B-52 Development

Models 462 (1946) to 464-35 (1948)

On 23 November 1945, Air Materiel Command (AMC) issued desired performance characteristics for a new strategic bomber "capable of carrying out the strategic mission without dependence upon advanced and intermediate bases controlled by other countries". The aircraft was to have a crew of five plus turret gunners, and a six-man relief crew. It was required to cruise at 300 mph (240 kn, 480 km/h) at 34,000 feet (10,400 m) with a combat radius of 5,000 miles (4,300 nmi, 8,000 km). The armament was to consist of an unspecified number of 20 mm cannon and 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) of bombs. On 13 February 1946, the Air Force issued bid invitations for these specifications, with Boeing, Consolidated Aircraft, and Glenn L. Martin Company submitting proposals.

On 5 June 1946, Boeing's Model 462, a straight-wing aircraft powered by six Wright T35 turboprops with a gross weight of 360,000 pounds (160,000 kg) and combat radius of 3,110 miles (2,700 nmi, 5,010 km), was declared the winner. On 28 June 1946, Boeing was issued a letter of contract for US$1.7 million (1946 dollars) to build a full-scale mock-up of the new XB-52 and do preliminary engineering and testing. However, by October 1946, the Air Force began to express concern about the sheer size of the new aircraft and its inability to meet the specified design requirements. In response, Boeing produced Model 464, a smaller four-engine version with a 230,000 pound (105,000 kg) gross weight, which was briefly deemed acceptable.

Models 464-49 (1949) to B-52A (1952)

Then, in November 1946, the Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Research and Development, General Curtis LeMay, expressed the desire for a cruise speed of 400 miles per hour (345 kn, 645 km/h), to which Boeing responded with a 300,000 pound (140,000 kg) aircraft. In December 1946, Boeing was asked to change their design to a four-engine bomber with a top speed of 400 miles per hour, range of 12,000 miles (10,000 nmi, 19,000 km), and the ability to carry a nuclear weapon. The aircraft could weigh up to 480,000 pounds (220,000 kg). Boeing responded with two models powered by the T-35 turboprops. The Model 464-16 was a "nuclear-only" bomber with a 10,000 pound (4,500 kg) payload, while the Model 464-17 was a general purpose bomber with a 90,000 pound (40,000 kg) payload. Due to the cost associated with purchasing two specialized aircraft, the Air Force selected Model 464-17 with the understanding that it could be adapted for nuclear strikes.

In June 1947, the military requirements were updated and the Model 464-17 met all of them except for the range. It was becoming obvious to the Air Force that, even with the updated performance, the XB-52 would be obsolete by the time it entered production and would offer little improvement over the Convair B-36. As a result, the entire project was put on hold for six months. During this time, Boeing continued to perfect the design which resulted in the Model 464-29 with a top speed of 455 miles per hour (395 kn, 730 km/h) and a 5,000-mile range. In September 1947, the Heavy Bombardment Committee was convened to ascertain performance requirements for a nuclear bomber. Formalized on 8 December 1947, these called for a top speed of 500 miles per hour (440 kn, 800 km/h) and an 8,000 mile (7,000 nmi, 13,000 km) range, far beyond the capabilities of 464-29.

The outright cancellation of the Boeing contract on 11 December 1947 was staved off by a plea from its president William McPherson Allen, and in January 1948 Boeing was instructed to thoroughly explore recent technological innovations, including aerial refueling and the flying wing. Noting stability and control problems Northrop was experiencing with their YB-35 and YB-49 flying wing bombers, Boeing insisted on a conventional aircraft, and in April 1948 presented a US$30 million (1948 dollars) proposal for design, construction, and testing of two Model 464-35 prototypes. Further revisions of specifications during 1948 resulted in an aircraft with a top speed of 513 miles per hour (445 kn, 825 km/h) at 35,000 feet (10,700 m), a range of 6,909 miles (6,005 nmi, 11,125 km), and a 280,000 pounds (125,000 kg) gross weight which included 10,000 pounds (4500 kg) of bombs and 19,875 US gallons (75,225 L) of fuel.

XB-52 Prototype on flight line (X-4 in foreground)


In May 1948 AMC asked Boeing to incorporate the previously discarded, but now more fuel-efficient, jet engine into the design. This resulted in Boeing developing yet another revision in July 1948, Model 464-40 substituted Westinghouse J40 turbojets for the turboprops. Nevertheless, on 21 October 1948, Boeing was told to create an entirely new aircraft using Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojets.

On 25 October, Boeing engineers produced a proposal and a hand-carved model of 464-49. The new design built upon the basic layout of the B-47 Stratojet with 35 swept wings, eight engines paired in four underwing pods, and bicycle landing gear with wingtip outrigger wheels. A notable feature of the landing gear was the ability to pivot the main landing gear up to 20 from the aircraft centerline to increase safety during crosswind landings. The aircraft was projected to exceed all design specifications. Although the full-size mock-up inspection in April 1949 was generally favorable, range again became a concern since the J40s and the early model J57s had excessive fuel consumption.

Side view of YB-52 bomber, with bubble canopy similar to that of the B-47

Despite talk of another revision of specifications or even a full design competition among aircraft manufacturers, General LeMay, now in charge of Strategic Air Command, insisted that performance should not be compromised due to delays in engine development. In a final attempt to increase the range, Boeing created the larger 464-67, stating that once in production, the range could be further increased in subsequent modifications. Following several direct interventions by LeMay, on 14 February 1951 Boeing was awarded a production contract for 13 B-52As and 17 detachable reconnaissance pods. The last major design change, also at the insistence of General LeMay, was a switch from the B-47 style tandem seating to a more conventional side-by-side cockpit which increased the effectiveness of the copilot and reduced crew fatigue. Both XB-52 prototypes featured the original tandem seating arrangement with a framed bubble-type canopy.

The YB-52, the second XB-52 modified with more operational equipment) first flew on 15 April 1952, a 2 hour 21 minute flight from Renton Field in Renton, Washington to Larson AFB with Boeing test pilot Alvin M. Johnston and Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend. The XB-52 followed on 2 October 1952. The thorough development, including 670 days in the wind tunnel and 130 days of aerodynamic and aeroelastic testing, paid off with smooth flight testing. Encouraged, the Air Force increased its order to 282 B-52s.

First production

Only three of the 13 B-52As ordered were built. All were returned to Boeing, and used in their test program. On 9 June 1952 the February 1951 contract was updated to order the aircraft under new specifications. The final 10, the first aircraft to enter active service, were completed as B-52Bs. At the roll out ceremony on 18 March 1954, Air Force Chief of Staff, General Twining said:

The long rifle was the great weapon of its day. ...Today this B-52 is the long rifle of the air age.

General Twining