The first production version of the Stratofortress was the B-52A (Model 464-201-0). Contract AF33(038)-21096, officially signed on February 14, 1951, had originally called for 13 B-52As, but this was amended on June 9, 1952 to cover just three aircraft, with the remainder being earmarked for completion as B-52Bs.
The B-52A differed from the X/YB-52 in having a completely redesigned forward fuselage. The original bubble canopy and tandem seating arrangement for pilot and copilot were replaced by a side-by-side arrangement. General Curtis E. LeMay was largely responsible for insisting on this change. The forward fuselage was lengthened by 21 inches so as to accommodate additional equipment and an extra crew member. The crew was now six--pilot, copilot, navigator, radar operator, electronic warfare officer, and tail gunner. The pilot and co-pilot sat side-by-side in the upper deck of the forward fuselage, with the electronic warfare officer sitting behind the pilot facing to the rear. The navigator and the radar operator sat side-by side in the lower deck of the forward fuselage. The tail gunner sat all by himself in a station in the extreme tail behind the tall rudder.
Entry to the cockpit was via a door located on the fuselage underside offset to starboard and hinged at the rear. The gunner had his own entry door in the starboard aft fuselage side below the horizontal tail surface. The tail gunner was normally isolated from the rest of the crew, but he could move forward via a crawlway to the weapons bay, and from there he had access to the main crew compartment via a small access door that was cut into the aft cabin pressure bulkhead. However, cabin depressurization was necessary before he could do this.
In an emergency, the pilot, copilot, and electronic warfare officer ejected upwards, and the navigator and radar operator ejected downwards. The tail gunner did not have an ejector seat--he got out by jettisoning the turret and diving after it. When extra crew members were on board, they would evacuate the aircraft by jumping through the holes in the fuselage bottom left by the departure of the navigator's and radar operator's ejector seats.
The engines of the B-52A were more powerful than the largely- experimental engines of the prototypes. The powerplants were a set of eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojets, offering a dry thrust of 10,000 pounds. They were equipped for water injection, raising the thrust to 11,000 lb.s.t for short periods. This water was provided by a 360-gallon tank carried in the rear fuselage.
A 1000-gallon auxiliary underwing fuel tank was provided outboard of the outrigger wheels. These tanks had also been fitted to both prototypes. However, it appears that the B-52As flew without these tanks more often than with them.
The B-52A was fitted with an in-flight refuelling receptacle for midair refueling via the flying-boom technique. This receptacle was mounted on the upper fuselage just behind the cockpit. A couple of doors above the receptacle opened to allow the probe from the refuelling aircraft to attach itself to the B-52 for the transfer of fuel.
The B-52A was the first to be fitted with defensive armament--a battery of four 0.50-inch M3 machine guns in the extreme tail. Each gun had 600 rounds of ammunition. The tail gunner, seated in the extreme rear of the plane underneath a transparent canopy, was provided with an A-3A fire control system which employed search and tracking radar antenna and which could automatically aim and fire the guns. However, the gunner also had a periscopic optical gun sight for manual operation of the guns.
The first B-52A (52-001) was rolled out at Seattle on March 18, 1954 with appropriate fanfare. Several thousand people were there for the ceremony, and USAF Chief of Staff General Nathan F. Twining addressed the crowd. It made its first flight on August 5, 1954.
Although the 3 B-52As were referred to as true production machines, they lacked certain vital operational equipment, and were not considered as being combat-ready. In particular, no bombing/navigation system was fitted, and much of the vital electronic equipment was not actually installed. Consequently, it is probably more accurate to describe the B-52As as pre-production service test and evaluation machines rather than as true production aircraft.
None of the B-52As ever entered operational service with the USAF. All three of them were used by Boeing for various test flight duties for the next ten years or so. In the mid- to late-1950s, 52-001 was used for tests of B-52G features such as the short fin. It reportedly bore the designation "XB-52G" during these tests. In the early 1960s, 52-0001 was flown to Chanute AFB in Illinois, where it was permanently grounded and used as a teaching aid. 52-002 was scrapped at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma in 1961.
In November of 1958, 52-003 was modified to NB-52A standard and used as a "mother ship" for the X-15 rocket-powered research aircraft. The X-15 was carried and launched from a special cradle mounted on a pylon installed underneath the inner starboard wing. The pylon had mount points to attach the X-15, and was also provided with service lines which kept the fuel cells of the X-15 topped off while climbing to altitude. The NB-52A would typically carry the X-15 to an altitude of about 45,000 feet and would release the X-15 at a speed of about 500 mph. The X-15 would then fire its engines for about two minutes of poweref flight, followed by about 10 minutes of unpowered flight while gliding back to the landing zone at Edwards AFB. In October of 1969, 52-003 was retired to storage at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona. It was later passed along to the Pima County Air Museum at Tucson, Arizona.
52-001/003 Boeing B-52A-1-BO Stratofortress c/n 16491/16493
Engines: Eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojets, each rated at 10,000 lb.s.t. dry and 11,000 lb.s.t with water injection. Performance: Combat radius 3590 miles. Dimensions: Length 156 feet 6.9 inches, wingspan 185 feet 0 inches, height 48 feet 3.6 inches, wing area 4000 square feet. Weights: 420,000 pounds maximum takeoff. Armament: Four 0.50-inch M3 machine guns with 600 rpg in tail turret. Maximum offensive payload 43,000 pounds.