Losses and Aviation Safety

[Updated] USAF avionics technician explains why the B-52 ailerons are bolted down, why they can’t be used and how you fly the Mighty BUFF without them

The B-52 Stratofortress

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.

B-52 ailerons are bolted down

A fun trivia fact about the mighty BUFF is that her ailerons are bolted down, as Damien Leimbach, former USAF avionics technician, explains on Quora.

The ailerons are bolted down.

‘Yes, you read that right.

‘The ailerons cannot be used.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-52H Stratofortress 2nd BW, 20th BS, LA/60-0008 “Lucky Lady IV”. Barksdale AFB, LA

‘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.

B-52 ailerons deleted

‘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.’

Leimbach concludes;

‘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. Ailerons aren’t bolted down; the aircraft were built without them. They rely entirely on the spoilers for roll control.

Photo credit: screenshot from Skyes9 YouTube channel video

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • Interesting about the ailerons on the B-52.
    I looked at an old video of the YB-52 and couldn't see the ailerons clearly. At what point in time did the USAF and BOEING determine that the ailerons were creating a structural problems?

  • I would imagine they noticed during depot level maintenance very early on, and compared it to issues resulting from stress on the wing spars that the B-47 also had. This wasn't the Air Force's first rodeo with Boeing's jet powered bombers so they very likely assumed that it would probably have similar issues.

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