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America's Iconic War Machine

By James Morgan, BBC News, 10 December 2015

The most feared bomber plane of the 20th Century is still going strong after 60 years in service in the US military - from Vietnam to Afghanistan. And she will keep on flying until 2044. How does this 1950s behemoth survive in the era of drones and stealth aircraft?

We are sweltering in the Louisiana summer. The baking hot tarmac of Barksdale runway feels like burning coals. A huddle of young mechanics - exhausted, perspiring - take shelter under the shady belly of a hulking, battered-looking bomber. Its guts hang open. The battle-worn paint under the wings is peeling away to expose yellow primer underneath.

Her name is "Cajun Fear" - painted on her nose with a snarling alligator. Parked alongside her: the Grim Reaper, Apocalypse, Global Warrior, and the Devil's Own, the pride of the 96th bomb squadron - the "Red Devils". They call it "the Buff" - an acronym whose first three words are "Big Ugly Fat". This bomber was built in 1960 - the year JFK won the US presidential election, Hitchcock's thriller Psycho was released in cinemas and the USSR successfully sent two dogs into space. Two years later, in 1962, at a factory in Wichita, the last ever B-52 nuclear bomber rolled off the assembly line, fired up its eight engines, and took off to play its role in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Today, more than half a century later - after Vietnam, two Iraq Wars and Afghanistan - the ol' granddaddy of the US Air Force is showing its battle scars. The pilots joke that if you flew upside down "chicken bones from Saigon would fall out." But these senior citizens still proudly patrol the skies for the United States. When the US wants to deliver a message, it sends a B-52. In November, to Beijing's fury, two B-52 bomber planes flew near disputed islands in the South China Sea.