Before Americans had the ability to watch color television, the Air Force had the ability to drop nukes on the Russians and fly back home, thanks in large part to the B-52 Stratofortress, also known as the BUFF.

The YB-52 (as the plane’s prototype was known) took its maiden flight on April 15, 1952, and hasn’t stopped since. Well, the original one has stopped, but not the program. And there is very little indication it will stop anytime soon. In fact, the B-52 Stratofortress is projected to fly until 2050, long after color TV will have been replaced by some other form of entertainment.


The Big Ugly Fat… Fellah

While the plane first flew in 1952, the B-52 program reaches back to 1946, when U.S. Army Air Forces requested a six-engine propeller-powered heavy bomber. Boeing designed the prop-driven bomber as requested, and was in Dayton to present the design when they were told to scrap it and come up with something new. The requirements had changed to an all-jet bomber, instead.

The story goes that Boeing engineers sketched out plans for the new B-52 on cocktail napkins in a hotel in Dayton, Ohio. They fleshed out the design specs into a 33-page report, then hastily carved a balsa-wood model to present to the Army. All over the weekend.

Now, I haven’t seen these cocktail napkins, but in 2017 I saw the balsa-wood model at Boeing’s Oklahoma City facilities. That model looks like a hand-carved kids’ toy from the ’40s or ’50s. Nevertheless, it changed the face of the bomber community forever. 

Full production of the B-52 as we know it did not begin until 1952 when the Air Force ordered 282 of the aircraft. There were three B-52A models produced before performance specs were updated; then the B-52B began production in earnest. In all, eight models (A-H) were produced in response to overall aircraft modernization.