, combined with its dependability and excellent record, is just one of the reasons this aircraft – the B52 Stratofortress - is considered the top bomber of all time.