The United States boasts not only the largest and most powerful air force in the world, it actually boasts three of them. If you were to divide the airborne assets employed by the Air Force, Navy, and Army into service for separate nations, each branch would earn a spot on the military power podium; that’s how immense our nation’s aerial combat and combat support capabilities are.
Here in the comfortable security of the United States, we rarely see our nation’s most impressive combat aircraft fly overhead, and when we do, it tends to be quite a spectacle. Even hardened combat vets often can’t help but stop, look up at a noisy B-1B Lancer bomber overhead, and think out loud, “wow.” It’s just human nature when faced with something that can carry the equivalent of two school buses worth of ordnance at supersonic speeds.
Today, the U.S. Air Force employs three distinct strategic bombers, each worthy of stopping traffic as they sail overhead, but in a video posted by AvGeekery, you get the chance to see all three, flying almost wingtip to wingtip in an impressive display of America’s airborne might.
Watch the video below to see the B-52H Stratofortress, B-1B Lancer, and B-2A Spirit fly side by side, followed soon thereafter by the previous generation of bombers, two B-29 Superfortress bombers and one B-25 Mitchell.
Wingspan: 185 feet (56.4 meters)
Speed: 650 miles per hour (Mach 0.84)
Range: 8,800 miles (7,652 nautical miles)
Payload: 70,000 pounds (31,500 kilograms)
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,151.5 meters)
Length: 159 feet, 4 inches (48.5 meters)
Height: 40 feet, 8 inches (12.4 meters)
The B-52H Stratofortress is considered by the Air Force to be a long-range, multi-purpose bomber, and it serves as America’s principal strategic nuclear and conventional weapons platform – which means the B-52H represents the airborne leg of the U.S.’s nuclear triad. The oldest jet of the trio, the first B-52s entered into service in 1961, though the platform dates back as far as 1952. Thanks to comprehensive updates over the years, the plane is expected to continue to serve as America’s airborne nuke-delivery service until at least 2030. The United States currently maintains 76 of these massive aircraft, of only 104 ever built.
Wingspan: 137 feet (41.8 meters) extended forward, 79 feet (24.1 meters) swept aft
Speed: 900-plus mph (Mach 1.2 at sea level)
Payload: 75,000 pounds (34,019 kilograms)
Ceiling: More than 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)
Length: 146 feet (44.5 meters)
Height: 34 feet (10.4 meters)
The Boeing B-1B Lancer Bomber, nicknamed “the bone,” is a long-range, multi-mission, conventional bomber, though it was once outfitted to be able to carry nuclear weapons. It first entered into service in 1985 as a replacement for the B-52H, but saw a shift in strategy during the 1990s that led to it serving in a strictly conventional combat role. This supersonic bomber is said to fly like a fighter jet, making it a preferred choice for bombing runs over combat zones. In fact, during 1999’s Operation Allied Force, six B-1s flew only two percent of the strike missions, yet they dropped a whopping 20 percent of the ordnance expended by U.S. forces, thanks to its massive payload capacity of 75,000 pounds.
Wingspan: 172 feet (52.12 meters)
Speed: high subsonic
Payload: 40,000 pounds (18,144 kilograms)
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,151.5 meters)
Length: 69 feet (20.9 meters)
Height: 17 feet (5.1 meters)
The B-2 Spirit, sometimes referred to as the “Stealth Bomber” is also a multi-role bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads. What sets it apart from its peers, however, is the aircraft’s stealth capabilities, making it extremely difficult to locate and track on radar, despite entering service back in 1993. Its composite materials are said to absorb radar waves, with reduced infrared, acoustic, and electromagnetic signatures all contributing to the aircraft’s overall stealthiness. B-2s are known to fly long duration combat missions, often leaving air fields inside the United States to deliver ordnance to targets on the other side of the world.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force