B-52H reaches aviation milestone UNITED STATES - 18 MAY 2011 BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Fifty years ago, the Air Force delivered a devastating, long-range, multi-role bomber to its fleet--the B-52H Stratofortress. May 9 marked the 50th Anniversary of operational service by the B-52H, a milestone in Boeing and aviation history. From entering the skies to combat Soviet tensions during the Cold War to maintaining a presence in recent conflicts, the B-52 continues to be an important element of the Air Force Global Strike Command bomber fleet. "From looking back to when the first A-model was made in 1952, the capabilities of this aircraft have grown so much," said Maj. Chris Otis, 20th Bomb Squadron assistant director of operations. "To be able to say I'm a crewmember of the B-52 and have it instantly recognized says a lot about what this aircraft has accomplished." The B-52H entered service May 9, 1961. Over the past 50 years, the bomber has served as a nuclear deterrent, entering combat in the skies over numerous conflicts. According to Web site Boeing.com, no bomber in U.S. military history has been called upon to remain operational as long as the B-52. "The B-52 is arguably the greatest military aircraft of all time," said retired Col. Ronald Thurlow. "It has served as the symbol of American military might for the past 56 years, and is recognized as such not only here in America, but by our friends and enemies around the world. It appears the H-model will continue that legacy for several decades to come." Extensive system and structural upgrades have extended this aircraft's service life, which is expected to continue beyond the year 2030. "Half a century ago, no one would think this aircraft would be where it is today," said Major Otis. "It is a true testament to this airframe." The role of the Stratofortess as a heavy bomber continues and will be a viable part of the U.S. bomber fleet well into the century. "The B-52H has protected this nation during the darkest days of the Cold War and they are continuing that mission in this Age of Terror," said Colonel Thurlow. "The entire world recognizes the B-52 and what it represents, and the U. S. Air Force should not hesitate to use this milestone to remind our own service, our nation and the rest of the world that we too remember." File Photo: BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Munitions on display show the full capabilities of the U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress. The U.S. Air Force has 85 B-52H Stratofortress bombers in active service. U.S. Air Force B-52 Mission: The B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions. The bomber is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (15,166.6 meters). It can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability. Features: In a conventional conflict, the B-52 can perform strategic attack, close-air support, air interdiction, offensive counter-air and maritime operations. During Desert Storm, B-52s delivered 40 percent of all the weapons dropped by coalition forces. It is highly effective when used for ocean surveillance, and can assist the U.S. Navy in anti-ship and mine-laying operations. Two B-52s, in two hours, can monitor 140,000 square miles (364,000 square kilometers) of ocean surface. All B-52s can be equipped with two electro-optical viewing sensors, a forward-looking infrared and advanced targeting pods to augment targeting, battle assessment, and flight safety, thus further improving its combat ability. Pilots wear night vision goggles, or NVG, to enhance their vision during night operations. Night vision goggles provide greater safety during night operations by increasing the pilot's ability to visually clear terrain, avoid enemy radar and see other aircraft in a lights-out environment. Starting in 1989, on-going modifications incorporate the global positioning system, heavy stores adapter beams for carrying 2,000 pound munitions, and a full array of advance weapons currently under development. The use of aerial refueling gives the B-52 a range limited only by crew endurance. It has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,800 miles (14,080 kilometers).