2 October 1952

Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 takes off for the first time, at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, 2 October 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

2 October 1952: The Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 49-230, made its first flight at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, with test pilot Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston in command.  Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force, acted as co-pilot.

The first of two prototype long-range, high-altitude, heavy bombers, the XB-52 had been damaged during ground testing and extensive repairs were required, which delayed its initial flight. The second prototype, YB-52 49-231, made the type’s first flight nearly six months earlier, on 15 April 1952.

Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, test pilot, after the first flight of the Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 2 October 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The prototype Stratofortress the largest jet aircraft built up to that time. It was 152.7 feet (46.543 meters) long with a wingspan of 185.0 feet, (56.388 meters) and 48.25 feet (14.707 meters) to the top of the vertical fin. The leading edges of the wings were swept back 36° 54′.  The XB-52 had an empty weight of 155,200 pounds (70,398 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 390,000 pounds (176,901 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 27,417 gallons (103,785 liters).

Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The XB-52 was powered by eight Pratt & Whitney YJ57-P-3 turbojet engines, with a normal power rating of 8,700 pounds static thrust at Sea Level (38.700 kilonewtons). The prototype bomber had  a cruising speed of 519 miles per hour (835 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,048 meters). The planned bombing altitude was 46,500 feet (14,173 meters) and it had a service ceiling of 52,300 feet (15,941 meters). The XB-52 had an initial rate of climb of 4,550 feet per minute (23.11 meters per second) at Sea Level. Its maximum unrefueled range was 7,015 miles (11,290 kilometers).

Pilot’s cockpit, Boeing XB-52. (Boeing)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-51 Stratofortress 49-230 with a North American F-86 Sabre chase plane. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 with a North American F-86 Sabre chase plane. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)

In its original configuration, the XB-52 was armed with two .50-caliber machine guns in a turret in the tail, with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun, though these guns were not installed on 49-230. The XB-52 was designed to carry a single 25,200 pound (11,431 kilogram) T-28E2 Samson bomb, or other conventional or nuclear weapons.

XB-52 49-230 was used in flight testing for its entire service life. The airplane was scrapped in the mid-1960s.

744 B-52 bombers were built by Boeing at Seattle, Washington and Wichita, Kansas, with the final one, B-52H-175-BW 61-0040, rolled out 22 June 1962.

75 B-52H Stratofortresses are still in service with the United States Air Force.

Boeing XB-52, with Tex Johnston and Guy Townsend in the tandem cockpit. (Boeing)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 with two Pratt & Whitney J75 turbojets in single-engine nacelles on the outer pylons, circa 1959. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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8 thoughts on “2 October 1952

  1. The last photo shows a six-engined XB-52, that has the outboard twin J-57 pods replaced with single engines that appear to be considerably longer than J-57s.

    Any ideas as to the story behind this configuration?

    1. Excellent question, Tom. Both the XB-52 and YB-52 were used for flight testing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the late fifties. About 1959, 49-230 was modified with the installation of Pratt & Whitney J75 turbojet engines in single-engine pods in the outer position. Information on this is scarce. Apparently, there was some consideration of a four-engine B-52 variant (also a turbo-prop variant.) An article in FLIGHT from that time seems to indicate that this modification was intended for endurance and reliability testing of the J75 engine, itself, though, with approximately 1,000 hours being flown.

      1. I was there at the maiden flight of the B-52. Spent the night at a sleepover with Tex Johnson’s son the night before. I was 9 yrs old.

        As I remember, the three engine plane photos are of a B-47, which narrowly preceded the B-52, and they had already the X from XB-47 as it had been authorized for flight.

        1. That must have been fun, Mike. The Boeing XB-47 first flew on 17 December 1947, nearly five years earlier than the XB-52. Tex Johnston was brought in by Boeing (he had been at Bell Aircraft Corporation) to complete the test flight program of the XB-47.

          1. It was fun, Bryan. Story was that, when Tex first flew the XB-47, he taxied it back into Boeing Field’s hanger under power and turned it 180° and blew the back wall of the hanger out. He had a reputation of being a maverick!

        2. 2 corrections to my previous post:
          I mean’t 3 engines per wing – 6 engines per plane for the B-47.
          Insert “removed” before the “X” in XB-47.

  2. I have probably said this before, but it is worth repeating. I love your website Bryan, and I enjoy catching the links on FB. Many Thanks!

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