The “Big 3” bombers of the USAF

July 21st, 2012

The backbone of the United States Air Force is long-range strategic bombers. Today this duty falls to the Rockwell B-1 Lancer,the venerable Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and the Northrop-Grumman B-2 Spirit. The Joint Base Lewis McChord Air Expo 2012 displayed the “Big 3” strategic bombers in flight (saturday only). There is always something special about seeing these big birds fly!

USAF Air Combat Command Global Strike Command

Rockwell B-1B Lancer

The B-1B also known by its nickname “Bone” (B-ONE) is a 4 engined bomber with a crew of 4  (aircraft commander, copilot, and two weapon systems officers) carries the largest weapons payload of any aircraft in the USAF inventory (34,019 kilograms /75,000 pounds – a conventional payload could include 84 x 500 pound bombs!). It is big yet it manages to remain a sleek and mean looking machine.

Rockwell B-1 Lancer Joint Base Lewis McChord Expo 2012
B-1B Lancer

With variable geometry swing wings, supersonic speed (Mach 1.2) capability and manoeuverability the B-1B is the ultimate low-level penetrator that courtesy of advanced avionics and laser guided systems can deliver its payload with extreme accuracy. These types of characteristics along with sophisticated anti-air defence systems (electronic jammers, radar receiver, chaff/flares) enhance the aircrafts survivability and also allow it to operate equally as well at low and high altitudes. First introduced in 1986 (100 were built by 1988), the B-1B has seen active duty over Iraq and Afghanistan and 66 remain in service today (operated by Air Combat Command). To see a B-1B take off with full afterburner, do a slow pass and then multiple high-speed passes with its wings fully swept is really something!

Rockwell B-1B Lancer Afterburner Takeoff
B-1B Afterburner Takeoff
Rockwell B-1B Lancer USAF Joint Base Lewis McChord Air Expo 2012
B-1B slow pass with the wings swept forward
B-1B High speed pass Joint Base Lewis McChord Air Expo 2012
High speed pass with the wings swept back
Rockwell B-1B
Love it!

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress

The B-52 must be the most famous jet bomber aircraft in modern history and has seen active duty in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 744 of the big 8 engined bombers were built with the first entering USAF service in 1955 (B-52A) and amazingly the current fleet have been serving for at least 50 years with the last B-52H leaving the production line in 1962 (85 remain in USAF service operated by Air Force Global Strike Command)! Even more amazingly they will continue in service to around 2050! Obviously there have been plenty of upgrades to avionics etc. to keep the aircraft at frontline status and even after all these years it remains the backbone of the USAF bomber force earning the endearing nickname “BUFF” (Big Ugly Fat Fellow or other less PG variants!).

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress

The B-52 has a crew of 5 (aircraft commander, pilot, radar navigator, navigator and electronic warfare officer ) and has a big weapons payload (31,500 kilograms / 70,000 pounds). The B-52 can also carry the widest range of munitions in the USAF inventory from conventional bombs to mines and cruise missiles (including nuclear capable weaponry). At the Air Expo this B-52H only did one pass as it was actually on a training mission from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. You could see those smoky old engines from a long way off but to see and hear such a big aircraft flyover is always impressive!

Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit

The B-2, better known as the “Stealth Bomber” can penetrate deep into enemy air defences with its low observable technology (including “radar absorbing” composite materials and special coatings) and unusual “flying wing” design which makes it difficult for air defence systems to detect and track the bomber. Hidden within that airframe are 4 jet engines that are designed to reduce heat emissions to significantly decrease the chance of infrared detection.

Grumman Northrop B-2 Spirit Joint Base Lewis McChord 2012
B-2 Spirit

There is really nothing else like the B-2 and I am sure it has contributed to UFO sightings in America! With a weapons payload of 18,144 kilograms / 40,000 pounds it is capable of delivering conventional and nuclear munitions over very long distances (9,600km /6,000 nautical miles unrefueled). The B-2 is a big aircraft but only has a crew of 2 (mission commander and pilot, with the provision for a third crew member if required).

B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber
Grumman Northrop B-2 Joint Base Lewis McChord Air Expo 2012
This gives a great view of the B-2 “flying wing” design

The B-2 first entered USAF service in 1993 and have seen active duty over Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and are believed to have been used during the Libyan Civil War in 2011. Today 20 of the original 21 built remain in active service and operated by Air Force Global Strike Command (1 crashed in 2008). Not many ever entered service as they are incredibly expensive at $1.157 billion per aircraft (1998 cost – four times the cost of a B-1 and twenty times the cost of a B-52)! This particular B-2 was the last bomber flight display at the Air Expo and was also on a training mission, flying from Whiteman AFB in Missouri. I thought we would get only one pass, but to my surprise and joy they did multiple passes showing off the unusual lines of the “Stealth Bomber“!

The unusual lines of the Stealth Bomber
b-2 Joint Base Lewis McChord 2012

20 thoughts on “The “Big 3” bombers of the USAF

  1. This was a most interesting article about three of the most impressive bomber aircraft ever made. To the author: well done, impressively good information, and beautiful photographs. Thank you, very much.


  2. Awesome photos and great subtext. Keep up the good work!! Not sure if you have done so already, but Im sure you would do a great one on Air Superiority fighters.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Greatly enjoyed this post and a couple others here. I enjoy photographing anything that flies, especially WW II aircraft and wild raptors. Used to get to California’s Watsonville Fly-In Airshow regularly too –

    Albuquerque’s Kirtland AFB finally held an airshow last fall – – and the Collings Foundation visited last month –

    Thanks for some great info.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. – Having flown in- and out of Frankfurt airport many many times on commercial jets – often I saw the big-black-bossy-b-52’s; I thank God that they are there… prepared to protect democracy from Communists, Muslims and all other kinds of ignorant fools around the Globe. B-1/B-2 may be more stealth and so on; – but as a tactical deterrent and weapon, I think the B-52’s still have got a point.. If my last name was Sung.. first Kim and middle “Ill”.. (!) – I would pee in my pants seeing those in the skies above…For you US-guys, please keep your bases in Europe – whatever happens (even Mr. Trump) – if you move out – the free World as we know it, surely would become indeed unstable – again….


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