Service of Boeing B-52F Stratofortress

Last revised February 25, 2002

The first Seattle-built B-52F flew for the first time on May 6, 1958, with the first Wichita-built example following eight days later. Seattle built 44, whereas Wichita built 45. This was to turn out to be the last B-52 version to be built at Seattle.

B-52F deliveries initially lagged a few months behind schedule because of fiscal restrictions imposed by the Defense Department in late 1957 that limited the amount of authorized overtime at Boeing. Consequently, B-52Fs did not start reaching SAC until June 1958, the 93rd Bomb Wing being the first recipient.

All 89 B-52Fs were accepted by the USAF between June 1958 and February 1959. After the delivery of the last B-52F from Seattle, the Seattle plant transferred all B-52 engineering responsibility to Wichita.

The B-52F was the first Stratofortress model to participate in combat. B-52F aircraft taken from the 7th and 320th Bomb Wings were sent to bomb suspected Viet Cong enclaves in South Vietnam in June of 1965 under a program known as Arc Light. The B-52Fs were stationed at Andersen AB on Guam, the operation being supported by KC-135As stationed at Kadena AB on Okinawa.

The first raid was carried out from Guam by 30 B-52Fs on June 18, 1965 against an unseen Viet Cong target at Ben Cat, 40 miles north of Saigon. Prior to the mission, the crews were briefed that a minimum of 2000-3000 (possibly as high as 6000 or more) North Vietnamese regulars were encamped in the target area. To ensure security, it was planned that the raid would be carried out in complete radio silence from beginning to end. The raid did not start off well--on the way to the target, two B-52Fs collided in midair during a refuelling operation and 8 crew members were killed. An investigation later blamed the cause for the mid-air collision on a combination of poor staff planning, extremely unusual and unique weather conditions, forbidden radio communications and an untested air refueling operation. The next day, the press back in the USA generally derided the raid as being an expensive and costly failure, and it was claimed that only one water buffalo was killed and only 100 pounds of rice were destroyed.

However, it seems that the results of the raid were a lot more effective than the press had led people to believe. All of the bombs were dropped into the correct target box, except for one string of bombs which had missed the area completely because of a radar failure. After about a week, teams began to enter the area and reported almost total destruction of all life in the area.

After the mission, morale was very low due to the loss of the eight crew members as well as the generally negative reports that had appeared in the press back in the USA about the effectiveness of the raid. Additional missions were cancelled and did not resume until July. There was initially some skepticism about the usefulness of a high-altitude radar bomb drop against guerilla forces. Nevertheless, within a few months there was universal acceptance of the power of the B-52 raids as a new type of artillery. By November of 1965, the B-52s were able to support the 1st Air Cavalry Division in mopping up operations near Pleiku.

There were no B-52F losses in actual combat, although two B-52Fs were destroyed when they collided in mid-air on their way to the first Arc Light mission.

In the spring of 1966, the B-52Fs were replaced by Big Belly B-52Ds and played no further part in the Vietnam War. The B-52Fs were returned to the USA and were used for nuclear deterrent duty.

The following units operated the B-52F:

Several worn-out B-52Fs were retired in 1967-68, but most remained in services until well into the 1970s. The last B-52Fs were retired to storage between August and December of 1978.


  1. American Combat Planes, Third Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  2. Post World War II Bombers, Marcelle Size Knaack, Office of Air Force History, 1988.

  3. Boeing Aircraft Since 1916, Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1989.

  4. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  5. Boeing B-52--A Documentary History, Walter Boyne, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981.

  6. Boeing's Cold War Warrior--B-52 Stratofortress, Robert F. Dorr and Lindsay Peacock, Osprey Aerospace, 1995.

  7. E-mail from Jerry B. Hendrix on results of the first "Arc Light" mission. It was a lot more effective that most sources generally acknowledge.