Tag Archives: Bomber

22 June 1962

The last of 744 Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers, B-52H-175-BW, 61-0040, is rolled out at the Boeing plant at Wichita, Kansas. (Boeing)
The last of 744 Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers, B-52H-175-BW, 61-0040, is rolled out at the Boeing plant at Wichita, Kansas. (Boeing)

22 June 1962: The last of 744 Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers, B-52H-175-BW, serial number 61-0040, was rolled out at the Boeing Military Airplane Company plant in Wichita, Kansas.

The U.S. Air Force contracted 62 B-52H Stratofortresses, serial numbers 60-0001 through 60-0062, on 6 May 1960. A second group of 40, serials 61-0001 through 61-0040, were ordered later. All were built at the Boeing Wichita plant.

The B-52H, like the B-52G, is a re-engineered aircraft, structurally different from the XB-52, YB-52, and B-52A–B-52F Stratofortress variants. It is lighter, carries more internal fuel, giving it a longer unrefueled range, and is strengthened for low-altitude flight. The shorter vertical fin is intended to prevent the losses caused by the original tall fin in turbulent air. The B-52H is equipped with quieter, more efficient turbofan engines.

Boeing B-52H-175-BW Stratofortress 61-0040 in camouflage. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52H-175-BW Stratofortress 61-0040 in camouflage, assigned to 2nd Air Force, circa 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-52H was developed to carry four Douglas GAM-87 Skybolt air-launched ballistic missiles on pylons mounted under the wings, inboard of the engines. The Skybolt was armed with a 1-megaton W-59 thermonuclear warhead. The program was cancelled, however, and the North American Aviation AGM-28 Hound Dog air-launched cruise missile was used instead. (Interestingly, the Hound Dog’s Pratt & Whitney J52-P-3 turbojet engine could be used to supplement the B-52’s takeoff thrust, and then refueled from the bomber’s tanks before being air-launched.)

he B-52H is a sub-sonic, swept wing, long-range strategic bomber. It was originally operated by a crew of six: two pilots, a navigator and a radar navigator, an electronic warfare officer, and a gunner. (The gunner was eliminated after 1991). The airplane is 159 feet, 4 inches (48.565 meters) long, with a wing span of 185 feet (56.388 meters). It is 40 feet, 8 inches (12.395 meters) high to the top of the vertical fin. The B-52H uses the vertical fin developed for the B-52G, which is 22 feet, 11 inches (6.985 meters) tall. This is 7 feet, 8 inches (2.337 meters) shorter than the fin on the XB-52–B-52F aircraft, but the fin’s chord is longer. The bomber has an empty weight of 172,740 pounds (78,354 kilograms) and its Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 488,000 pounds (221,353 kilograms).

The most significant difference between the B-52H and the earlier Stratofortresses is the replacement of the eight Pratt & Whitney J57-series turbojet engines with eight Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3D-2 (TF33-P-3) turbofans, which are significantly more efficient. They are quieter and don’t emit the dark smoke trails of the turbojets. The TF-33 is a two-spool axial-flow turbofan engine with 2 fan stages, a 14-stage compressor section (7-stage intermediate pressure, 7-stage high-pressure) and and a 4-stage turbine (1-stage high-pressure, 3-stage low-pressure). Each engine produces a maximum of 17,000 pounds of thrust (75.620 kilonewtons). The TF33-P-3 is 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.0 inches (1.346 meters) in diameter and weighs 3,900 pounds (1,769 kilograms).

The B-52H has a cruise speed of 525 miles per hour (845 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 632 miles per hour (1,017 kilometers per hour) at 23,800 feet (7,254 meters)—0.908 Mach. The service ceiling is 47,700 feet (14,539 meters). The unrefueled range is 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometers). With inflight refueling, its range is limited only by the endurance of its crew.

A Boeing B-52H Stratofortress during a deterrent patrol near the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea, 2016. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing B-52H Stratofortress during a deterrent patrol near the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, 2016. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-52H was armed with a 20mm M61A1 Vulcan six-barreled rotary cannon in a remotely-operated tail turret. The gun had a rate of fire of 4,000 rounds per minute, and had a magazine capacity of 1,242 rounds. After 1991, the gun and its radar system were removed from the bomber fleet. The flight crew was reduced to five.

The B-52H can carry a wide variety of conventional free-fall or guided bombs, land-attack or anti-ship cruise missiles, and thermonuclear bombs or cruise missiles. These can be carried both in the internal bomb bay or on underwing pylons. The bomb load is approximately 70,000 pounds (31,751 kilograms).

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52H Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-52H was equipped with a General Electric M61 Vulcan 20 mm six-barreled rotary cannon (a “Gatling gun”) in a remotely-operated tail turret. The gun had a rate of fire of 4,000 rounds per minute, and had a magazine capacity of 1,242 rounds. After 1991, the gun and its radar system were removed from the bomber fleet. The flight crew was reduced to five.

The B-52H was armed with a 20 mm M61 Vulcan 6-barreled cannon in place of the four .50-caliber machine guns of the earlier variants.
The B-52H was armed with a 20 mm M61 Vulcan 6-barreled cannon in place of the four .50-caliber machine guns of the earlier variants.

102 B-52Hs were built by Boeing Wichita. Beginning in 2009, eighteen B-52H bombers were placed in climate-controlled long term storage at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. As of December 2015, fifty-eight of the bombers remained in the active fleet of the United States Air Force and eighteen are assigned to the Air Force Reserve. In 2014, the entire fleet began a major avionics upgrade.

Recently, a B-52H-156-BW Stratofortress, 61-0007, Ghost Rider, was returned to operational status after eight years in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona. 45,000 man-hours were required to restore the bomber.

The B-52H is expected to remain in service until 2040.

55 years after roll-out, 61-0040 is still in service with the United States Air Force, assigned to the 23rd Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

Boeing B-52H-175-BW Stratofortress 61-0040 parked at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52H-175-BW Stratofortress 61-0040 parked at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 June 1943

USAAF Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress with left outboard engine on fire and right wing shot off, out of control and going down over Europe, World War II. (U.S. Air Force)

13 June 1943: On Mission Number 63, 76 Eighth Air Force B-17F Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers of the 4th Bombardment Wing were sent to attack the U-boat pens at Kiel, Germany.

German submarine attacks on transatlantic convoy were a major threat to the Allies. Destruction of the submarine bases and repair facilities was therefore a very high priority for the Eighth Air Force. These were often very heavily reinforced concrete bunkers where submarines could be serviced and repaired, safe from air attack.

60 bombers made it to the target but were met with the heaviest fighter attacks to that point of the war. 22 B-17s were shot down. Of those that returned to England, 24 were damaged, 1 so badly that it was beyond repair.

3 airmen were killed, 20 wounded and 213 were listed as Missing In Action.

Before the war, it was thought that the defensive machine guns of the Flying Fortress would be able to protect it against enemy fighters, but losses like those suffered in this raid proved the necessity for escorting fighters to defend the bomber formations.

NOTE: A very detailed analysis of this mission, “USAAF Mission #63: Bremen and Keil” by Andreas Zapf can be found at

http://www.andreaszapf.de/blog-chronicles-media/USAAF-Mission-63-Bremen-and-Kiel.pdf 

U-boat pen
U-boat pen

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 June 1943

Memphis Belle over England, heading home, 9 June 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

9 June 1943: After completing 25 combat missions over Western Europe from its base at Air Force Station 121 (RAF Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, England), Memphis Belle, a U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 41-24485, assigned to the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy), was flown home by Captain Robert K. Morgan and Captain James A. Verinis.

The daylight bombing campaign of Nazi-occupied Europe was very dangerous with high losses in both airmen and aircraft. For a bomber crew, 25 combat missions was a complete tour, and they were sent on to other assignments. Memphis Belle was only the second B-17 to survive 25 missions, so it was withdrawn from combat and sent back to the United States for a publicity tour.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-22485, Memphis Belle, in flight over England, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-22485, Memphis Belle, in flight over England, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Miss Margaret Polk
Miss Margaret Polk

The B-17’s name was a reference to Captain Morgan’s girlfriend, Miss Margaret Polk, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee. The artwork painted on the airplane’s nose was a “Petty Girl” based on the work of pin-up artist George Petty of Esquire magazine. (Morgan named his next airplane—a B-29 Superfortress—Dauntless Dotty after his wife, Dorothy Morgan. With it, he led the first B-29 bombing mission against Tokyo, Japan, in 1944. It was also decorated with a Petty Girl.)

Memphis Belle and her crew were the subject of a 45-minute documentary, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” directed by William Wyler and released in April 1944. It was filmed in combat aboard Memphis Belle and several other B-17s. The United States Library of Congress named it for preservation as a culturally significant film.

After the war, Memphis Belle was put on display in the city of Memphis. For decades it suffered from time, weather and neglect. The Air Force finally took the bomber back and placed it in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where it has been undergoing a total restoration for the last several years.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, the Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. Museum staff tried to save the original markings on the bomber.(U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. Museum staff have tried to preserve the original markings on the bomber. The “Petty Girl” on the right side of the airplane is in red. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 9 inches (22.784 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9-3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1 inch (5.187 meters). Its empty weight was 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) loaded, and the maximum takeoff weight was 56,500 pounds (25,628 kilograms).

The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. War Emergency Power was 1,380 horsepower. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine is 47.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 55.10 inches (1.399 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

The B-17F had a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).

With a normal fuel load of 2,520 gallons (9,540 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 2,880 miles (4,635 kilometers). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

The forward fuselage of Memphis Belle under restoration at the national Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton Ohio. The "Petty Girl" on the right side of the airplane is in red. (U.S. Air Force)
The forward fuselage of Memphis Belle under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton Ohio. The pilots’ instrument panel is in the foreground. The “Petty Girl” on the left side of the airplane is in blue. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F Flying Fortress was armed with up to 13 air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. A pair of machine guns were mounted in the tail, and single guns on flexible mounts were placed in the nose, radio compartment, and right and left waist positions.

The maximum bomb load was 20,800 pounds over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.

The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The Manufacturer Codes, -BO, -DL and -VE, follow the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.

Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses remain in existence. Memphis belle is scheduled to go on public display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force on 17 May 2018, 75 years after it flew its final combat mission.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24485, Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

Memphis Belle ® is a Registered Trademark of the United States Air Force.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 June 1966

XB-70A-2-NA Valkyrie 62-0207 leading a formation of aircraft powered by General Electric engines. Joe Walker’s F-104 is just below the B-70’s right wing tip. (U.S. Air Force)

8 June 1966: During a publicity photo formation flight, a Lockheed F-104N Starfighter, N813NA, flown by NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph A. Walker, was caught in the wingtip vortices of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie, 62-0207, the second prototype Mach 3+ strategic bomber. The Starfighter rolled up and across the Valkyrie. The two airplanes collided, with the F-104 taking off the Valkyrie’s vertical fins, then exploding.

Lockheed F-104N N813NA collided with North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 and exploded, 8 June 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-70’s pilot, Alvin S. White, was able to eject, though he was severely injured. Joe Walker and B-70 co-pilot Major Carl S. Cross, United States Air Force, were killed.

The B-70 is out of control and going down in this photograph. Fuel is spraying out of damaged tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
The B-70 is out of control and going down in this photograph. A large section of the left wing is missing. JP-8 fuel is spraying out of damaged tanks. (U.S. Air Force)

Still photographs and motion picture film of the formation were being taken from Clay Lacy’s Gates Lear Jet. The photos were for a General Electric publicity campaign showing U.S. military aircraft that were powered by GE engines. Air Force procedures for requesting and approval of publicity flights were not properly followed and it is likely this flight would not have been approved had they been.

XB-70A-2 Valkyrie has rolled inverted and pitched nose down. (U.S. Air Force)
The XB-70A-2 Valkyrie has rolled inverted and pitched nose down. The outer section of the left wing is missing. The trailing edge and tip tank of the Lear Jet photo plane’s right wing are in the foreground. (U.S. Air Force)

Reportedly, just prior to the collision, Walker radioed, “I’m opposing this mission. It is too turbulent and it has no scientific value.”

The wreckage of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 burnds on the desert floor, north of Barstow, california, 8 June 1968. (U.S. Air Force)
The wreckage of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 burns on the desert floor at N. 35°03’47”, W. 117°01’27”, north of Barstow, California, 8 June 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 June 1942, 0430: Admiral Nagumo Attacks

Midway Atoll, looking from east to west. Eastern Island in foreground, Sand Island in background. (U.S. Navy)

4 June 1942: The Battle of Midway: The Japanese naval task force (First Mobile Force) under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, consisting of the aircraft carriers IJN Agagi, IJN Kaga, IJN Hiryu and IJN Soryu, along with their escorts of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and supporting tankers, launched the first attack at 0430 against the United States base at Midway Island. The attackers consisted of 36 Aichi D3A dive bombers, 36 Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers and 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters as escort.

The incoming aircraft were detected by radar on the island and defending U.S. Marines fighters—obsolescent Grumman F4F Wildcats and obsolete Brewster F2A Buffalos—were launched to defend the island’s airstrip and facilities. 15 U.S. Army Air Force B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers and 4 Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers took off to attack the Japanese carriers.

The Marine fighters were outnumbered and technologically inferior. 4 of the F4Fs and all 12 F2As were shot down. The Japanese lost 4 torpedo bombers and 3 Zero fighters. Facilities on the island were heavily damaged by the dive bomber attack, but it was not put out of action.

IJN Hiryu evading B-17 bomber attack at Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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