Tag Archives: Cold War

16–18 January 1957

The three Boeing B-52B Stratofortresses at March AFB, 18 January 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
The three Boeing B-52B Stratofortresses at March AFB, 18 January 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
Major General Archie J. Old, Jr., U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of B-52B 53-0394. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

16 January 1957: Operation Powerflite. At 1:00p.m. PST, five Boeing B-52B Stratofortress eight-engine jet bombers of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command, 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy), departed Castle Air Force Base, near Merced, California, on a non-stop around-the-world flight. 45 hours, 19 minutes later, three B-52s landed at March Air Force Base, Riverside, California, completing the 24,325 miles (39,147 kilometer) flight at an average speed of 534 miles per hour (859 kilometers per hour). Two of the bombers had mechanical problems. One returned to the United States and one landed in England.

The lead Stratofortress, B-52B-35-BO 53-0394, Lucky Lady III, was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Morris. Morris had been co-pilot aboard Lucky Lady II, a Boeing B-50A Superfortress that flew around the world in 1949. Also aboard Morris’ bomber was Major General Archie J. Old, Jr., commanding 15th Air Force. The other two B-52s were 53-0397, La Victoria, commanded by Major George Kalebaugh, and 53-0398, Lonesome George, commanded by Captain Charles W. Fink.

Each B-52 carried a flight crew of nine men, including three pilots and two navigators.

Four inflight refuelings from piston-engine Boeing KC-97 Stratotankers were required.

All 27 crewmembers of the three bombers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by General Curtis LeMay. The Mackay Trophy for “the most meritorious flight of the year” was awarded to the 93rd Bombardment Wing.

A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress refuels in flight from a Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker. The KC-97 had to enter a shallow dive to increase its speed, while teh B-52 flew in landing configuration to fly slow enough to stay with the tanker. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress refuels in flight from a Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker. The KC-97 had to enter a shallow dive to increase its speed, while the B-52 flew in landing configuration to stay with the tanker. (U.S. Air Force)

Lucky Lady III was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It was scrapped in 1984. 53-0397 went to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in 1966, preceded by 53-0398 in 1965.

Flight helmets of the crew of Lucky Lady III, March AFB, 18 January 1957. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.)
Flight helmets of the crew of Lucky Lady III, March AFB, 18 January 1957. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.)

This record-breaking around the world flight was dramatized in the 1957 Warner Bros. movie “Bombers B-52,” which starred Natalie Wood, Karl Malden and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

Poster for the 1957 motion picture, "Bombers B-52".
Poster for the 1957 motion picture “Bombers B-52” (Warner Bros.)

The 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) was the first operational Air Force unit to receive the B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B 52-8711, on 29 June 1955. Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at its Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. 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 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 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).

Tail gun turret of an early B-52 Stratofortress

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.

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.

Boeing B-52B-35-BO Stratofortress 53-0394 (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 October 1961

Major Durnovtsev’s Tupolev Tu-95V “Bear A”, carrying the RDS-220 bomb to the target. A Tu-16 “Badger” instrumentation aircraft is just behind, on the bomber’s left quarter.
Tupolev Tu 95 carrying Tsar Bomba
Tupolev Tu-95V carrying the RDS-220 bomb.

30 October 1961: A specially modified Tupolev Tu-95V “Bear A” bomber, under the command of Major Andrei E. Durnovtsev, dropped the RDS-220 thermonuclear bomb from an altitude of 10,500 meters (34,449 feet) over the Mityushikha Bay test range on Novaya Zemlya. The bomb, a three-stage radiation implosion device weighing 27,000 kilograms (59,525 pounds), variously known as “Big Ivan” or “Tsar Bomba,” was retarded by parachute to allow the Bear to escape the blast effects. At 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above the surface, the bomb detonated.

Major Durnovtsev's Tupolev Tu-95N Bear A, carrying the RDS-220 bomb to the target. A Tu-16 instrumentation aircraft is just behind, on the bomber's left quarter.
Major Durnovtsev’s Tupolev Tu-95V “Bear A,” carrying the RDS-220 bomb to the target. A Tu-16 instrumentation aircraft is just behind, on the bomber’s left quarter.
The RDS-220 bomb just after drop. The retarding parachute is beginning to deploy.
“Big Ivan” with first stage parachute deployed.

Major Durnovtsev’s Tu-95 was approximately 45 kilometers (28 miles) away at the time of the explosion.

At the same time, a secret United States Air Force JKC-135A instrumentation aircraft, Speed Light Bravo, 55-3127, had flown closer to gather data about the air burst. It was close enough that its special antiradiation paint was scorched. The airplane was later scrapped because of the damage it sustained.

After the data was analyzed by the Foreign Weapons Evaluation Panel (the “Bethe Panel”) the RDS-220 yield was estimated at 57 megatons. This was the largest nuclear weapon detonation in history. It was also the “cleanest,” with 97% of the energy yield produced by fusion. Relative to the size of the explosion, very little fallout was produced.

Tsar Bomba fireball over Novaya Zemlya, 11:32 a.m., 30 October 1961. The fireball has reached a diameter of 5 miles (8 kilometers). Shock waves reflecting off of the ground caused the slight flattening of the bottom of the fireball.

All buildings in the town of Severny, 55 kilometers (34.2 miles) from Ground Zero, were destroyed. Wooden buildings as far as 200 kilometers (124 miles) were destroyed or heavily damaged.

A visible shock wave in the air was seen at a distance of 700 kilometers (435 miles). The shock wave from the explosion traveled around the world three times.

Fully assembled RDS-220 three-stage radiation implosion thermonuclear bomb, with retarding parachute in place, at Arzamas-16 .

The RDS-220 was 8 meters (26.25 feet) long, with a diameter of 2.1 meters (6.89 feet). It weighed 27,000 kilograms (59,525 pounds).

The Tupolev Tu-95 is a long range strategic bomber. It is 151 feet, 6 inches (46.2 meters) long with a wingspan of 164 feet, 5 inches (50.10 meters). The wings are swept at a 35° angle. The bomber is powered by four Kuznetsov NK-12M turboprop engines, producing 14,800 shaft horsepower, each, and turning 8-bladed counter-rotating propellers. It weighs 90,000 kilograms (198,416 pounds) empty, with a maximum takeoff weight of 188,000 kilograms (414,469 pounds). The Bear has a maximum speed of 920 kilometers per hour (572 miles per hour) and an unrefueled range of 15,000 kilometers (9,321 miles). (The Bear A is capable of inflight refueling.) Service ceiling is 13,716 meters (45,000 feet).

A current production Tupolev Tu-95 Bear-H strategic bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
A current production Tupolev Tu-95MS Bear H strategic bomber. (Royal Air Force)

Following the test, Major Durnovtsev was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and named Hero of the Soviet Union. He died 24 October 1976.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1962

This is one of the reconnaissance photographs taken by Major Richard S. Heyser  from his Lockheed U-2, flying at 72,500 feet over Cuba, 14 October 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

14 October 1962: Major Richard Stephen (“Steve”) Heyser, a pilot with the 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, United States Air Force, boarded Item 342, his Top Secret reconnaissance airplane, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Over the next seven hours he flew from Edwards to McCoy AFB, near Orlando, Florida, landing there at 0920 EST.

Major Richard S. Heyser, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed U-2. Major Heyser is wearing a MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Richard S. Heyser, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed U-2. Major Heyser is wearing a MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)

But first, Steve Heyser and Item 342 flew over the island of Cuba at an altitude of 72,500 feet (22,098 meters). Over the island for just seven minutes, Heyser used the airplane’s cameras to take some of the most important photographs of the Twentieth Century.

Item 342 was a Lockheed U-2F. Designed by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson at the “Skunk Works,” it was a very high altitude, single-seat, single-engine airplane built for the Central Intelligence Agency. Item 342 carried a U.S. Air Force number on its tail, 66675. This represented its serial number, 56-6675.

It had been built at Burbank, then its sub-assemblies were flown aboard a C-124 Globemaster transport to a secret facility at Groom Lake, Nevada, called “The Ranch,” where it was assembled and flown.

Originally a U-2A, Item 342 was modified to a U-2C, and then to a U-2F, capable of inflight refueling.

Major Heyser had been at Edwards AFB to complete training on the latest configuration when he was assigned to this mission.

A Lockheed U-2A, 56-6708, “Item 375”. (U.S. Air Force)

Major Heyser’s photographs showed Russian SS-4 Sandal intermediate range nuclear-armed missiles being placed in Cuba, with SA-2 Guideline radar-guided surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile sites surrounding the nuclear missile sites.

President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba and demanded that Russia remove the missiles. Premier Nikita Khrushchev refused. The entire U.S. military was brought to readiness for immediate war. This was The Cuban Missile Crisis. World War III was imminent.

(Left to Right) Major Richard S. Heyser, General Curtis E. LeMay and President John F. Kennedy, at the White House, October 1962. (Associated Press)

Richard S. Heyser died 6 October 2008.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September 1965

After decades sitting outside, the Strategic Air Command’s very first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, is now in a protected environment.

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)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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