B-52 Rollout: Extreme Security Measures Precede Debut
The proposal for a jet-powered B-52 that was born in Dayton's Hotel Van Cleve in 1948 resulted in a U.S. Air Force order for two prototypes. Design studies and wind-tunnel tests based on the proposal had been so convincing that the Air Force issued Boeing a "Letter of Intent" for the manufacture of B-52 production tooling in March 1951, more than a year before the first scheduled flight.
The two prototype aircraft, the XB-52 and YB-52, rapidly took shape in a classified area of Boeing's Plant 2 in Seattle. The two planes were basically identical except that only the YB was instrumented for flutter tests.
At 9 p.m. on Nov. 29, 1951, shrouded in tarpaulins and a veil of secrecy, the XB-52 (tail number 49-230) was quietly rolled out of Plant 2 and quickly moved through the rainy night to the flight-test hangar.
The Air Force was extremely concerned for the security of its new bomber. To keep curious onlookers away, the Air Force had instructed Army troops from nearby Fort Lewis to block off the section of East Marginal Way that ran next to the plant.
Boeing engineers and factory employees who had worked on the prototypes were tempted to laugh at the use of tarpaulins to hide the shape of the B-52. To them, it was like trying to hide an elephant under a sheet. Even under acres of canvas, the outline of the aircraft's sweptback wings and long fuselage was obvious.
Soon after the rollout, a 2,500-foot extension to the south end of the Boeing Field runway was completed to accommodate the giant bomber. Boeing also began construction of a new flight-test hangar for the program still referred to by Boeing veterans as the B-52 Hangar and still the home of Boeing Flight Test at Boeing Field.
But it was the YB-52 (tail number 49-231), rolled out on March 15, 1952, that made the first flight of the B-52 series. This was because the XB-52 was damaged during a full-pressure test of its pneumatic system. The XB-52 made its first flight on Oct. 2, 1952.