Even while the Air Force works on new bombers scheduled for 2037 it intends to keep the B-52H in service until at least 2040, nearly 80 years after production ended. This is an unprecedented length of service for a military aircraft. The USAF continues to rely on the B-52 because it remains an effective and economical heavy bomber, particularly in the type of missions that have been conducted since the end of the Cold War against nations that have limited air defense capabilities. The B-52's capacity to "loiter" for extended periods over (or even well outside) the battlefield, while delivering precision standoff and direct fire munitions, has been a valuable asset in conflicts such as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The speed of the B-1 Lancer and the stealth of the B-2 Spirit have only been useful until enemy air defenses were destroyed, a task that has been swiftly achieved in recent conflicts. The B-52 boasts the highest mission capable rate of the three types of heavy bombers operated by the USAF. Whereas the B-1 averages a 53% ready rate, and the B-2 achieved a 26%, the B-52 averages 80% as of 2001.
Boeing B-52D Stratofortress. In informal circumstances, the official name Stratofortress is rarely used; personnel involved with the aircraft most commonly referred to it as BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker).
In the 60's there have been a number of notable accidents involving B-52's with nuclear weapons aboard:
- On 17 January 1966, a fatal collision occurred between a B-52G and a KC-135 Stratotanker over Palomares, Spain. The two unexploded B-28 FI 1.45-megaton-range nuclear bombs on the B-52 were eventually recovered; the conventional explosives of two more bombs detonated on impact, with serious dispersion of both plutonium and uranium, but without triggering a nuclear explosion. After the crash, 1,400 metric tons (3,100,000 lb) of contaminated soil was sent to the United States. In 2006, an agreement was made between the U.S. and Spain to investigate and clean the pollution still remaining as a result of the accident.
- On 21 January 1968, a B-52G, with four nuclear bombs aboard as part of Operation Chrome Dome, crashed on the ice of the North Star Bay while attempting an emergency landing at Thule Air Base, Greenland. The resulting fire caused extensive radioactive contamination, the cleanup of which lasted until September of that year. Following closely on the Palomares incident, the clean-up costs and political consequences proved too high to risk again, so SAC (Strategic Air Command) ended the airborne alert program the following day.