‘Well, then how do you fly a plane the size of an airliner without ailerons?’ Damien Leimbach, former USAF avionics technician.
After it became operational in 1955, the B-52 Stratofortress remained the main long-range heavy bomber of the US Air Force during the Cold War, and it continues to be an important part of the USAF bomber force today. Nearly 750 were built before production ended in the fall of 1962.
The B-52 has set numerous records in its many years of service. On Jan. 18, 1957, three B-52Bs completed the first non-stop round-the-world flight by jet aircraft, lasting 45 hours and 19 minutes and requiring only three aerial refuelings. It was also a B-52 that made the first airborne hydrogen bomb drop over Bikini Atoll on May 21, 1956.
‘The ailerons are bolted down.
‘Yes, you read that right.
‘The ailerons cannot be used.
‘What? Why? Well, they did build the jets with ailerons of course, that aid in turning the craft. And they work just like you would expect them to.
‘However, due to the excessively long service life of the plane, it was noticed after a few decades of use that the ailerons were imparting far more force on the frame and wing spars than was really necessary. Use of the ailerons was imparting so much roll force and the wings were so long that the torque generated was literally ripping the wings off. So, the decision was made to disable them in order to prolong the life of the plane.
‘Well, then how do you fly a plane the size of an airliner without ailerons?
‘Stall panels. (many people have pointed out they are technically called spoilerons.)
‘Look closely at the right wing of this plane.
‘Those flat panels pop up into the airstream and disrupt the airflow over the wing, making it produce less lift. The right wing then falls, gently banking the plane.
‘To get out of the bank and fly level again, the left wing is then stalled, which dips, gently leveling the aircraft.’
‘Of course, it was not intended to be flown this way, so during the conversion, the wing spoilers were enlarged slightly and the ailerons disabled.’
Update: according to Jason Edwards, a reader of The Aviation Geek Club and an aviation expert, early model B-52s had ailerons. They were deleted from the design when the G and H models were designed. They aren’t bolted down; the aircraft were built without them. They rely entirely on the spoilers for roll control.