Boeing's B-52 Bombers Took Down Fighter Jets in Vietnam War Dogfights

Ameya Paleja

Designed in the late 1940s, Boeing's B-52 is one of the most revered aircraft in aviation history. Known for their ability to fly around the world without the need to refuel, these magnificent aircraft also carry a heavy payload that can break the proverbial back of adversaries. What many don't know is the fact that high-flying bombers also engaged in dogfights in their early days and came out on top as well.

In the 1940s, the U.S. Air Force was looking for a long-range bomber that would reduce the dependence on airbases operated by other countries. After much back and forth, it settled on a B-52 design that featured eight jet engines under swept wings. Back in the day, bombers did not enjoy the escort services that fighter jets provide today and carried their own gunners. Much slower than fighter aircraft, bombers often fell prey to the fighters, except for rare occasions where the gunner trumped a fighter pilot. 

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. carried out "Operation Linebacker II", which consisted of waves of these high altitude bombers dropping tons of bombs over the Northern part of the country. Although more than a score of these bombers were shot down during the war, tail gunner Airman Albert Moore trumped over a MiG-21 on the Christmas Eve of 1972.

As per his officially recorded statements with the U.S. Air Force, Moore was onboard the B-52D with the tail number 55-083 and noticed a fast-approaching MiG-21 on his radar scope. He notified his aircraft crew to take evasive measures and fire flares. The fighter jet, however, kept gaining on the bomber and closed in from a distance of 4,000 yards (3.6 km) to 2,000 yards (1.8 km). 

It was only days ago that another gunner, Master Sergeant Loius E. Le Blanc that was on another B-52 with the tail number 56-0676, had managed to bring down another MiG-21. The odds were stacked against Moore, but with the fighter closing in, he took the call to fire and sent out 800 rounds in three bursts. The fighter ballooned to three times its intensity on the radar and then disappeared, Moore recounted about a week later. A gunner on another B-52 aircraft verified the kill in the official report.

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Moore's shot was only the second time in recorded history that a gunner had successfully taken down a fighter jet. Over the years, gunners were taken off the B-52s and other aircraft. However, since no other gunner managed to engage a fighter jet in American service history, Moore holds the unique record of being the last one to do so. 

Moore passed away in 2009 at the age of 55. However, even after 69 years of continuous service, the B-52s continue in their role as strategic bombers in the U.S. Air Force. Last year, the U.S. Air Force decided to equip the aircraft with new engines that will extend their service time well into the 2050s. 

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