Tag Archives: Boeing RB-52B Stratofortress

29 September 1965

The Strategic Air Command’s very first operational Boeing B-52, Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711. (Angelfire)

29 September 1965: Ten years after it entered service, the first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, was retired to the Strategic Aerospace Museum, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)
The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)

52-8711 had arrived at Castle Air Force Base, California, 29 June 1955, and was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy). It later served with the 22nd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) at March Air Force Base, California.

Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), March AFB, 1965. Compare this photograph to the image above. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 September 1999

NASA 008, known as “Balls 8,” a modified Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress, serial number 52-008, with NASA 824, a Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter, N824NA. The DAST 1 drone is under the bomber’s right wing. (NASA)

16 September 1999: 44 years, 3 months and 6 days after its very first flight, NASA’s airborne launch aircraft, or “mothership,” Balls 8, completed its 1,000th flight.

Balls 8, so-called because of the double zeros in it U.S. Air Force serial number, 52-008, is a Boeing NB-52, modified as a drop ship from its original configuration as an RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress reconnaissance bomber assigned to the Strategic Air Command. It made its first flight 11 June 1955 and was reassigned from SAC to Edwards Air Force Base to support NASA flight testing operations, 8 June 1959. Balls 8 served NASA until 17 December 2004, when it was replaced by a newer NB-52H Stratofortress.

52-008 was altered at the North American Aviation facility at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. A pylon was mounted under the bomber’s right wing. A large notch was cut into the trailing edge of the inboard flap for the X-15’s vertical fin. A 1,500 gallon (5,678 liter) liquid oxygen tank was installed in the bomb bay. A station for a launch operator was installed on the upper deck of the B-52 at the former electronic countermeasures position. A series of control panels allowed the panel operator to monitor the X-15’s systems, provide electrical power, and to keep the rocketplane’s liquid oxygen tank full as the LOX boiled off during the climb to launch altitude. The operator could see the X-15 through a plexiglas dome, and there were two television monitors.

The NB-52B was used during the X-15 Program and carried the three hypersonic research aircraft aloft on 159 of their 199 flights. (NB-52A 52-003, The High and Mighty One, made the other 40 launches.) It has also been used to carry the X-24 and HiMat lifting body research aircraft and to launch Pegasus research rockets.

At the time of its retirement, Balls 8 was the oldest B-52 in service, and also the lowest time B-52. It is on display near the north gate at Edwards Air Force Base.

Balls 8, Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008, as seen from a KC-135A Stratotanker. (NASA)
Balls 8, NASA’s Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008 “mothership”, as seen from a KC-135A Stratotanker. (NASA)

Of the 744 B-52 Stratofortresses built by Boeing, 50 were B-52Bs and 27 of these were RB-52B reconnaissance bombers.

The airplane was 156 feet, 6.9 inches (47.724 meters) long with a wingspan of 185 feet, 0 inches (56.388 meters) and overall height of 48 feet, 3.6 inches (14.722 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings’ leading edges were swept 35°. The bomber’s empty weight was 164,081 pounds (74,226 kilograms), with a combat weight of 272,000 pounds (123,377 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 420,000 pounds (190,509 kilograms).

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojet engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.71 kilonewtons), each, or 12,100 pounds (53.82 kilonewtons) with water injection.

The B-52B/RB-52B had a cruise speed of 523 miles per hour (842 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed varied with altitude: 630 miles per hour (1,014 kilometers per hour) at 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), 598 miles per hour (962 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 571 miles per hour (919 kilometers per hour) at 45,750 feet (13,945 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,300 feet (14,417 meters).

Maximum ferry range was 7,343 miles (11,817 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the B-52B had a combat radius of 3,590 miles (5,778 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the range was essentially world-wide.

This "score board" painted on the side of Balls 8 shows many of the missions that it flew as a "mothership" for NASA. (NASA)
This “score board” painted on the side of Balls 8 shows many of the missions that it flew as a “mothership” for NASA. (NASA)

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute. (Eighteen RB-52Bs were equipped with two M24A1 20 mm autocannon in the tail turret in place of the standard four .50-caliber machine guns.)

The B-52B’s maximum bomb load was 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms). It could carry a 15-megaton Mark 17 thermonuclear bomb, or two Mark 15s, each with a maximum yield of 3.8 megatons.

Balls 8 lands on a runway marked on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The drogue parachute helps to slow the airplane. (NASA)
Balls 8 lands on a runway marked on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The drogue parachute helps to slow the airplane. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 June 1955

The first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)
The first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)

29 June 1955: The first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, was delivered to the 93rd Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Castle Air Force Base, Merced, California. The new long-range heavy bomber would replace the 93rd’s Boeing B-47 Stratojets.

Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at its Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. Twenty-seven of these were RB-52B reconnaissance bombers. They were designed to accept a pressurized electronic intelligence and photographic reconnaissance capsule with a two-man crew that completely filled the bomb bay. Without the capsule aboard, the RB-52s were capable of the same bombing missions as their sister B-52Bs. The change could be made within a few hours.

Pressurized two-man RB-52 reconnaissance pod.
Pressurized two-man RB-52 reconnaissance pod. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-52B/RB-52B was operated by a six-man flight crew for the bombing mission, and eight for reconnaissance. These were the aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator/bombardier, electronic warfare officer, and gunner, plus two reconnaissance technicians when required.

The airplane was 156.6 feet, (47.7 meters) long with a wingspan of 185.0 feet (56.4 meters) and overall height of 48.3 feet (14.7 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings’ leading edges were swept aft to 36° 54′. Their angle of incidence was 6° and there was 2° 30′ dihedral. The RB-52B’s empty weight was 162,969 pounds (73,921 kilograms), with a combat weight of 257,900 pounds (116,981 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 390,000 pounds (176,901 kilograms). (MTOW was later increased to 420,000 pounds.)

The bomb bay of this RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress, 52-012, is open, revealing the reconnaissance pod. (U.S. Air Force)

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojet engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-PW-1 engines had a Normal Power rating of 8,250 pounds of thrust (32.698 kilonewtons) at 9,720 r.p.m., N1, continuous; Military Power, 9,500 pounds thrust (42.258 kilonewtons) at 9,950 r.p.m., N1, for 30 minutes; and Maximum Power, 11,100 pounds of thrust (49.375 kilonewtons) with water injection, at 9,950 r.p.m., N1, 5 minute limit. The J57-PW-1 was 3 feet. 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, 13 feet, 1.2 inches (3.993 meters) long, and weighed 4,210 pounds (1,910 kilograms).

Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-52B/RB-52B had a cruise speed of 517 knots (595 miles per hour/957 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The maximum speed was 542 knots (624 miles per hour/1,004 kilometers per hour) at 19,500 feet (5,944 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,600 feet (14,508 meters).

The RB-52B had a maximum fuel capacity of 37,385 gallons (141,518 liters). Its maximum ferry range was 6,460 nautical miles (7,434 statute miles/11,964 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the RB-52B had a combat radius of 3,110 nautical miles (3,579 miles/5,760 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the bomber’s range was world-wide.

Tail gun turret of an early B-52 Stratofortress
B-52 tail gun turret

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire of 4,800 rounds per minute.

The B-52B could carry twenty-seven 750 pound (340 kilogram) bombs, or two 25,000 pound (11,340 kilogram) Special Weapons (thermonuclear bombs).

Boeing manufactured 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, with the final one rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 22 June 1962. As of June 2016, 75 B-52H bombers remain in service with the United States Air Force.

RB-52B 52-8711 remained in active service until 29 September 1965. Today it is on display at the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska.

A Strategic Air Command alert crew runs to man their bomber, Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), the first operational B-52, at March Air Force Base, California, 1965. (U.S. Air Force)
A Strategic Air Command alert crew runs to man their bomber, Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), the first operational B-52, at March Air Force Base, California, 1965. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 May 1956

Major David Crichlow, USAF, Aircraft Commander, Barbara Grace, 21 May 1956. (LIFE photograph via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major David M. Critchlow, U.S. Air Force, Aircraft Commander, in the cockpit of another aircraft, B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-383. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

21 May 1956: The second test of the OPERATION REDWING series was REDWING CHEROKEE.

A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 4925th Test Group (Atomic), Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico, took off from Eniwetok Island (“Fred Island”), the main island of Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The aircraft commander was Major David M. Critchlow, United States Air Force. Other members of the bomber’s crew were Major Charles T. Smith, pilot; Major Dwight E. Durner, bombardier; Major Floyd A. Amundson, navigator; Lieutenant William R. Payne, timer; Sergeant Richard N. Bingham, radar technician. Colonel Paul R. Wignaff was an official observer.

Boeing RB-52B Stratofortress 52-013
Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013, Barbara Grace. (The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History)

The bomber, named Barbara Grace, was a Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress, serial number 52-013. In its bomb bay was a TX-15-X1 two-stage radiation implosion thermonuclear bomb, weighing 6,867 pounds (3,114.9 kilograms). The bomb was approximately 136 inches long (3.454 meters), with a diameter of 34.5 inches (0.876 meters). The target was a point on Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, also in the Marshall Islands.

Major Critchlow’s wife was named Barbara, and his mother, Grace. The B-52 was named Barbara Grace in their honor.

This Mark 15 nuclear bomb is similar to the TX-15-X1 used in Redwing Cherokee.
This Mark 15 nuclear bomb is similar to the TX-15-X1 used in REDWING CHEROKEE.

     “CHEROKEE was the first test at Bikini, a test event called for by DOD, and the only shot of the series not expressly for weapons development. The shot was rather a demonstration that the United States could air-deliver multimegaton-yield thermonuclear weapons using B-52 jet bombers. The device, designed and developed by Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL), was airdropped from a B-52 and exploded at a height of 5,000 feet (1.5 km) above Nam on 21 May 1956. Although a demonstration, the shot provided a large-yield burst well above the surface, and it was therefore of considerable interest for airblast effects experiments. However, the explosion was considerably off target, lessening its value.”

OPERATION REDWING 1956, DNA 6037F, by S. Bruce-Henderson, et al., Defense Nuclear Agency, Chapter 4 at Page 177

Flying at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters), the aircrew misidentified an observation facility on a different island for their targeting beacon. The bomb missed Namu Island by 4 miles (6.4 kilometers), detonating at 4,350 feet (1,325 meters) over the open ocean to the northeast at 0551 hours, local time (1751 GMT). The explosive force of the TX-15 was rated at 3.8 megatons, but because of the error in targeting, most of the test data was lost.

Redwing Cherokee target, Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, May 1956.
Redwing Cherokee target, Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, May 1956.

The REDWING CHEROKEE test was the first time that a thermonuclear weapon had been dropped from an airplane.

Redwing Cherokee fireball (Wikipedia)
Redwing Cherokee fireball, 0551 hours, 21 May 1956. (Wikipedia)
Redwing Cherokee
Redwing Cherokee condensation rings.

David Madison Critchlow was born at Durkee, Oregon, 17 February 1920, the fourth of six children of J. Ralph Critchlow, a farmer, and Estella Grace Culbertson Critchlow. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a private, 3 December 1942. He was assigned as an aviation cadet, and commissioned a 2nd lieutenant, Army of the United States, 27 June 1944. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant, 18 March 1946. He served in the Air Force during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

David Critchlow married Miss Lorraine Calhoun, 9 January 1943. He later married Miss Barbara N. Oder, 9 July 1950. They would have five children.

Major Critchlow, assigned to Detachment 1, 24th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Strategic Wing deployed to Shemya, Alaska, 31 December 1961 with Nancy Rae, a top secret Rivet Ball strategic reconnaissance RC-135S, 59-1491.¹

Colonel Critchlow would later command the 6512 Test Group at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 October 1969–29 July 1970. He retired form the U.S. Air Force 1 August 1974.

Colonel David M. Critchlow died 11 December 2002 at the age of 81 years. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at Seattle, Washington. Twenty-seven of these were RB-52B reconnaissance bombers. They were designed to accept a pressurized electronic and photo recon capsule with a two-man crew that completely filled the bomb bay. Without the capsule aboard, they were capable of the same bombing missions as their sister B-52Bs. The change could be made within a few hours.

The B-52B/RB-52B was operated by a six-man flight crew for the bombing mission, and eight for reconnaissance. These were the aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator/bombardier, electronic warfare officer and gunner, plus two reconnaissance technicians when required.

The airplane was 156 feet, 6.9 inches (47.724 meters) long with a wingspan of 185 feet, 0 inches (56.388 meters) and overall height of 48 feet, 3.6 inches (14.722 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings’ leading edges were swept 35°. The bomber’s empty weight was 164,081 pounds (74,226 kilograms), with a combat weight of 272,000 pounds (123,377 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 420,000 pounds (190,509 kilograms).

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-1W engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.71 kilonewtons), each, or 12,100 pounds (53.82 kilonewtons) with water injection.

The B-52B had a cruise speed of 523 miles per hour (842 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed varied with altitude: 630 miles per hour (1,014 kilometers per hour) at 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), 598 miles per hour (962 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 571 miles per hour (919 kilometers per hour) at 45,750 feet (13,945 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,300 feet (14,417 meters).

Maximum ferry range was 7,343 miles (11,817 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the B-52B had a combat radius of 3,590 miles (5,778 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the range was essentially world-wide.

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute. 52-013 was one of eighteen RB-52Bs equipped with two M24A1 20 mm autocannon in the tail turret in place of the standard four .50-caliber M3 machine guns.

The B-52B’s maximum bomb load was 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms). It could carry a 15-megaton Mark 17 thermonuclear bomb, or two Mark 15s, each with a maximum yield of 3.8 megatons.

Boeing manufactured 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, with the final one rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 22 June 1962. As of 27 September 2016, 77 B-52H bombers remain in service with the United States Air Force.

RB-52B-10-BO 52-013 was delivered directly to Kirtland Air Force Base, 29 April 1955. In addition Operation Redwing, 52-013 also participated in Operation Dominic in 1962, which involved 24 air drops from B-52 bombers. The airplane carried the name Deterrent I painted on its nose, but flew missions with the call sign “Cow Slip Two.”

This individual airplane has dropped more than a dozen live nuclear bombs during weapons testing. Withdrawn from service in 1963, 52-013 was transferred to the National Atomic Museum (now, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History) at Kirtland in 1971, where it has been restored.

Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013 at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. (U.S. Air Force 161010-F-ZZ999-007)

¹ See: “A Tale of Two Airplanes,” by Lieutenant Colonel Kingdon R. Hawes, USAF (Ret) at http://www.rc135.com/0000/INDEX.HTM

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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