100 YEARS: Why The US B-52 “BUFF” Bomber Could Be The First Aircraft Ever To Complete A Century In Service?

While China has gone ahead with its expansionist policy in several regions across the globe, most notably in the resource-rich South China Sea, there is a reason that despite its differences with the United States, President Xi Jinping is still wary of heading into a head-to-head conflict with Washington.

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While the big boss in the East, Beijing knows that despite the numbers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the United States is just too defensively solid with an array of modern fighter jets, drones, and bombers.

However, there is one bomber in particular which instills fears among the Chinese and many others— a giant veteran which for the last 65 years has added to the military might of the US like no other— the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.

Popularly known as the “BUFF” (Big Ugly Fat Fella), the B-52 “Stratofortress” is a long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber being operated by the US Air Force since its official induction in 1955.

Designed and built by US aerospace juggernaut Boeing in 1952, the B-52 has undergone a host of upgrades since then and provides America with a resilient sturdy monster of an aircraft.

Despite the modifications made to it, it seems the aircraft still brings tons of surprises regarding its capabilities, with one of them just witnessed not so long ago.

Meanwhile, a 6x B-52H Stratofortress bomber, which belongs to the 2nd Bomb Wing, from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana was able to stay sideways during its take-off due to the cross-wind conditions in Fairford, United Kingdom.

As stated in the Aviationist“- The U.S. Air Force iconic B-52 bomber was designed in such a way the landing gear can be set up to 20 degrees left to right of centerline for both takeoff and landing.”

NASA, which has been a B-52 operator, also offered to issue an explanation behind the aircraft’s ability to carry out such a maneuver.

“The landing gear of the B-52 is of the same bicycle arrangement as employed on the B-47 but has four two-wheel bogies instead of the two bogies used on the earlier aircraft. As compared with their location on the B-47, the outrigger wheels are positioned much nearer the wingtip on the B-52,”

An interesting feature of the B-52 landing gear greatly eases the problems posed by crosswind landings. Both the front and rear bogies can be set at angles of as much as 20° to either side of the straight-ahead position. In a crosswind landing, consequently, the aircraft can be headed directly into the wind while rolling down a runway not aligned with the wind.”

Being one of the oldest aircraft in the US Air Force service, the fighter was built to carry nuclear weapons for Cold War-era deterrence missions.

The bombers have been so successful that they are still operating two decades into the 21st century, with the US Air Force looking to equip the bombers with newer engines in a bid to keep them operational through the 2050s, which if successful will make the first jets to be in service for 100 years.

So, why is the gigantic bomber which boasts a wingspan of 185 feet (56 meters) and a length of 160 feet 10.9 inches (49 meters), considered the most dangerous bombers of all time?

Well, first off, the B-52 is powered by eight jet engines mounted under the wings in four twin pods, enabling it to attain a maximum speed of Mach 0.9 (595 miles per hour, or 960 km/hr) at 55,000 feet (17,000 meters), while also being able to fly at Mach 0.5 (375 miles per hour, or 600 km/hr) while only being a few hundred feet above the ground.

Moreover, the bomber has a massive offense capability as it was developed due to the Pentagon’s need for a long-range strike aircraft in the aftermath of the bombing campaign against Japan.

The B-52 has a nuclear weapons capacity of 12 AGM-129 advanced cruise missiles (ACMS), 20 AGM-86A air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM), and eight bombs.

The conventional weapons include eight AGM-84 Harpoon missiles, four AGM-142 Raptor missiles, 51,500lb bombs, 301,000lb bombs, 20 AGM-86C conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCM), 12 joint stand-off weapons (JSOW), 12 joint direct-attack munitions (JDAM), and 16 wind-corrected munitions dispenser (WCMD).

Jay Bennett, a defense writer, writing for the Popular Mechanics,

“The BUFF can carry 70,000 pounds of weapons, from precision-guided conventional bombs to nuclear warheads. While the B-2 stealth bomber and B-1 supersonic bomber could be retired when the B-21 is introduced, the Air Force wants to outfit the reliable B-52 with new engines to improve efficiency and range,”

While the giant bomber enters its sixth decade of service, the technology within its hold is ever-evolving, as the Air Force is also planning to equip the B-52 with the Long Range Stand-Off missile, a stealthy nuclear cruise missile.”

If that would not scare enemies, the B-52 can also be equipped with the joint air-to-surface standoff missile (JASSM), which was cleared for operational use in October 2003.

Manufacturers Boeing also highlights the abilities of the B-52, which has an impressive combat history in the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the Bosnian and Kosovo conflict, the Afghanistan War, and the air campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“The Boeing B-52 primarily provides the United States with immediate nuclear and conventional global strike capability. The B-52 is the most combat-capable bomber in the U.S. inventory.

Due to its high mission-capable rate, large payload, long-range, persistence, and ability to employ both nuclear and conventional precision standoff weapons, the B-52 continues to be a critical contributor to the U.S. National Security Strategy,” according to a statement by Boeing.