The B-52 Stratofortress is a Cold War-era bomber and strategic weapons aircraft, which the United States Air Force continues to use, as of 2015. Its adaptability to evolving combat situations, munitions-carrying capacity and extensive travel range have contributed to its longevity and practical application over the years, making it the longest-serving bomber in U.S. military history.
Boeing designed and built the B-52 bomber after World War II with many setbacks in meeting the military’s performance requirements. The bomber took its maiden flight in 1952, and the Air Force first used it in 1955; it replaced the Convair B-36 Peacemaker. The B-52 bomber has seen many missions over the years, carrying nuclear weapons on long-range Cold War deterrence missions, conducting bombing runs in the Vietnam War, and providing close air support during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The B-52 can travel up to 650 mph and has a combat range of nearly 9,000 miles without needing to refuel, which it is capable of doing while airborne. It has a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet and can carry nearly 70,000 pounds of mixed weaponry. Due to its continued reliability, low cost and usefulness in a variety of combat capacities, the B-52 has outlasted many more highly engineered aircraft, and the military has no plans to replace the utility bomber for decades to come.