Today, the B-52H is still a major component of the USAF's strategic bombing force, alongside the Rockwell B-1B Lancer and the Northrop B-2A Spirit. It is likely that the B-52H will still be serving well into the next century.
The first B-52H flew on July 20, 1960. Delivery of the B-52H to operational units began on May 9, 1961 when the 379th Bombardment Wing at Wurtsmith AFB in Michigan received its first aircraft. The last B-52H was delivered to the 4136th Strategic Wing at Minot AFB on October 26, 1962, bringing production of the Stratofortress to an end.
On January 10-11, 1962, a B-52H (serial number 60-0040) from the 4136th Strategic Wing from Minot AFB set a new distance in a straight line world record by completing an unrefuelled 12,532.28 mile flight from Kadena, Okinawa to Torrejon, Spain. This broke the previous record of 11,235 miles, set in 1946 by the US Navy Lockheed P2V Neptune "Truculent Turtle"
On September 1, 1991, some of the composite Bombardment Wings that operated both B-52s and KC-135 or KC-10 tankers were redesignated as simply Wings, in keeping with an initiative led by Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill A. McPeak.
During December of 1993, B-52Hs were deployed for the first time to the Air Force Reserve. The 917th Wing at Barksdale AFB accepted the first of about 8 B-52Hs. The 917th Wing is a composite wing, having an A-10 squadron as well as a B-52 squadron.
At the same time, a decision was made to inactivate three out of the five remaining first-line B-52H units by the end of 1994. These were the 92nd, 410th, and 416th BWs, with their aircraft being reassigned to the 2nd and 5th BWs which established additional squadrons to handle the extra bombers. The B-52H fleet was consolidated at only two bases--Barksdale AFB in Louisiana and at Minot AFB in North Dakota, with a total of 94 aircraft remaining in service.
However, budgetary cuts in 1996 have led to a need for further force reductions which will bring the B-52H fleet down to 66 flying examples. The 72nd BS of the 5th BW at Minot AFB is scheduled to inactivate later in 1996. Their 12 aircraft will be retired. The 2nd BW at Barksdale AFB will also lose 4 of its aircraft. These surplus aircraft will probably end up at AMARC, but some proponents of a longer life for the B-52H argue that no large aircraft has ever been returned to service once it has been consigned to the boneyards at AMARC, and that it would be a better idea to have the 28 withdrawn B-52Hs held in "attrition reserve" at Minot AFB.
On August 25, 1995, a B-52H from the 2nd Bomb Wing set a new speed record for aircraft weighing between 440,000 and 550,000 pounds flying 10,000 kilometers unrefuelled with a payload of 5000 kilograms. The record was set in 11 hours 23 minutes with a average speed of 556 mph.
During the Vietnam war, only the D, F, and G versions of the Stratofortress participated in combat and the only version to be involved in the Persian Gulf war was the G. However, all of these other versions have by now either been scrapped or consigned to storage, leaving only the H still in service.
The B-52H made its combat debut on September 3, 1996, when a pair of B-52Hs from the USAF's 2nd BW launched 13 AGM-86C cruise missiles against targets in southern Iraq. This attack was in response to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's military assault on the northern town of Arbil on August 30. In retaliation for this move, President Bill Clinton announced that the "no-fly" zone over southern Iraq would be extended 59 miles further north, bringing it close to the southern suburbs of Baghdad. This extension encompassed numerous airfields, antiaircraft sites, and command and control centers, all of which were perceived to be a threat to American aircraft enforcing the expanded no-fly zone, and an attack on these southern Iraqi targets was ordered. The B-52H attack originated from Guam, the aircraft refuelling in midair four times. During their approach to the Gulf region, the B-52Hs were escorted by F-14D Tomcats from the USS Carl Vinson. At the same time, Tomahawk missiles were fired from the destroyer USS Laboon and from the cruiser USS Shiloh. The next day, more missiles were fired from US Navy ships against targets that had been undamaged during the previous attack.
The missiles' use of GPS made it possible for 31 of the 35 AGM-86C missiles launched to hit their targets. The engine on one missile failed to start after launch, two probably missed their targets, and one was probably shot down. This single mission probably used up most of the AGM-86Cs that were available at that time.
The USAF is currently considering converting some of its B-52Hs to EB-52Hs to act as a stand-off electronic warfare platform. During Operation Allied Force (the bombing of Serbia undertaken in an attempt to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo), the USAF found that additional jamming aircraft were needed to supplement the current fleet of EA-6B Prowler.
The following active duty USAF units have operated the B-52H:
Composite wing, operating both B-52H and A-10. 93rd BS, 10/1/93-current