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Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

Intercontinental Strategic and Tactical Bomber

B-52 dropping up to 81 1,000 pound bombs. Air Force Photograph 041105-O-9999G-012

Since the 1950s, the Boeing B-52 has been America’s “big stick.” This massive and far-ranging aircraft began as a high-level strategic nuclear bomber, changed to a low-level nuclear strategic bomber when Soviet anti-aircraft missiles improved, and then evolved again into a conventional bomber in Vietnam. Although the B-52 remains nuclear capable, its role since the 1960s has been to drop massive loads of conventional bombs. Although its official name is Stratofortress, nearly everybody calls it the BUFF—the Big Ugly Fat Fellow. Early models of the B-52 had a crew of five—two pilots, a bombardier, a route navigator, and electronic weapons systems officer, and a tail gunner. Today, in the B-52H, it flies without a tail gun or tail gunner.

The B-52 was born in October 1948. Boeing engineers traveled to Wright Field, Ohio, to pitch a new bomber to...

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