15 April 1952

First flight of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.

B-52 Stratofortress
Aerial top/side view of gray B-52H flying over Texas
A B-52H from Barksdale AFB flying over Texas
Role Strategic bomber
National origin United States
Manufacturer Boeing
First flight 15 April 1952; 68 years ago (1952-04-15)
Introduction February 1955
Status In service
Primary users United States Air Force
Produced 1952–1962
Number built 744[1]
Developed into Conroy Virtus

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is an American long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber. The B-52 was designed and built by Boeing, which has continued to provide support and upgrades. It has been operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) since the 1950s. The bomber is capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons,[2] and has a typical combat range of more than 8,800 miles (14,080 km) without aerial refueling.[3]

Beginning with the successful contract bid in June 1946, the B-52 design evolved from a straight wing aircraft powered by six turboprop engines to the final prototype YB-52 with eight turbojet engines and swept wings. The B-52 took its maiden flight in April 1952. Built to carry nuclear weapons for Cold War-era deterrence missions, the B-52 Stratofortress replaced the Convair B-36 Peacemaker. A veteran of several wars, the B-52 has dropped only conventional munitions in combat. The B-52's official name Stratofortress is rarely used; informally, the aircraft has become commonly referred to as the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker/Fella).[4][5][6][Note 1]

The B-52 has been in service with the USAF since 1955. As of June 2019, 58 are in service, 18 in reserve, and about 12 in long-term storage.[8][9] The bombers flew under the Strategic Air Command (SAC) until it was disestablished in 1992 and its aircraft absorbed into the Air Combat Command (ACC); in 2010, all B-52 Stratofortresses were transferred from the ACC to the new Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). Superior performance at high subsonic speeds and relatively low operating costs have kept them in service despite the advent of later, more advanced strategic bombers, including the Mach 2+ B-58 Hustler, the canceled Mach 3 B-70 Valkyrie, the variable-geometry B-1 Lancer, and the stealth B-2 Spirit. The B-52 completed sixty years of continuous service with its original operator in 2015. After being upgraded between 2013 and 2015, the last airplanes are expected to serve into the 2050s.



Models 462 (1946)[10] to 464-35 (1948)[10]
Models 464-49 (1949)[10] to B-52A (1952)

On 23 November 1945, Air Materiel Command (AMC) issued desired performance characteristics for a new strategic bomber "capable of carrying out the strategic mission without dependence upon advanced and intermediate bases controlled by other countries".[11] The aircraft was to have a crew of five or more turret gunners, and a six-man relief crew. It was required to cruise at 300 mph (260 knots, 480 km/h) at 34,000 feet (10,400 m) with a combat radius of 5,000 miles (4,300 nautical miles, 8,000 km). The armament was to consist of an unspecified number of 20 mm cannon and 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) of bombs.[12] On 13 February 1946, the Air Force issued bid invitations for these specifications, with Boeing, Consolidated Aircraft, and Glenn L. Martin Company submitting proposals.[12]

On 5 June 1946, Boeing's Model 462, a straight-wing aircraft powered by six Wright T35 turboprops with a gross weight of 360,000 pounds (160,000 kg) and a combat radius of 3,110 miles (2,700 nmi, 5,010 km), was declared the winner.[13] On 28 June 1946, Boeing was issued a letter of contract for US$1.7 million to build a full-scale mockup of the new XB-52 and do preliminary engineering and testing.[14] However, by October 1946, the Air Force began to express concern about the sheer size of the new aircraft and its inability to meet the specified design requirements.[15] In response, Boeing produced the Model 464, a smaller four-engine version with a 230,000 pound (105,000 kg) gross weight, which was briefly deemed acceptable.[15][16]

Subsequently, in November 1946, the Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Research and Development, General Curtis LeMay, expressed the desire for a cruising speed of 400 miles per hour (345 kn, 645 km/h), to which Boeing responded with a 300,000 lb (136,000 kg) aircraft.[17] In December 1946, Boeing was asked to change their design to a four-engine bomber with a top speed of 400 miles per hour, range of 12,000 miles (10,000 nmi, 19,300 km), and the ability to carry a nuclear weapon; in total, the aircraft could weigh up to 480,000 pounds (220,000 kg).[18] Boeing responded with two models powered by T35 turboprops. The Model 464-16 was a "nuclear only" bomber with a 10,000 pound (4,500 kg) payload, while the Model 464-17 was a general purpose bomber with a 9,000 pound (4,000 kg) payload.[18] Due to the cost associated with purchasing two specialized aircraft, the Air Force selected Model 464-17 with the understanding that it could be adapted for nuclear strikes.[19]

In June 1947, the military requirements were updated and the Model 464-17 met all of them except for the range.[20] It was becoming obvious to the Air Force that, even with the updated performance, the XB-52 would be obsolete by the time it entered production and would offer little improvement over the Convair B-36 Peacemaker; as a result, the entire project was postponed for six months.[21] During this time, Boeing continued to perfect the design, which resulted in the Model 464-29 with a top speed of 455 miles per hour (395 kn, 730 km/h) and a 5,000-mile range.[22] In September 1947, the Heavy Bombardment Committee was convened to ascertain performance requirements for a nuclear bomber. Formalized on 8 December 1947, these requirements called for a top speed of 500 miles per hour (440 kn, 800 km/h) and an 8,000 mile (7,000 nmi, 13,000 km) range, far beyond the capabilities of the 464-29.[21][23]

The outright cancellation of the Boeing contract on 11 December 1947 was staved off by a plea from its president William McPherson Allen to the Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington.[24] Allen reasoned that the design was capable of being adapted to new aviation technology and more stringent requirements.[25] In January 1948, Boeing was instructed to thoroughly explore recent technological innovations, including aerial refueling and the flying wing.[26] Noting stability and control problems Northrop was experiencing with their YB-35 and YB-49 flying wing bombers, Boeing insisted on a conventional aircraft, and in April 1948 presented a US$30 million (US$319 million today[27]) proposal for design, construction, and testing of two Model 464-35 prototypes.[28] Further revisions during 1948 resulted in an aircraft with a top speed of 513 miles per hour (445 kn, 825 km/h) at 35,000 feet (10,700 m), a range of 6,909 miles (6,005 nmi, 11,125 km), and a 280,000 pounds (125,000 kg) gross weight, which included 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) of bombs and 19,875 US gallons (75,225 L) of fuel.[29][30]

Design effort

XB-52 Prototype on flight line (X-4 in foreground; B-36 behind). Note original tandem-seat "bubble" style canopy, similar to Boeing's earlier B-47 Stratojet.
Side view of YB-52 bomber, still fitted with tandem cockpit, in common with other jet bombers in US service, such as the B-45 Tornado, B-47 Stratojet and B-57 Canberra

In May 1948, AMC asked Boeing to incorporate the previously discarded jet engine, with improvements in fuel efficiency, into the design.[31] That resulted in the development of yet another revision—in July 1948, Model 464-40 substituted Westinghouse J40 turbojets for the turboprops.[32] The Air Force project officer who reviewed the Model 464-40 was favorably impressed, especially since he had already been thinking along similar lines. Nevertheless, the government was concerned about the high fuel consumption rate of the jet engines of the day, and directed that Boeing still use the turboprop-powered Model 464-35 as the basis for the XB-52. Although he agreed that turbojet propulsion was the future, General Howard A. Craig, Deputy Chief of Staff for Materiel, was not very enthusiastic about a jet-powered B-52, since he felt that the jet engine had not yet progressed sufficiently to permit skipping an intermediate turboprop stage. However, Boeing was encouraged to continue turbojet studies even without any expected commitment to jet propulsion.[33][34]

On Thursday, 21 October 1948, Boeing engineers George S. Schairer, Art Carlsen and Vaughn Blumenthal presented the design of a four-engine turboprop bomber to the chief of bomber development, Colonel Pete Warden. Warden was disappointed by the projected aircraft and asked if the Boeing team could come up with a proposal for a four-engine turbojet bomber. Joined by Ed Wells, Boeing vice president of engineering, the engineers worked that night in The Hotel Van Cleve in Dayton, Ohio, redesigning Boeing's proposal as a four-engine turbojet bomber. On Friday, Colonel Warden looked over the information and asked for a better design. Returning to the hotel, the Boeing team was joined by Bob Withington and Maynard Pennell, two top Boeing engineers who were in town on other business.[35]

By late Friday night, they had laid out what was essentially a new airplane. The new design (464-49) built upon the basic layout of the B-47 Stratojet with 35-degree swept wings, eight engines paired in four underwing pods, and bicycle landing gear with wingtip outrigger wheels.[36] A notable feature of the landing gear was the ability to pivot both fore and aft main landing gear up to 20° from the aircraft centerline to increase safety during crosswind landings (allowing the aircraft to "crab" or roll with a sideways slip angle down the runway).[37] After a trip to a hobby shop for supplies, Schairer set to work building a model. The rest of the team focused on weight and performance data. Wells, who was also a skilled artist, completed the aircraft drawings. On Sunday, a stenographer was hired to type a clean copy of the proposal. On Monday, Schairer presented Colonel Warden with a neatly bound 33-page proposal and a 14-inch scale model.[35] The aircraft was projected to exceed all design specifications.[38]

Although the full-size mock-up inspection in April 1949 was generally favorable, range again became a concern since the J40s and early model J57s had excessive fuel consumption.[39] Despite talk of another revision of specifications or even a full design competition among aircraft manufacturers, General LeMay, now in charge of Strategic Air Command, insisted that performance should not be compromised due to delays in engine development.[40][41] In a final attempt to increase range, Boeing created the larger 464-67, stating that once in production, the range could be further increased in subsequent modifications.[42] Following several direct interventions by LeMay,[43] Boeing was awarded a production contract for thirteen B-52As and seventeen detachable reconnaissance pods on 14 February 1951.[44] The last major design change—also at General LeMay's insistence—was a switch from the B-47 style tandem seating to a more conventional side-by-side cockpit, which increased the effectiveness of the copilot and reduced crew fatigue.[45] Both XB-52 prototypes featured the original tandem seating arrangement with a framed bubble-type canopy (see above images).[46]

Pre-production and production

During ground testing on 29 November 1951, the XB-52's pneumatic system failed during a full-pressure test; the resulting explosion severely damaged the trailing edge of the wing, necessitating considerable repairs. The YB-52, the second XB-52 modified with more operational equipment, first flew on 15 April 1952 with "Tex" Johnston as pilot.[47][48] A two-hour, 21-minute proving flight from Boeing Field, King County, in Seattle, Washington to Larson Air Force Base was undertaken with Boeing test pilot Johnston and Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend.[49] The XB-52 followed on 2 October 1952.[50] The thorough development,[Note 2] including 670 days in the wind tunnel and 130 days of aerodynamic and aeroelastic testing, paid off with smooth flight testing. Encouraged, the Air Force increased its order to 282 B-52s.[52]

Aircraft deliveries
B-52 model Total
Annual Cumulative
1954 3 3 3
1955 13 13 16
1956 35 5 1 41 57
1957 2 30 92 124 181
1958 77 100 10 187 368
1959 79 50 129 497
1960 106 106 603
1961 37 20 57 660
1962 68 68 728
1963 14 14 742
Total 3 50 35 170 100 89 193 102 742 742

Only three of the 13 B-52As ordered were built.[61] All were returned to Boeing, and used in their test program.[53] On 9 June 1952, the February 1951 contract was updated to order the aircraft under new specifications. The final 10, the first aircraft to enter active service, were completed as B-52Bs.[53] At the roll-out ceremony on 18 March 1954, Air Force Chief of Staff General Nathan Twining said:

The long rifle was the great weapon of its day. ... today this B-52 is the long rifle of the air age.[62][63]

The B-52B was followed by progressively improved bomber and reconnaissance variants, culminating in the B-52G and turbofan B-52H. To allow rapid delivery, production lines were set up both at its main Seattle factory and at Boeing's Wichita facility. More than 5,000 companies were involved in the huge production effort, with 41% of the airframe being built by subcontractors.[64] The prototypes and all B-52A, B and C models (90 aircraft)[65] were built at Seattle. Testing of aircraft built at Seattle caused problems due to jet noise, which led to the establishment of curfews for engine tests. Aircraft were ferried 150 miles (240 km) east on their maiden flights to Larson Air Force Base near Moses Lake, where they were fully tested.[66]

As production of the B-47 came to an end, the Wichita factory was phased in for B-52D production, with Seattle responsible for 101 D-models and Wichita 69.[67] Both plants continued to build the B-52E, with 42 built at Seattle and 58 at Wichita,[68] and the B-52F (44 from Seattle and 45 from Wichita).[69] For the B-52G, Boeing decided in 1957 to transfer all production to Wichita, which freed up Seattle for other tasks, in particular, the production of airliners.[70][71] Production ended in 1962 with the B-52H, with 742 aircraft built, plus the original two prototypes.[72]


A proposed variant of the B-52H was the EB-52H, which would have consisted of 16 modified and augmented B-52H airframes with additional electronic jamming capabilities.[73][74] This variant would have restored USAF airborne jamming capability that it lost on retiring the EF-111 Raven. The program was canceled in 2005 following the removal of funds for the stand-off jammer. The program was revived in 2007, and cut again in early 2009.[75]

In July 2013, the Air Force began a fleet-wide technological upgrade of its B-52 bombers called Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) to modernize electronics, communications technology, computing, and avionics on the flight deck. CONECT upgrades include software and hardware such as new computer servers, modems, radios, data-links, receivers, and digital workstations for the crew. One update is the AN/ARC-210 Warrior beyond-line-of-sight software programmable radio able to transmit voice, data, and information in-flight between B-52s and ground command and control centers, allowing the transmission and reception of data with updated intelligence, mapping, and targeting information; previous in-flight target changes required copying down coordinates. The ARC-210 allows machine-to-machine transfer of data, useful on long-endurance missions where targets may have moved before the arrival of the B-52. The aircraft will be able to receive information through Link-16. CONECT upgrades will cost $1.1 billion overall and take several years. Funding has been secured for 30 B-52s; the Air Force hopes for 10 CONECT upgrades per year, but the rate has yet to be decided.[76]

Weapons upgrades include the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade (IWBU), which gives a 66 percent increase in weapons payload using a digital interface (MIL-STD-1760) and rotary launcher. IWBU is expected to cost roughly $313 million.[76] The 1760 IWBU will allow the B-52 to carry eight[77] JDAM 2000 lb bombs, AGM-158B JASSM-ER cruise missile and the ADM-160C MALD-J decoy missiles internally. All 1760 IWBUs should be operational by October 2017. Two bombers will have the ability to carry 40 weapons in place of the 36 that three B-52s can carry.[78] The 1760 IWBU allows precision-guided missiles or bombs to be deployed from inside the weapons bay; the previous aircraft carried these munitions externally on the wing hardpoints. This increases the number of guided weapons (Joint Direct Attack Munition or JDAM) a B-52 can carry and reduces the need for guided bombs to be carried on the wings. The first phase will allow a B-52 to carry twenty-four GBU-38 500-pound guided bombs or twenty GBU-31 2,000-pound bombs, with later phases accommodating the JASSM and MALD family of missiles.[79] In addition to carrying more smart bombs, moving them internally from the wings reduces drag and achieves a 15 percent reduction in fuel consumption.[80]

Air Force scientists are working to arm the B-52 with defensive laser weapons able to incinerate attacking air-to-air or surface-to-air missiles.[81]


B-29 Superfortress, B-17 Flying Fortress and B-52 Stratofortress fly in formation at the 2017 Barksdale Air Force Base Airshow


The B-52 shared many technological similarities with the preceding B-47 Stratojet strategic bomber. The two aircraft used the same basic design, such as swept wings and podded jet engines,[82] and the cabin included the crew ejection systems.[83] On the B-52D, the pilots and electronic countermeasures (ECM) operator ejected upwards, while the lower deck crew ejected downwards; until the B-52G, the gunner had to jettison the tail gun to bail out.[84] The tail gunner in early model B-52s was located in the traditional location in the tail of the plane, with both visual and radar gun laying systems; in later models the gunner was moved to the front of the fuselage, with gun laying carried out by radar alone, much like the B-58 Hustler's tail gun system.[85]

Structural fatigue was accelerated by at least a factor of eight in a low-altitude flight profile over that of high-altitude flying, requiring costly repairs to extend service life. In the early 1960s, the three-phase High Stress program was launched to counter structural fatigue, enrolling aircraft at 2,000 flying hours.[86][87] Follow-up programs were conducted, such as a 2,000-hour service life extension to select airframes in 1966–1968, and the extensive Pacer Plank reskinning, completed in 1977.[71][88] The wet wing introduced on G and H models was even more susceptible to fatigue, experiencing 60% more stress during flight than the old wing. The wings were modified by 1964 under ECP 1050.[89] This was followed by a fuselage skin and longeron replacement (ECP 1185) in 1966, and the B-52 Stability Augmentation and Flight Control program (ECP 1195) in 1967.[89] Fuel leaks due to deteriorating Marman clamps continued to plague all variants of the B-52. To this end, the aircraft were subjected to Blue Band (1957), Hard Shell (1958), and finally QuickClip (1958) programs. The latter fitted safety straps that prevented catastrophic loss of fuel in case of clamp failure.[90] The B-52's service ceiling is officially listed as 50,000 feet, but operational experience shows this is difficult to reach when fully laden with bombs. According to one source: "The optimal altitude for a combat mission was around 43,000 feet, because to exceed that height would rapidly degrade the plane's range."[91]

Black-and-white photo of a B-52 inflight with its vertical stabilizer sheared off.
B-52H (AF Ser. No. 61-0023), configured at the time as a testbed to investigate structural failures, still flying after its vertical stabilizer sheared off in severe turbulence on 10 January 1964. The aircraft landed safely.[92]

In September 2006, the B-52 became one of the first US military aircraft to fly using alternative fuel. It took off from Edwards Air Force Base with a 50/50 blend of Fischer–Tropsch process (FT) synthetic fuel and conventional JP-8 jet fuel, which burned in two of the eight engines.[93] On 15 December 2006, a B-52 took off from Edwards with the synthetic fuel powering all eight engines, the first time an air force aircraft was entirely powered by the blend. The seven-hour flight was considered a success.[93] This program is part of the Department of Defense Assured Fuel Initiative, which aimed to reduce crude oil usage and obtain half of its aviation fuel from alternative sources by 2016.[93] On 8 August 2007, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne certified the B-52H as fully approved to use the FT blend.[94]

Flight controls

Because of the B-52's mission parameters, only modest maneuvers would be required with no need for spin recovery.[95] The aircraft has a relatively small, narrow chord rudder, giving it limited yaw control authority. Originally an all-moving vertical stabilizer was to be used, but was abandoned because of doubts about hydraulic actuator reliability.[95] Because the aircraft has eight engines, asymmetrical thrust due to the loss of an engine in flight would be minimal and correctable with the narrow rudder. To assist with crosswind takeoffs and landings the main landing gear can be pivoted 20 degrees to either side from neutral.[96] This yaw adjustable crosswind landing gear would be preset by the crew according to wind observations made on the ground.

The elevator is also very narrow in chord like the rudder, and the B-52 suffers from limited elevator control authority. For long term pitch trim and airspeed changes the aircraft uses an all-moving tail with the elevator used for small adjustments within a stabilizer setting. The stabilizer is adjustable through 13 degrees of movement (nine up, four down) and is crucial to operations during takeoff and landing due to large pitch changes induced by flap application.[97]

B-52s prior to the G models had very small ailerons with a short span that was approximately equal to their chord. These "feeler ailerons" were used to provide feedback forces to the pilot's control yoke and to fine tune the roll axes during delicate maneuvers such as aerial refueling.[95] Due to twisting of the thin main wing, conventional outboard flap type ailerons would lose authority and therefore could not be used. In other words, aileron activation would cause the wing to twist, undermining roll control. Six spoilerons on each wing are responsible for the majority of roll control. The late B-52G models eliminated the ailerons altogether and added an extra spoileron to each wing.[95] Partly because of the lack of ailerons, the B-52G and H models were more susceptible to Dutch roll.[97]


Lower deck of a B-52, with instruments and displays featuring dominantly on the aircraft's side wall. This station is manned by two crew members.
A view of the lower deck of the B-52, dubbed the battle station

Ongoing problems with avionics systems were addressed in the Jolly Well program, completed in 1964, which improved components of the AN/ASQ-38 bombing navigational computer and the terrain computer. The MADREC (Malfunction Detection and Recording) upgrade fitted to most aircraft by 1965 could detect failures in avionics and weapons computer systems, and was essential in monitoring the Hound Dog missiles. The electronic countermeasures capability of the B-52 was expanded with Rivet Rambler (1971) and Rivet Ace (1973).[98]

To improve operations at low altitude, the AN/ASQ-151 Electro-Optical Viewing System (EVS), which consisted of a low light level television (LLLTV) and a forward looking infrared (FLIR) system mounted in blisters under the noses of B-52Gs and Hs between 1972 and 1976.[99] The navigational capabilities of the B-52 were later augmented with the addition of GPS in the 1980s.[100] The IBM AP-101, also used on the Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber and the Space Shuttle, was the B-52's main computer.[101]

In 2007, the LITENING targeting pod was fitted, which increased the effectiveness of the aircraft in the attack of ground targets with a variety of standoff weapons, using laser guidance, a high-resolution forward-looking infrared sensor (FLIR), and a CCD camera used to obtain target imagery.[102] LITENING pods have been fitted to a wide variety of other US aircraft, such as the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II.[103]


The ability to carry up to 20 AGM-69 SRAM nuclear missiles was added to G and H models, starting in 1971.[104] To further improve its offensive ability, air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) were fitted.[105] After testing of both the Air Force-backed Boeing AGM-86 and the Navy-backed General Dynamics AGM-109 Tomahawk, the AGM-86B was selected for operation by the B-52 (and ultimately by the B-1 Lancer).[106] A total of 194 B-52Gs and Hs were modified to carry AGM-86s, carrying 12 missiles on underwing pylons, with 82 B-52Hs further modified to carry another eight missiles on a rotary launcher fitted in the bomb-bay. To conform with SALT II Treaty requirements that cruise missile-capable aircraft be readily identifiable by reconnaissance satellites, the cruise missile armed B-52Gs were modified with a distinctive wing root fairing. As all B-52Hs were assumed modified, no visual modification of these aircraft was required.[107] In 1990, the stealthy AGM-129 ACM cruise missile entered service; although intended to replace the AGM-86, a high cost and the Cold War's end led to only 450 being produced; unlike the AGM-86, no conventional, non-nuclear version was built.[108] The B-52 was to have been modified to utilize Northrop Grumman's AGM-137 TSSAM weapon; however, the missile was canceled due to development costs.[109]

A B-52D with anti-flash white on the under side

Those B-52Gs not converted as cruise missile carriers underwent a series of modifications to improve conventional bombing. They were fitted with a new Integrated Conventional Stores Management System (ICSMS) and new underwing pylons that could hold larger bombs or other stores than could the external pylons. Thirty B-52Gs were further modified to carry up to 12 AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles each, while 12 B-52Gs were fitted to carry the AGM-142 Have Nap stand-off air-to-ground missile.[110] When the B-52G was retired in 1994, an urgent scheme was launched to restore an interim Harpoon and Have Nap capability,[Note 3] the four aircraft being modified to carry Harpoon and four to carry Have Nap under the Rapid Eight program.[113]

The Conventional Enhancement Modification (CEM) program gave the B-52H a more comprehensive conventional weapons capability, adding the modified underwing weapon pylons used by conventional-armed B-52Gs, Harpoon and Have Nap, and the capability to carry new-generation weapons including the Joint Direct Attack Munition and Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser guided bombs, the AGM-154 glide bomb and the AGM-158 JASSM missile. The CEM program also introduced new radios, integrated Global Positioning System into the aircraft's navigation system and replaced the under-nose FLIR with a more modern unit. Forty-seven B-52Hs were modified under the CEM program by 1996, with 19 more by the end of 1999.[114][115]

By around 2010, U.S. Strategic Command stopped assigning B61 and B83 nuclear gravity bombs to B-52, and later listed only the B-2 as tasked with delivering strategic nuclear bombs in budget requests. Nuclear gravity bombs were removed from the B-52's capabilities because it is no longer considered survivable enough to penetrate modern air defenses, instead relying on nuclear cruise missiles and focusing on expanding its conventional strike role.[116] The 2019 "Safety Rules for U.S. Strategic Bomber Aircraft" manual subsequently confirmed the removal of B61-7 and B83-1 gravity bombs from the B-52H' approved weapons configuration.[117]

Starting in 2016, Boeing is to upgrade the internal rotary launchers to the MIL-STD-1760 interface to enable the internal carriage of smart bombs, which previously could only be carried on the wings.[118]

While the B-1 Lancer technically has a larger theoretical maximum payload of 75,000 lb compared to the B-52's 70,000 lb, the aircraft are rarely able to carry their full loads, the most the B-52 carrying being a full load of AGM-86Bs totaling 62,660 lb. The B-1 has the internal weapons bay space to carry more GBU-31 JDAMs and JASSMs, but the B-52 upgraded with the conventional rotary launcher can carry more of other JDAM variants.[119]

AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response (ARRW) hypersonic missile and the future Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile will join the B-52 inventory in the future.[120]


USAF B-52H Stratofortress engines

The eight engines of the B-52 are paired in pods and suspended by four pylons beneath and forward of the wings' leading edge. The careful arrangement of the pylons also allowed them to work as wing fences and delay the onset of stall. The first two prototypes, XB-52 and YB-52, were both powered by experimental Pratt & Whitney YJ57-P-3 turbojet engines of 8,700 lbf (38.70 kN) of static thrust each.[97]

The B-52A models were equipped with Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojets, providing a dry thrust of 10,000 lbf (44.48 kN) which could be increased for short periods to 11,000 lbf (48.93 kN) with water injection. The water was carried in a 360-gallon tank in the rear fuselage.[121]

B-52B, C, D and E models were equipped with Pratt & Whitney J57-P-29W, J57-P-29WA, or J57-P-19W series engines all rated at 10,500 lbf (46.71 kN). The B-52F and G models were powered by Pratt & Whitney J57-P-43WB turbojets, each rated at 13,750 lbf (61.16 kN) static thrust with water injection.[121]

On 9 May 1961, B-52H started being delivered to the Air Force with cleaner burning and quieter Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3 turbofans with a maximum thrust of 17,100 lbf (76.06 kN).[97]

Engine retrofit

In a study for the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1970s, Boeing investigated replacing the engines, changing to a new wing, and other improvements to upgrade B-52G/H aircraft as an alternative to the B-1A, then in development.[122]

In 1982, Pratt & Whitney studied retrofitting B-52s with four Pratt & Whitney PW2000 (F117) engines, but this was not done, since all B-52s were to be replaced by B-1s and B-2s by the late 1990s. In 1996 Rolls-Royce and Boeing jointly proposed to fit B-52s with four leased Rolls-Royce RB211-535 engines, but this plan failed because of Air Force resistance to leasing combat assets and a negative Air Force economic analysis which was later disputed as flawed.[123]

This would involve replacing the eight Pratt & Whitney TF33 engines (total thrust 8 × 17,000 lb = 136,000) with four RB211 engines (total thrust 4 × 37,400 lb = 148,000), which would increase range and reduce fuel consumption, at a cost of approximately US$2.56 billion for the whole fleet (71 aircraft at $36 million each). However, an Air Force analysis in 1997 concluded that Boeing's estimated savings of US$4.7 billion would not be realized and that re-engining would instead cost US$1.3 billion over keeping the existing engines, citing significant up-front procurement and re-tooling expenditure, as well as the RB211's higher maintenance cost.[124]

The Air Force's 1997 rejection of re-engining was subsequently disputed in a Defense Science Board (DSB) report in 2003. The DSB urged the Air Force to re-engine the aircraft without delay,[125] saying doing so would not only create significant cost savings, but reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase aircraft range and endurance; these conclusions were in line with the conclusions of a separate Congress-funded study conducted in 2003. Criticizing the Air Force cost analysis, the DSB found that among other things, the Air Force failed to account for the cost of aerial refueling; the DSB estimated that refueling in the air cost $17.50 per gallon, whereas the Air Force had failed to account for the cost of fuel delivery and so had only priced fuel at $1.20 per gallon.[126]

As the TF33 overhaul cost tripled in a decade, a joint Boeing/USAF study in 2003 recommended a $4–4.7 billion re-engining, allowing $11–15 billion cost savings while increasing B-52H combat range by 22% and tripling loiter time on station, proposing a competition between the RB211, PW2000, and eight CFM56 engines financed by an Energy Savings Performance Contract.[127]

In 2014, the USAF was reviewing industry studies of engine replacement. As of 2014, the engine retrofit had not been approved. In late 2014, it was reported that the DOD and unnamed private companies were exploring a leasing program where private lease companies would purchase new engines and lease them to the USAF. DOD costs would be determined by depreciation and actual usage with no up-front lump payments.[123] In 2018, the USAF proposed another plan to re-engine the B-52, known as the Commercial Engine Re-engining Program (CERP). A request for proposals was planned for mid-2019, with service entry by 2024. Possible contender engines to replace the TF33 including the General Electric CF34, the General Electric Passport, the Pratt & Whitney PW815 and the Rolls-Royce BR725.[128][129][130] On 23 April 2020 the USAF released its request for proposals for 608 commercial engines plus spares and support equipment, with the plan to award the contract in May 2021.[131]


Costs per aircraft (US dollars)
X/YB-52 B-52A B-52B B-52C B-52D B-52E B-52F B-52G B-52H
Unit R&D cost 1955 100 M
Current 954 M
Airframe 1955 26.433 M 11.328 M 5.359 M 4.654 M 3.700 M 3.772 M 5.352 M 6.076 M
Engines 1955 2.848 M 2.547 M 1.513 M 1.291 M 1.257 M 1.787 M 1.428 M 1.640 M
Electronics 1955 50,761 61,198 71,397 68,613 54,933 60,111 66,374 61,020
Armament and
1955 57,067 494 K 304 K 566 K 936 K 866 K 847 K 1.508 M
Current 544,653 4.71 M 2.9 M 5.405 M 8.94 M 8.26 M 8.08 M 14.4 M
Flyaway cost 1955 28.38 M 14.43 M 7.24 M 6.58 M 5.94 M 6.48 M 7.69 M 9.29 M
Current 270.9 M 137.7 M 69.1 M 62.8 M 56.7 M 62.8 M 73.4 M 88.7 M
Maintenance cost
per flying hour
1955 925 1,025 1,025 1,182
Current 8,828 9,783 9,783 11,281
Note: The original costs were in approximate 1955 United States dollars.[132] Figures in tables noted with current have been adjusted for inflation to the current calendar year.[27]

Operational history


Although the B-52A was the first production variant, these aircraft were used only in testing. The first operational version was the B-52B that had been developed in parallel with the prototypes since 1951. First flying in December 1954, B-52B, AF Serial Number 52-8711, entered operational service with 93rd Heavy Bombardment Wing (93rd BW) at Castle Air Force Base, California, on 29 June 1955. The wing became operational on 12 March 1956. The training for B-52 crews consisted of five weeks of ground school and four weeks of flying, accumulating 35 to 50 hours in the air. The new B-52Bs replaced operational B-36s on a one-to-one basis.[133]

Early operations were problematic;[134] in addition to supply problems, there were also technical issues.[135] Ramps and taxiways deteriorated under the aircraft's weight, the fuel system was prone to leaks and icing,[136] and bombing and fire control computers were unreliable.[135] The split level cockpit presented a temperature control problem – the pilots' cockpit was heated by sunlight while the observer and the navigator on the bottom deck sat on the ice-cold floor. Thus, a comfortable temperature setting for the pilots caused the other crew members to freeze, while a comfortable temperature for the bottom crew caused the pilots to overheat.[137] The J57 engines proved unreliable. Alternator failure caused the first fatal B-52 crash in February 1956;[138] as a result, the fleet was briefly grounded. In July, fuel and hydraulic issues grounded the B-52s again. In response to maintenance issues, the air force set up "Sky Speed" teams of 50 contractors at each B-52 base to perform maintenance and routine checkups, taking an average of one week per aircraft.[139]

Black-and-white photo of three B-52s parked close together facing left, as personnel on the ground prepare them for departure
Three B-52Bs of the 93rd Bomb Wing prepare to depart March AFB for Castle AFB, California, after their record-setting round-the-world flight in 1957.

On 21 May 1956, a B-52B (52-0013) dropped a Mk-15 nuclear bomb over the Bikini Atoll in a test code-named Cherokee. It was the first air-dropped thermonuclear weapon.[140] This aircraft now is on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. From 24 to 25 November 1956, four B-52Bs of the 93rd BW and four B-52Cs of the 42nd BW flew nonstop around the perimeter of North America in , which covered 15,530 miles (13,500 nmi, 25,000 km) in 31 hours, 30 minutes. SAC noted the flight time could have been reduced by 5 to 6 hours had the four inflight refuelings been done by fast jet-powered tanker aircraft rather than propeller-driven Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighters.[141] In a demonstration of the B-52's global reach, from 16 to 18 January 1957, three B-52Bs made a non-stop flight around the world during Operation Power Flite, during which 24,325 miles (21,145 nmi, 39,165 km) was covered in 45 hours 19 minutes (536.8 smph) with several in-flight refuelings by KC-97s.[142][Note 4]

The B-52 set many records over the next few years. On 26 September 1958, a B-52D set a world speed record of 560.705 miles per hour (487 kn, 902 km/h) over a 10,000 kilometers (5,400 nmi, 6,210 mi) closed circuit without a payload. The same day, another B-52D established a world speed record of 597.675 miles per hour (519 kn, 962 km/h) over a 5,000 kilometer (2,700 nmi, 3,105 mi) closed circuit without a payload.[88] On 14 December 1960, a B-52G set a world distance record by flying unrefueled for 10,078.84 miles (8,762 nmi, 16,227 km); the flight lasted 19 hours 44 minutes (510.75 mph).[143] From 10 to 11 January 1962, a B-52H (60-0040) set a world distance record by flying unrefueled, surpassing the prior B-52 record set two years earlier, from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, to Torrejón Air Base, Spain, which covered 12,532.28 miles (10,895 nmi, 20,177 km).[60][144] The flight passed over Seattle, Fort Worth and the Azores.

Cold War

Diagram of the route that nuclear bomb-carrying B-52s would take to enemy countries. It follows the Mediterranean Sea, and passes over Italy before turning north over the Adriatic Sea.
Southerly route of the Operation Chrome Dome airborne nuclear alert

When the B-52 entered into service, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) intended to use it to deter and counteract the vast and modernizing Soviet Union's military. As the Soviet Union increased its nuclear capabilities, destroying or "countering" the forces that would deliver nuclear strikes (bombers, missiles, etc.) became of great strategic importance.[145] The Eisenhower administration endorsed this switch in focus; the President in 1954 expressing a preference for military targets over civilian ones, a principle reinforced in the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP), a plan of action in the case of nuclear war breaking out.[146]

Throughout the Cold War, B-52s and other US strategic bombers performed airborne alert patrols under code names such as Head Start, Chrome Dome, Hard Head, Round Robin and Giant Lance. Bombers loitered at high altitude near the borders of the Soviet Union to provide rapid first strike or retaliation capability in case of nuclear war.[147] These airborne patrols formed one component of the US's nuclear deterrent, which would act to prevent the breakout of a large-scale war between the US and the Soviet Union under the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction.[148]

Due to the late 1950s-era threat of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) that could threaten high-altitude aircraft,[149][150] seen in practice in the 1960 U-2 incident,[151] the intended use of B-52 was changed to serve as a low-level penetration bomber during a foreseen attack upon the Soviet Union, as terrain masking provided an effective method of avoiding radar and thus the threat of the SAMs.[152] The aircraft was planned to fly towards the target at 400–440 mph (640–710 km/h) and deliver their weapons from 400 ft (120 m) or lower.[153] Although never intended for the low level role, the B-52's flexibility allowed it to outlast several intended successors as the nature of aerial warfare changed. The B-52's large airframe enabled the addition of multiple design improvements, new equipment, and other adaptations over its service life.[98]

In November 1959, to improve the aircraft's combat capabilities in the changing strategic environment, SAC initiated the Big Four modification program (also known as Modification 1000) for all operational B-52s except early B models.[86][152] The program was completed by 1963.[154] The four modifications were the ability to launch AGM-28 Hound Dog standoff nuclear missiles and ADM-20 Quail decoys, an advanced electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite, and upgrades to perform the all-weather, low-altitude (below 500 feet or 150 m) interdiction mission in the face of advancing Soviet missile-based air defenses.[154]

In the 1960s, there were concerns over the fleet's capable lifespan. Several projects beyond the B-52, the Convair B-58 Hustler and North American XB-70 Valkyrie, had either been aborted or proved disappointing in light of changing requirements, which left the older B-52 as the main bomber as opposed to the planned successive aircraft models.[155][156] On 19 February 1965, General Curtis E. LeMay testified to Congress that the lack of a follow-up bomber project to the B-52 raised the danger that, "The B-52 is going to fall apart on us before we can get a replacement for it."[157] Other aircraft, such as the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, later complemented the B-52 in roles the aircraft was not as capable in, such as missions involving high-speed, low-level penetration dashes.[158]

Vietnam War

Soviet specialists inspect the wreckage of the B-52 Stratofortress shot down near Hanoi on 23 December 1972

With the escalating situation in Southeast Asia, 28 B-52Fs were fitted with external racks for 24 of the 750 lb (340 kg) bombs under project South Bay in June 1964; an additional 46 aircraft received similar modifications under project Sun Bath.[69] In March 1965, the United States commenced Operation Rolling Thunder. The first combat mission, Operation Arc Light, was flown by B-52Fs on 18 June 1965, when 30 bombers of the 9th and 441st Bombardment Squadrons struck a communist stronghold near the Bến Cát District in South Vietnam. The first wave of bombers arrived too early at a designated rendezvous point, and while maneuvering to maintain station, two B-52s collided, which resulted in the loss of both bombers and eight crewmen. The remaining bombers, minus one more that turned back due to mechanical problems, continued towards the target.[159] Twenty-seven Stratofortresses dropped on a one-mile by two-mile target box from between 19,000 and 22,000 feet, a little more than 50% of the bombs fell within the target zone.[160] The force returned to Andersen AFB except for one bomber with electrical problems that recovered to Clark AFB, the mission having lasted 13 hours. Post-strike assessment by teams of South Vietnamese troops with American advisors found evidence that the Viet Cong had departed from the area before the raid, and it was suspected that infiltration of the south's forces may have tipped off the north because of the South Vietnamese Army troops involved in the post-strike inspection.[161]

Against a blue sky with white clouds, a B-52F releases bombs over Vietnam.
B-52F dropping bombs on Vietnam

Beginning in late 1965, a number of B-52Ds underwent Big Belly modifications to increase bomb capacity for carpet bombings.[162] While the external payload remained at 24 of 500 lb (227 kg) or 750 lb (340 kg) bombs, the internal capacity increased from 27 to 84 for 500 lb bombs, or from 27 to 42 for 750 lb bombs.[163] The modification created enough capacity for a total of 60,000 lb (27,215 kg) using 108 bombs. Thus modified, B-52Ds could carry 22,000 lb (9,980 kg) more than B-52Fs.[164] Designed to replace B-52Fs, modified B-52Ds entered combat in April 1966 flying from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Each bombing mission lasted 10 to 12 hours and included an aerial refueling by KC-135 Stratotankers.[47] In spring 1967, B-52s began flying from U Tapao Airfield in Thailand so that refueling was not required.[163]

B-52s were employed during the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965, notable as the aircraft's first use in a tactical support role.[165]

The B-52s were restricted to bombing suspected Communist bases in relatively uninhabited sections, because their potency approached that of a tactical nuclear weapon. A formation of six B-52s, dropping their bombs from 30,000 feet, could "take out"... almost everything within a "box" approximately five-eighths mile wide by two miles long [1 × 3.2 km]. Whenever Arc Light struck ... in the vicinity of Saigon, the city woke from the tremor..

Neil Sheehan, war correspondent, writing before the mass attacks on heavily populated cities including North Vietnam's capital.[166]

On 22 November 1972, a B-52D (55-0110) from U-Tapao was hit by a SAM while on a raid over Vinh. The crew was forced to abandon the damaged aircraft over Thailand. This was the first B-52 destroyed by hostile fire.[167]

The zenith of B-52 attacks in Vietnam was Operation Linebacker II (sometimes referred to as the Christmas Bombing), conducted from 18 to 29 December 1972, which consisted of waves of B-52s (mostly D models, but some Gs without jamming equipment and with a smaller bomb load). Over 12 days, B-52s flew 729 sorties[168] and dropped 15,237 tons of bombs on Hanoi, Haiphong, and other targets.[100][169] Originally 42 B-52s were committed to the war; however, numbers were frequently twice this figure.[170] During Operation Linebacker II, fifteen B-52s were shot down, five were heavily damaged (one crashed in Laos), and five suffered medium damage. A total of 25 crewmen were killed in these losses.[171] North Vietnam claimed 34 B-52s were shot down.[172]

During the war 31 B-52s were lost, including 10 shot down over North Vietnam.[173] Of the losses, 17 were shot down in combat operations, one was a write-off because of combat damage, 11 crashed by accidents, 1 decommissioned because of combat damage, and 1 burned at the airport. However, some of the "crashed in flight accidents" crashed due to missiles or anti-aircraft guns. When landing at an airfield in Thailand one B-52 was heavily damaged by SAM, rolled off the runway and was then blown up by mines installed around the airfield to protect against guerrillas; only one crewman survived. Subsequently, this B-52 was counted as a "crashed in flight accidents".[citation needed]

Air-to-air combat

Tail armament of a B-52G at Hill Aerospace Museum; this is a post-Vietnam model with the tail-gunner in the forward crew compartment, while earlier models used the traditional tail gunner's position.

During the Vietnam War, B-52D tail gunners were credited with shooting down two MiG-21 "Fishbeds". On 18 December 1972 tail gunner Staff Sergeant Samuel O. Turner's B-52 had just completed a bomb run for Operation Linebacker II and was turning away, when a Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF) MiG-21 approached.[174] The MiG and the B-52 locked onto each other. When the fighter drew within range, Turner fired his quad (four guns on one mounting) .50 caliber machine guns.[175] The MiG exploded aft of the bomber,[174] as confirmed by Master Sergeant Louis E. Le Blanc, the tail gunner in a nearby Stratofortress. Turner received a Silver Star for his actions.[176] His B-52, tail number 56-0676, is preserved on display with air-to-air kill markings at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Washington.[174]

On 24 December 1972, during the same bombing campaign, the B-52 Diamond Lil was headed to bomb the Thái Nguyên railroad yards when tail gunner Airman First Class Albert E. Moore spotted a fast-approaching MiG-21.[177] Moore opened fire with his quad .50 caliber guns at 4,000 yd (3,700 m), and kept shooting until the fighter disappeared from his scope. Technical Sergeant Clarence W. Chute, a tail gunner aboard another Stratofortress, watched the MiG catch fire and fall away;[175] this was not confirmed by the VPAF.[178] Diamond Lil is preserved on display at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado.[177] Moore was the last bomber gunner believed to have shot down an enemy aircraft with machine guns in aerial combat.[175]

However, the two B-52 tail gunner kills were not confirmed by VPAF, and they admitted to the loss of only three MiGs, all by F-4s.[178] Vietnamese sources have attributed a third air-to-air victory to a B-52, a MiG-21 shot down on 16 April 1972.[179] These victories make the B-52 the largest aircraft credited with air-to-air kills.[Note 5] The last Arc Light mission without fighter escort took place on 15 August 1973, as U.S. military action in Southeast Asia was wound down.[180]

Post-Vietnam War service

B-52Bs reached the end of their structural service life by the mid-1960s and all were retired by June 1966, followed by the last of the B-52Cs on 29 September 1971; except for NASA's B-52B "008" which was eventually retired in 2004 at Edwards AFB, California.[181] Another of the remaining B Models, "005" is on display at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, Colorado.[182]

Aerial view of B-52 fly above white clouds and the sea. It carries two triangular-shaped vehicles under the wings between the fuselage and inboard engines.
B-52H modified to carry two Lockheed D-21B drones

A few time-expired E models were retired in 1967 and 1968, but the bulk (82) were retired between May 1969 and March 1970. Most F models were also retired between 1967 and 1973, but 23 survived as trainers until late 1978. The fleet of D models served much longer; 80 D models were extensively overhauled under the Pacer Plank program during the mid-1970s.[183] Skinning on the lower wing and fuselage was replaced, and various structural components were renewed. The fleet of D models stayed largely intact until late 1978, when 37 not already upgraded Ds were retired.[184] The remainder were retired between 1982 and 1983.[185]

The remaining G and H models were used for nuclear standby ("alert") duty as part of the United States' nuclear triad, the combination of nuclear-armed land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles and manned bombers. The B-1, intended to supplant the B-52, replaced only the older models and the supersonic FB-111.[186] In 1991, B-52s ceased continuous 24-hour SAC alert duty.[187]

After Vietnam the experience of operations in a hostile air defense environment was taken into account. Due to this B-52s were modernized with new weapons, equipment and both offensive and defensive avionics. This and the use of low-level tactics marked a major shift in the B-52's utility. The upgrades were:

  • Supersonic short-range nuclear missiles: G and H models were modified to carry up to 20 SRAM missiles replacing existing gravity bombs. Eight SRAMs were carried internally on a special rotary launcher and 12 SRAMs were mounted on two wing pylons. With SRAM, the B-52s could strike heavily defended targets without entering the terminal defenses.
  • New countermeasures: Phase VI ECM modification was the sixth major ECM program for the B-52. It improved the aircraft's self-protection capability in the dense Soviet air defense environment. The new equipment expanded signal coverage, improved threat warning, provided new countermeasures techniques and increased the quantity of expendables. The power requirements of Phase VI ECM also consumed most of the excess electrical capacity on the B-52G.
  • B-52G and Hs were also modified with electro-optical viewing system (EVS) that made low-level operations and terrain avoidance much easier and safer. EVS system contained a low light level television (LLTV) camera and a forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera to display information needed for penetration at lower altitude.
  • Subsonic-cruise unarmed decoy: SCUD resembled the B-52 on radar. As an active decoy, it carried ECM and other devices, and it had a range of several hundred miles. Although SCUD was never deployed operationally, the concept was developed, becoming known as the air launched cruise missile (ALCM-A).

These modifications increased weight by nearly 24,000 lb (10,900 kg), and decreased operational range by 8–11%. This was considered acceptable for the increase in capabilities.[188][verification needed]

After the fall of the Soviet Union, all B-52Gs remaining in service were destroyed in accordance with the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMRC) cut the 365 B-52s into pieces. Completion of the destruction task was verified by Russia via satellite and first-person inspection at the AMARC facility.[189]

Gulf War and later

Aerial view of B-52s and other aircraft slowly being scrapped in the desert.
Retired B-52s are stored at the 309th AMARG (formerly AMARC), a desert storage facility often called the "Boneyard" at Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson, Arizona.[190]

B-52 strikes were an important part of Operation Desert Storm. Starting on 16 January 1991, a flight of B-52Gs flew from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, refueled in the air en route, struck targets in Iraq, and returned home – a journey of 35 hours and 14,000 miles (23,000 km) round trip. It set a record for longest-distance combat mission, breaking the record previously held by an RAF Vulcan bomber in 1982; however, this was achieved using forward refueling.[191][192] Those seven B-52s flew the first combat sorties of Operation Desert Storm, firing 35 AGM-86C CALCM standoff missiles and successfully destroying 85–95 percent of their targets.[193] B-52Gs operating from the King Abdullah Air Base at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom, Morón Air Base, Spain, and the island of Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory flew bombing missions over Iraq, initially at low altitude. After the first three nights, the B-52s moved to high-altitude missions instead, which reduced their effectiveness and psychological impact compared to the low altitude role initially played.[194]

The conventional strikes were carried out by three bombers, which dropped up to 153 of the 750-pound M117 bomb over an area of 1.5 by 1 mi (2.4 by 1.6 km). The bombings demoralized the defending Iraqi troops, many of whom surrendered in the wake of the strikes.[195] In 1999, the science and technology magazine Popular Mechanics described the B-52's role in the conflict: "The Buff's value was made clear during the Gulf War and Desert Fox. The B-52 turned out the lights in Baghdad."[196] During Operation Desert Storm, B-52s flew about 1,620 sorties, and delivered 40% of the weapons dropped by coalition forces.[197]

During the conflict, several claims of Iraqi air-to-air successes were made, including an Iraqi pilot, Khudai Hijab, who allegedly fired a Vympel R-27R missile from his MIG-29 and damaged a B-52G on the opening night of the Gulf War.[198] However, the U.S. Air Force disputes this claim, stating the bomber was actually hit by friendly fire, an AGM-88 High-speed, Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) that homed on the fire-control radar of the B-52's tail gun; the jet was subsequently renamed In HARM's Way.[199] Shortly following this incident, General George Lee Butler announced that the gunner position on B-52 crews would be eliminated, and the gun turrets permanently deactivated, commencing on 1 October 1991.[200]

Since the mid-1990s, the B-52H has been the only variant remaining in military service;[Note 6] it is currently stationed at:

From 2 to 3 September 1996, two B-52Hs conducted a mission as part of Operation Desert Strike. The B-52s struck Baghdad power stations and communications facilities with 13 AGM-86C conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCM) during a 34-hour, 16,000-mile round trip mission from Andersen AFB, Guam – the longest distance ever flown for a combat mission.[202]

A B-52H Stratofortress of the 2d Bomb Wing takes off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam

On 24 March 1999, when Operation Allied Force began, B-52 bombers bombarded Serb targets throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including during the Battle of Kosare.[203]

The B-52 contributed to Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 (Afghanistan/Southwest Asia), providing the ability to loiter high above the battlefield and provide Close Air Support (CAS) through the use of precision guided munitions, a mission which previously would have been restricted to fighter and ground attack aircraft.[204] In late 2001, ten B-52s dropped a third of the bomb tonnage in Afghanistan.[205] B-52s also played a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which commenced on 20 March 2003 (Iraq/Southwest Asia). On the night of 21 March 2003, B-52Hs launched at least 100 AGM-86C CALCMs at targets within Iraq.[206]

B-52 and maritime operations

The B-52 can be highly effective for ocean surveillance, and can assist the Navy in anti-ship and mine-laying operations. For example, a pair of B-52s, in two hours, can monitor 140,000 square miles (364,000 square kilometers) of ocean surface. During 2018 Baltops exercise B-52s conducted mine-laying missions off the coasts of Sweden, simulating a counter-amphibious invasion mission in the Baltic.[207][208]

In the 1970s, the US Navy worried that combined attack from Soviet bombers, submarines and warships could overwhelm its defenses and sink its aircraft carriers. After the Falklands War, US planners feared the damage that could be created by 200-mile-range missiles carried by Backfire bombers and 250-mile-range missiles carried by Soviet surface ships. New US Navy's maritime strategy in early 1980s called for aggressive use of carriers and surface action groups against the Soviet navy. To help protect the carrier battle groups, some B-52G were modified to fire Harpoon anti-ship missiles. These bombers were based at Guam and Maine from later 1970s in order to support both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. In case of war B-52s would coordinate with tanker support and surveillance by AWACS and Navy planes. B-52Gs could strike Soviet navy targets on the flanks of the US carrier battle groups, leaving them free to concentrate on offensive strikes against Soviet surface combatants. Mines laid down by B-52s could establish mine fields in significant enemy choke points (mainly Kurile islands and GIUK). These minefields would force the Soviet fleet to disperse, making individual ships more vulnerable to Harpoon attacks.[209][210]

From the 1980s B-52Hs were modified to use Harpoons in addition to a wide range of cruise missiles, laser- and satellite-guided bombs and unguided munitions. B-52 bomber crews honed sea-skimming flight profiles that should allow them to penetrate stiff enemy defenses and attack Soviet ships.[211][212][213]

Recent expansion and modernization of China's navy has caused the United States Air Force to re-implement strategies for finding and attacking ships. Quite recently the B-52 fleet has been certified to use Quickstrike family of naval mines using JDAM-ER guided wing kits. This weapon will give the ability to lay down minefields over wide areas, in a single pass, with extreme accuracy, and all while standing-off at over 40 miles away. Besides this, with a view to enhance B-52 maritime patrol and strike performance, an AN/ASQ-236 Dragon's Eye underwing pod, has also been certified for use by B-52H bombers. Dragon's Eye contains an advanced electronically-scanned array radar that will allow B-52s to quickly scan vast Pacific Ocean areas, so finding and sinking enemy ships will be easier for them. This radar will complement Litening infrared targeting pod already used by B-52s for inspecting ships.[214][215]

Recent service

A B-52 taking off from Tinker AFB

In August 2007, a B-52H ferrying AGM-129 ACM cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base to Barksdale Air Force Base for dismantling was mistakenly loaded with six missiles with their nuclear warheads. The weapons did not leave USAF custody and were secured at Barksdale.[216][217]

Four of 18 B-52Hs from Barksdale AFB were retired and were in the "boneyard" of 309th AMARG at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as of 8 September 2008.[218]

As of January 2013, 78 of the original 744 B-52 aircraft were in operation with the U.S. Air Force.[219]

In February 2015, hull 61-0007 Ghost Rider became the first stored B52 to fly out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base after six years in store.[220]

B-52s are periodically refurbished at USAF maintenance depots such as Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.[221] Even while the Air Force works on a new bomber, it intends to keep the B-52H in service until 2045, which is 90 years after the B-52 first entered service, an unprecedented length of service for any aircraft, civilian or military.[197][222][223][224][Note 7]

B-52 at the Australian airshow, 2011

The USAF continues to rely on the B-52 because it remains an effective and economical heavy bomber in the absence of sophisticated air defenses, particularly in the type of missions that have been conducted since the end of the Cold War against nations with limited defensive capabilities. The B-52 has also continued in service because there has been no reliable replacement.[226] The B-52 has the capacity to "loiter" for extended periods, and can deliver precision standoff and direct fire munitions from a distance, in addition to direct bombing. It has been a valuable asset in supporting ground operations during conflicts such as Operation Iraqi Freedom.[227] The B-52 had the highest mission capable rate of the three types of heavy bombers operated by the USAF in the 2000–2001 period. The B-1 averaged a 53.7% ready rate, the B-2 Spirit achieved 30.3%, while the B-52 averaged 80.5%.[190] The B-52's $72,000 cost per hour of flight is more than the B-1B's $63,000 cost per hour, but less than the B-2's $135,000 per hour.[228]

The Long Range Strike Bomber program is intended to yield a stealthy successor for the B-52 and B-1 that would begin service in the 2020s; it is intended to produce 80 to 100 aircraft. Two competitors, Northrop Grumman and a joint team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, submitted proposals in 2014;[229] Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract in October 2015.[230]

On 12 November 2015, the B-52 began freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in response to Chinese man-made islands in the region. Chinese forces, claiming jurisdiction within a 12-mile exclusion zone of the islands, ordered the bombers to leave the area, but they refused, not recognizing jurisdiction.[231] On 10 January 2016, a B-52 overflew parts of South Korea escorted by South Korean F-15Ks and U.S. F-16s in response to the supposed test of a hydrogen bomb by North Korea.[232]

On 9 April 2016, an undisclosed number of B-52s arrived at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, part of the Military intervention against ISIL. The B-52s took over heavy bombing after B-1 Lancers that had been conducting airstrikes rotated out of the region in January 2016.[233] In April 2016, B-52s arrived in Afghanistan to take part in the war in Afghanistan and began operations in July, proving its flexibility and precision carrying out close-air support missions.[234]

According to a statement by the U.S. military, an undisclosed number of B-52s participated in the U.S. strikes on pro-government forces in eastern Syria on 7 February 2018.[235]


Production numbers[1]
Variant Produced Entered Service
XB-52 2
(1 redesignated YB-52)
YB-52 1 modified XB-52 prototype
B-52A 3
(1 redesignated NB-52A)
test units
NB-52A 1 modified B-52A
B-52B 50 29 June 1955
RB-52B 27 Modified B-52Bs
NB-52B 1 Modified B-52B 1955
B-52C 35 June 1956
B-52D 170 December 1956
B-52E 100 December 1957
B-52F 89 June 1958
B-52G 193 13 February 1959
B-52H 102 9 May 1961
Grand total 744 production

The B-52 went through several design changes and variants over its 10 years of production.[132]

Two prototype aircraft with limited operational equipment, used for aerodynamic and handling tests
One XB-52 modified with some operational equipment and re-designated
Only three of the first production version, the B-52A, were built, all loaned to Boeing for flight testing.[47] The first production B-52A differed from prototypes in having a redesigned forward fuselage. The bubble canopy and tandem seating was replaced by a side-by-side arrangement and a 21 in (53 cm) nose extension accommodated more avionics and a new sixth crew member.[Note 8] In the rear fuselage, a tail turret with four 0.50 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns with a fire-control system, and a water injection system to augment engine power with a 360 US gallon (1,363 L) water tank were added. The aircraft also carried a 1,000 US gallon (3,785 L) external fuel tank under each wing. The tanks damped wing flutter and also kept wingtips close to the ground for ease of maintenance.[236]
NB-52A carrying an X-15
The last B-52A (serial 52-0003) was modified and redesignated NB-52A in 1959 to carry the North American X-15. A pylon was fitted under the right wing between the fuselage and the inboard engines with a 6 feet x 8 feet (1.8 m x 2.4 m) section removed from the right wing flap to fit the X-15 tail. Liquid oxygen and hydrogen peroxide tanks were installed in the bomb bays to fuel the X-15 before launch. Its first flight with the X-15 was on 19 March 1959, with the first launch on 8 June 1959. The NB-52A, named "The High and Mighty One" carried the X-15 on 93 of the program's 199 flights.[237]
NASA's NB-52B Balls 8 (lower) and its replacement B-52H on the flight line at Edwards Air Force Base in 2004

The B-52B was the first version to enter service with the USAF on 29 June 1955 with the 93rd Bombardment Wing at Castle AFB, California.[236] This version included minor changes to engines and avionics, enabling an extra 12,000 pounds of thrust using water injection.[238] Temporary grounding of the aircraft after a crash in February 1956 and again the following July caused training delays, and at mid-year there were still no combat-ready B-52 crews.[138]

Of the 50 B-52Bs built, 27 were capable of carrying a reconnaissance pod as RB-52Bs (the crew was increased to eight in these aircraft).[47] The 300 pound (136 kg) pod contained radio receivers, a combination of K-36, K-38, and T-11 cameras, and two operators on downward-firing ejection seats. The pod required only four hours to install.[138]
Seven B-52Bs were brought to B-52C standard under Project Sunflower.[239]
The NB-52B was B-52B number 52-0008 converted to an X-15 launch platform. It subsequently flew as "Balls 8" in support of NASA research until 17 December 2004, making it the oldest flying B-52B. It was replaced by a modified B-52H.[240]
The B-52C's fuel capacity (and range) was increased to 41,700 US gallons by adding larger 3000 US gallon underwing fuel tanks. The gross weight was increased by 30,000 pounds (13,605 kg) to 450,000 pounds. A new fire control system, the MD-9, was introduced on this model.[166] The belly of the aircraft was painted with anti-flash white paint, which was intended to reflect the thermal radiation of a nuclear detonation.[241]
The RB-52C was the designation initially given to B-52Cs fitted for reconnaissance duties in a similar manner to RB-52Bs. As all 35 B-52Cs could be fitted with the reconnaissance pod, the RB-52C designation was little used and was quickly abandoned.[241]
B-52D dropping 500-lb bombs
The B-52D was a dedicated long-range bomber without a reconnaissance option. The Big Belly modifications allowed the B-52D to carry heavy loads of conventional bombs for carpet bombing over Vietnam,[238] while the Rivet Rambler modification added the Phase V ECM systems, which was better than the systems used on most later B-52s. Because of these upgrades and its long range capabilities, the D model was used more extensively in Vietnam than any other model.[166] Aircraft assigned to Vietnam were painted in a camouflage color scheme with black bellies to defeat searchlights.[67]
The B-52E received an updated avionics and bombing navigational system, which was eventually debugged and included on following models.[238]
One -E aircraft (AF Serial No. 56-0632) was modified as a testbed for various B-52 systems. Redesignated NB-52E, the aircraft was fitted with canards and a Load Alleviation and Mode Stabilization system which reduced airframe fatigue from wind gusts during low level flight. In one test, the aircraft flew 10 knots (11.5 mph, 18.5 km/h) faster than the never exceed speed without damage because the canards eliminated 30% of vertical and 50% of horizontal vibrations caused by wind gusts.[242][243][244]
One aircraft leased by General Electric to test TF39 and CF6 engines.[citation needed]
This aircraft was given J57-P-43W engines with a larger capacity water injection system to provide greater thrust than previous models.[238] This model had problems with fuel leaks which were eventually solved by several service modifications: Blue Band, Hard Shell, and QuickClip.[90]
B-52G on static display at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia
The B-52G was proposed to extend the B-52's service life during delays in the B-58 Hustler program. At first, a radical redesign was envisioned with a completely new wing and Pratt & Whitney J75 engines. This was rejected to avoid slowdowns in production, although a large number of changes were implemented.[238] The most significant of these was a new "wet" wing with integral fuel tanks, increasing gross aircraft weight by 38,000 pounds (17,235 kg). In addition, a pair of 700 US gallon (2,650 L) external fuel tanks were fitted under the wings on wet hardpoints.[245] The traditional ailerons were also eliminated, and the spoilers now provided all roll control (roll control had always been primarily with spoilers due to the danger of wing twist under aileron deflection, but older models had small "feeler" ailerons fitted to provide feedback to the controls). The tail fin was shortened by 8 feet (2.4 m), water injection system capacity was increased to 1,200 US gallons (4,540 L), and the nose radome was enlarged.[246] The tail gunner was relocated to the forward fuselage, aiming via a radar scope, and was now provided with an ejection seat.[245] Dubbed the "Battle Station" concept, the offensive crew (pilot and copilot on the upper deck and the two bombing navigation system operators on the lower deck) faced forward, while the defensive crew (tail gunner and ECM operator) on the upper deck faced aft.[166] The B-52G entered service on 13 February 1959 (a day earlier, the last B-36 was retired, making SAC an all-jet bomber force). 193 B-52Gs were produced, making this the most produced B-52 variant. Most B-52Gs were destroyed in compliance with the 1992 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty; the last B-52G, number 58-0224, was dismantled under New START treaty requirements in December 2013.[247] A few examples remain on display for museums.[248]
The B-52H had the same crew and structural changes as the B-52G. The most significant upgrade was the switch to TF33-P-3 turbofan engines which, despite the initial reliability problems (corrected by 1964 under the Hot Fan program), offered considerably better performance and fuel economy than the J57 turbojets.[166][246] The ECM and avionics were updated, a new fire control system was fitted, and the rear defensive armament was changed from machine guns to a 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon (later removed in 1991–94).[245] The final 18 aircraft were manufactured with provision for the ADR-8 countermeasures rocket, which was later retrofitted to the remainder of the B-52G and B-52H fleet.[249] A provision was made for four GAM-87 Skybolt ballistic missiles. The aircraft's first flight occurred on 10 July 1960, and it entered service on 9 May 1961. This is the only variant still in use.[3] A total of 102 B-52Hs were built. The last production aircraft, B-52H AF Serial No. 61-0040, left the factory on 26 October 1962.[250]
Allocated to the reconnaissance variant of the B-52B but not used. The aircraft were designated RB-52B instead.[251]


United States

Notable accidents

A big metallic cylinder standing upright in a field next to a tree.
One of the two MK 39 nuclear bombs involved in the 1961 Goldsboro crash after soft landing with parachute deployed. The weapon was recovered intact after three of the four stages of the arming sequence were completed.
  • On 10 January 1957, a B-52 returning to Loring Air Force Base from a routine instrument training mission broke apart in midair and crashed near Morrell, New Brunswick, killing eight of the nine crew on board. Co-pilot Captain Joseph L. Church parachuted to safety. The crash was believed to have been caused by overstressing the wings and/or airframe during an exercise designed to test the pilot's reflexes. This was the fourth crash involving a B-52 in 11 months.[255]
  • On 11 February 1958, a B-52D crashed in South Dakota because of ice blocking the fuel system, leading to an uncommanded reduction in power to all eight engines. Three crew members were killed.[256]
  • On 8 September 1958, two B-52s collided in midair near Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington; all 13 crew members on the 2 aircraft were killed.[257]
  • On 15 October 1959, a B-52 from the 492d Bomb Squadron at Columbus AFB, Mississippi carrying 2 nuclear weapons collided in midair with a KC-135 tanker near Hardinsburg, Kentucky; 4 of the 8 crew members on the bomber and all 4 crew on the tanker were killed. One of the nuclear bombs was damaged by fire but both weapons were recovered.[257]
  • On 24 January 1961, a B-52G broke up in midair and crashed after suffering a severe fuel loss, near Goldsboro, North Carolina, dropping two nuclear bombs in the process without detonation.[258] Three of the eight crew members were killed.
  • On 14 March 1961, a B-52F from Mather AFB, California[259][verification needed] carrying two nuclear weapons experienced an uncontrolled decompression, necessitating a descent to 10,000 feet to lower the cabin altitude. Due to increased fuel consumption at the lower altitude and unable to rendezvous with a tanker in time, the aircraft ran out of fuel. The crew ejected safely, while the unmanned bomber crashed 15 miles (24 km) west of Yuba City, California.[260]
  • On 24 January 1963, a B-52C on a training mission out of Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts, lost its vertical stabilizer due to buffeting during low-level flight, and crashed on the west side of Elephant Mountain near Greenville, Maine. Of the nine crewmen aboard, two survived the crash.[261][262]
  • On 13 January 1964, the vertical stabilizer broke off a B-52D in winter storm turbulence; it crashed on Savage Mountain in western Maryland. The two nuclear bombs being ferried were found "relatively intact"; three of the crew of five died.[263]
  • On 18 June 1965, two B-52Ds collided mid-air during a refueling maneuver at 33,000 feet above the South China Sea. The head-on collision took place just northwest of the Luzon Peninsula, Philippines, in the night sky above Super Typhoon Dinah, a category 5 storm with maximum winds of 185 mph and waves reported as high as 70 feet. Eight of twelve total crew members in two planes were killed. The rescue of four crew members who’d managed to eject only to parachute into one of the largest typhoons of the 20th century remains one of the most remarkable survival stories in the history of aviation. The crash was also notable because it was the first combat mission ever for the B-52. The two jets were part of a 30-plane squadron on an inaugural Arc Light mission from Andersen AFB, Guam to a military target about 25 miles northwest of Saigon, South Vietnam.[264][265]
The thermonuclear bomb that fell into the sea recovered off Palomares, Almería, 1966
  • On 17 January 1966, a fatal collision occurred between a B-52G and a KC-135 Stratotanker over Palomares, Spain, killing all 4 on the tanker and 3 of the 7 on the B-52G. 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.[266] 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.[267]
  • 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.[268] The resulting fire caused extensive radioactive contamination, the cleanup (Project Crested Ice) lasting until September of that year.[266] Following closely on the Palomares incident, the cleanup costs and political consequences proved too high to risk again, so SAC ended the airborne alert program the following day.[269][270]
  • On 7 January 1971, B-52C 54-26660 of SAC crashed into northern Lake Michigan at the mouth of Little Traverse Bay near Charlevoix, Michigan, while on a low-level training flight. All nine crew members were lost.[271]
  • On 31 March 1972, a 306th Bombardment Wing B-52D, AF Serial Number 56-0625, sustained multiple engine failures and an engine pod fire shortly after takeoff from McCoy AFB on a routine training mission. The aircraft was not carrying any weapons. The aircraft immediately attempted to return to the base, but crashed 3,220 feet (980 m) short of Runway 18R in a civilian residential area immediately north of the airfield, destroying or damaging eight homes. The crew of 7 airmen and a 10-year-old boy on the ground were killed.[272][273]
  • On 19 October 1978, B-52D 56-0594 crashed on takeoff at March AFB, Riverside, CA, due to loss of power on engines 1 and 2, and loss of water augmentation on the left wing. Eight of the nine crew were killed.[citation needed]
  • On 24 June 1994, B-52H Czar 52, 61–0026 crashed at Fairchild AFB, Washington, during practice for an airshow. All four crew members died in the accident.[274]
  • On 21 July 2008, a B-52H, Raidr 21, 60–0053, deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam crashed approximately 25 miles (40 km) off the coast of Guam. All six crew members were killed (five standard crew members and a flight surgeon).[275]

Aircraft on display

Specifications (B-52H)

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress.png
B-52H profile, circa 1987
Boeing B-52H static display with weapons, Barksdale AFB 2006. A second B-52H can be seen in flight in the background

Data from Knaack,[276] USAF fact sheet,[197] Quest for Performance[277]

General characteristics



  • Guns:20 mm (0.787 in) M61 Vulcan cannon originally mounted in a remote controlled tail turret on the H-model, removed in 1991 from all operational aircraft.
  • Bombs: Approximately 70,000 lb (31,500 kg) mixed ordnance; bombs, mines, missiles, in various configurations.


Notable appearances in media

A B-52 carrying nuclear weapons was a key part of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 black comedy film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.[280] A 1960s hairstyle, the beehive, is also called a B-52 for its resemblance to the aircraft's distinctive nose.[281] The popular band the B-52's was subsequently named after this hairstyle.[281][282]

See also

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists


  1. ^ "Fellow" is substituted for "Fuck" or "Fucker" in bowdlerized/sanitized versions of the acronym.[7]
  2. ^ Quote: "Designing the B-29 had required 153,000 engineering hours; the B-52, 3,000,000."[51]
  3. ^ The Have Nap missile, carried only by the B-52, enabled stand-off attacks on targets while maintaining a "man-in-the-loop" guidance system capability.[111][112]
  4. ^ The 93rd Bomb Wing received the Mackay Trophy for accomplishing their round-the-world non-stop flight in January 1957.[140]
  5. ^ The following military aircraft are the only aircraft larger than the B-52 in some manner (parameter listed in parenthesis may not be the only figure that exceeds the corresponding parameter of the B-52) and possess an air-to-air capability; none has a combat kill: B-36 Peacemaker (wingspan), Convair YB-60 (wingspan), Ilyushin Il-76D (payload).
  6. ^ A B-52B, Balls 8, was in use by NASA, a civilian US government entity, until 17 December 2004.
  7. ^ At least one B-52 aviator's father and grandfather also flew the bomber.[225]
  8. ^ The electronic warfare officer sat behind the pilot facing to the rear.[236]


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External links

External image
Boeing B-52G Stratofortress Cutaway
image icon Boeing B-52G Stratofortress Cutaway from Flightglobal.com

11 August 1952

Hussein bin Talal is proclaimed King of Jordan.

Hussein of Jordan in 1997.jpg
Hussein in 1997
King of Jordan
Reign11 August 1952 – 7 February 1999
Regency ended2 May 1953
SuccessorAbdullah II
Prime ministers
Born(1935-11-14)14 November 1935
Amman, Transjordan
Died7 February 1999(1999-02-07) (aged 63)
Amman, Jordan
Burial8 February 1999
(m. 1955; div. 1957)

(m. 1961; div. 1971)

(m. 1972; died 1977)

(m. 1978)
Details and adopted children
Princess Alia
Abdullah II of Jordan
Prince Faisal
Princess Aisha
Princess Zein
Princess Haya
Prince Ali
Abir Muhaisen (adopted)
Prince Hamzah
Prince Hashim
Princess Iman
Princess Raiyah
Full name
Hussein bin Talal bin Abdullah bin Hussein
FatherTalal of Jordan
MotherZein Al-Sharaf
ReligionSunni Islam
SignatureHussein's signature

Hussein bin Talal (Arabic: الحسين بن طلال‎, Al-Ḥusayn ibn Ṭalāl; 14 November 1935 – 7 February 1999) was King of Jordan from 11 August 1952 until his death in 1999. As a member of the Hashemite dynasty, the royal family of Jordan since 1921, Hussein was a 40th-generation direct descendant of Muhammad.[1]

Hussein was born in Amman as the eldest child of Talal bin Abdullah and Zein Al-Sharaf. Hussein began his schooling in Amman, continuing his education abroad. After Talal became King of Jordan in 1951, Hussein was named heir apparent. The Parliament forced Talal to abdicate a year later due to his illness, and a regency council was appointed until Hussein came of age. He was enthroned at the age of 17 on 2 May 1953. Hussein was married four separate times and fathered eleven children: Princess Alia from Dina bint Abdul-Hamid; Abdullah II, Prince Faisal, Princess Aisha, and Princess Zein from Antoinette Gardiner; Princess Haya and Prince Ali from Alia Touqan; Prince Hamzah, Prince Hashim, Princess Iman, and Princess Raiyah from Lisa Halaby.

Hussein, a constitutional monarch, started his rule with what was termed a "liberal experiment," allowing, in 1956, the formation of the only democratically elected government in Jordan's history. A few months into the experiment, he forced that government to resign, declaring martial law and banning political parties. Jordan fought three wars with Israel under Hussein, including the 1967 Six-Day War, which ended in Jordan's loss of the West Bank. In 1970 Hussein expelled Palestinian fighters (fedayeen) from Jordan after they had threatened the country's security in what became known as Black September. The King renounced Jordan's ties to the West Bank in 1988 after the Palestine Liberation Organization was recognized internationally as the sole representative of the Palestinians. He lifted martial law and reintroduced elections in 1989 when riots over price hikes spread in southern Jordan. In 1994 he became the second Arab head of state to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

At the time of Hussein's accession in 1953, Jordan was a young nation and controlled the West Bank. The country had few natural resources, and a large Palestinian refugee population as a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Hussein led his country through four turbulent decades of the Arab–Israeli conflict and the Cold War, successfully balancing pressures from Arab nationalists, Islamists, the Soviet Union, Western countries, and Israel, transforming Jordan by the end of his 46-year reign to a stable modern state. After 1967 he increasingly engaged in efforts to solve the Palestinian problem. He acted as a conciliatory intermediate between various Middle Eastern rivals, and came to be seen as the region's peacemaker. He was revered for pardoning political dissidents and opponents, and giving them senior posts in the government. Hussein, who survived dozens of assassination attempts and plots to overthrow him, was the region's longest-reigning leader. The King died at the age of 63 from cancer on 7 February 1999. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Abdullah II.

Early life

Hussein (age six) and his mother, Zein Al-Sharaf, 1941

Hussein was born in Amman on 14 November 1935 to Crown Prince Talal and Princess Zein Al-Sharaf.[2] Hussein was the eldest among his siblings, three brothers and two sisters – Princess Asma, Prince Muhammad, Prince Hassan, Prince Muhsin, and Princess Basma.[3] During one cold Ammani winter, his baby sister Princess Asma died from pneumonia, an indication of how poor his family was then – they could not afford heating in their house.[3]

Hussein was the namesake of his great-grandfather, Hussein bin Ali (Sharif of Mecca), the leader of the 1916 Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.[4] Hussein claimed to be an agnatic descendant of Muhammad's daughter Fatimah and her husband Ali, the fourth caliph, since Hussein belonged to the Hashemite family, which had ruled Mecca for over 700 years – until its 1925 conquest by the House of Saud – and has ruled Jordan since 1921.[5][6] The Hashemites, the oldest ruling dynasty in the Muslim world, are the second-oldest-ruling dynasty in the world (after the Imperial House of Japan).[7]

The young prince started his elementary education in Amman. He was then educated at Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt.[2] He proceeded to Harrow School in England, where he befriended his second cousin Faisal II of Iraq, who was also studying there.[2] Faisal was then King of Hashemite Iraq, but was under regency since he was the same age as Hussein.[2]

Hussein (age eleven) seen behind his grandfather King Abdullah I after the independence of Jordan was declared, 25 May 1946.

King Abdullah I, the founder of modern Jordan, did not see in his two sons Talal and Nayef potential for kingship, therefore he focused his efforts on the upbringing of his grandson Hussein.[8] A special relationship grew between the two. Abdullah assigned Hussein a private tutor for extra Arabic lessons,[8] and Hussein acted as interpreter for his grandfather during his meetings with foreign leaders, as Abdullah understood English but could not speak it.[8] On 20 July 1951 15-year-old Prince Hussein traveled to Jerusalem to perform Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque with his grandfather.[2] A Palestinian assassin opened fire on Abdullah and his grandson, amid rumors that the King had been planning to sign a peace treaty with the newly established state of Israel.[6] Abdullah died, but Hussein survived the assassination attempt and, according to witnesses, pursued the assassin.[6] Hussein was also shot, but the bullet was deflected by a medal on his uniform that his grandfather had given him.[6]



Abdullah's eldest son, Talal, was proclaimed King of Jordan.[9] Talal appointed his son Hussein as crown prince on 9 September 1951.[9] After a reign lasting less than thirteen months, the Parliament forced King Talal to abdicate due to his mental state – doctors had diagnosed schizophrenia.[9] In his brief reign, Talal had introduced a modern, somewhat liberal constitution in 1952 that is still in use today.[9] Hussein was proclaimed king on 11 August 1952, succeeding to the throne three months before his 17th birthday.[9] A telegram from Jordan was brought in to Hussein while he was staying with his mother abroad in Lausanne, Switzerland, addressed to 'His Majesty King Hussein'.[9] "I did not need to open it to know that my days as a schoolboy were over," Hussein later wrote in his memoirs.[9] He returned home to cheering crowds.[9]

A three-man regency council made up of the prime minister and heads of the Senate and the House of Representatives was appointed until he became 18 (by the Muslim calendar).[10] Meanwhile, Hussein pursued further study at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[2] He was enthroned on 2 May 1953, the same day that his cousin Faisal II assumed his constitutional powers as king of Iraq.[9]

First years

King Hussein in royal ceremonial dress, 1953

The teenaged king inherited not only the throne to Jordan, but also to the West Bank, captured by Jordan during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and annexed in 1950.[9] The country was poor in natural resources, and had a large Palestinian refugee population resulting from the war – the annexation of the West Bank had made Palestinians two-thirds of the population, outnumbering Jordanians.[9] Upon assuming the throne, he appointed Fawzi Mulki as prime minister.[9] Mulki's liberal policies, including freedom of the press, led to unrest as opposition groups started a propaganda campaign against the monarchy.[11] Palestinian fighters (fedayeen, meaning self-sacrificers) used Jordanian-controlled territory to launch attacks against Israel, sometimes provoking heavy retaliation.[9] One reprisal operation by Israel became known as the Qibya massacre; it resulted in the death of 66 civilians in the West Bank village of Qibya.[9] The incident led to protests, and in 1954 Hussein dismissed Mulki amid the unrest and appointed staunch royalist Tawfik Abu Al-Huda.[9] The country held parliamentary elections in October 1954, while the country's parties were not yet fully organized.[9] Abu Al-Huda lasted only a year, and the government underwent reshuffling three times within the following year.[9]

The 1955 Baghdad Pact was a Western attempt to form a Middle Eastern alliance to counter Soviet influence and Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt.[9] Jordan then found itself in the middle of Cold War tensions.[9] Britain, Turkey, and Iraq were members of the pact, and Jordan was pressured by Britain to join.[9] Nasserism (a socialist Pan-Arabist ideology) swept the Arab World in the 1950s, and the proposal to join the pact triggered large riots in the country.[9] Curfews imposed by the Arab Legion did little to alleviate the situation and tensions persisted throughout 1955.[9] The local unrest, periodically fueled by propaganda transmitted from Egyptian radios, was only calmed after the King appointed a new prime minister who promised not to enter the Baghdad Pact.[9] Saudi Arabia found common ground with Egypt in their suspicions of the Hashemites, both in Jordan and in Iraq.[9] The Saudis massed troops near Aqaba on Jordan's southern borders in January 1956, and only withdrew after the British threatened to intervene on Jordan's behalf.[9] Hussein realized that the Arab nationalist trend had dominated Arab politics, and decided to start downgrading Jordan's relationship with the British.[9] On 1 March 1956, Hussein asserted Jordanian independence by Arabizing the army's command: he dismissed Glubb Pasha as the commander of the Arab Legion and replaced all the senior British officers with Jordanians, thereby renaming it into the "Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army."[9] He annulled the Anglo-Jordanian treaty and replaced British subsidies with Arab aid.[9] Hussein's bold decisions were met with admiration at home and relations with Arab states improved.[9]

"A liberal experiment"

Egyptian President Nasser received an outpouring of support from the Arab public after the Egyptian–Czechoslovak arms deal was signed in September 1955,[12] and his popularity in Jordan skyrocketed following the nationalization of the Suez Canal in July 1956; his actions were seen as a powerful stance against Western imperialism.[13] Hussein was also supportive of the moves.[13] The coinciding events in Egypt had Jordanian leftist opposition parties leaning greatly towards Nasser.[12]

Hussein addressing his troops in 1956, as Ali Abu Nuwar, the army chief of staff, who in 1957 was involved in an alleged coup attempt, observes.

The parliament that had been elected in 1954 was dissolved, and Hussein promised fair elections.[13] The parliamentary election held on 21 October 1956 saw the National Socialist Party emerge as the largest party, winning 12 seats out of 40 in the House of Representatives.[13] Hussein subsequently asked Suleiman Nabulsi, leader of the Party, to form a government, the only democratically elected government in Jordan's history.[13] Hussein called this a "liberal experiment," to see how Jordanians would "react to responsibility."[13] On 29 October 1956, the Suez Crisis erupted in Egypt, as Britain, France, and Israel launched a military offensive to seize control of the canal.[13] Hussein was furious but Nabulsi discouraged him from intervening.[13] Nabulsi's policies frequently clashed with that of King Hussein's, including on how to deal with the Eisenhower Doctrine.[13] The King had requested Nabulsi, as prime minister, to crack down on the Communist Party and the media it controlled.[13] Nabulsi wanted to move Jordan closer to Nasser's regime, but Hussein wanted it to stay in the Western camp.[13] Disagreements between the monarchy and the leftist government culminated in March 1957 when Nabulsi provided Hussein with a list of senior officers in the military he wanted to dismiss; Hussein initially heeded the recommendations. However, Nabulsi then presented an expanded list, which Hussein refused to act upon.[14] Nabulsi's government was forced to resign on 10 April.[14]

Hussein receiving a warm welcome from his troops, 1 March 1957

On 13 April, rioting broke in the Zarqa army barracks and the 21-year-old Hussein went to end the violence between royalist and Arab nationalist army units after the latter group spread rumors that the King had been assassinated.[15] A 3,000-man Syrian force started moving south towards the Jordanian border in support of what they perceived as a coup attempt, but turned around after the army units showed their loyalty to the King.[16] Two principal accounts emerged regarding the events at Zarqa, with the royalist version holding that the incident was an abortive coup by army chief of staff Ali Abu Nuwar against King Hussein, and the dissident version asserting that it was a staged, American-backed counter-coup by Hussein against the pan-Arabist movement in Jordan.[17] In either case, Abu Nuwar and other senior Arabist officers resigned and were allowed to leave Jordan for Syria, where they incited opposition to the Jordanian monarchy.[17] Hussein reacted by imposing martial law.[18] Although he eventually relaxed some of these measures, namely military curfews and severe press censorship, Hussein's moves significantly curtailed the constitutional democracy that existed in Jordan in the mid-1950s.[19] The alleged conspirators were sentenced to 15 years in absentia, but later on were pardoned by Hussein in 1964 as part of his reconciliation efforts with his exiled opposition, and were entrusted with senior positions in the government.[19]

Arab Federation between Iraq and Jordan

The 1950s became known as the Arab Cold War, due to the conflict between states led by Nasserist Egypt and traditionalist kingdoms led by Saudi Arabia.[20] Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic (UAR) on 1 February 1958, with the Republic's presidency occupied by Nasser.[20] As a counterweight, Hussein and his cousin, King Faisal II of Hashemite Iraq, established the Arab Federation on 14 February 1958 in an Amman ceremony.[20] The two rival entities launched propaganda wars against each other through their radio broadcasts.[20] Jordanian and Syrian forces clashed in March along the border.[20] UAR-inspired conspiracies started to emerge against the Hashemite federation.[21] An officer in Jordan was arrested for plotting to assassinate Hussein.[20] It also emerged in Jordan that the UAR was planning to overthrow both Hashemite monarchies in July 1958.[20] Jordan reacted by arresting 40 suspected army officers, and Hussein called in Iraqi army chief of staff Rafiq Aref to brief him on the exposed plot.[20] Aref replied, "You look after yourselves. Iraq is a very stable country, unlike Jordan. If there are any worries it is Jordan that should be worried."[20] Although Faisal and Hussein enjoyed a very close relationship, Faisal's Iraqi entourage looked down on Jordan; Hussein attributed this attitude to Iraqi crown prince 'Abd al-Ilah's influence.[20]

Hussein with his cousin King Faisal II (left) of the Kingdom of Iraq, 1957. In February 1958, the two Hashemite Kingdoms formed the Arab Federation that lasted until Faisal was deposed in a bloody coup on 14 July 1958.

The Lebanese, pro-Western government of Camille Chamoun was also threatened to be toppled by growing UAR-supported domestic opposition groups.[22] The Iraqis sent a brigade to Jordan on 13 July at Hussein's request.[22] The Iraqi brigade's departure to Jordan gave the conspirators in Iraq, led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim, the opportunity to strike.[22] On 14 July, an Iraqi unit stormed the royal palace in Iraq, executed all members of the Iraqi royal family, and mutilated the bodies of the crown prince and the Iraqi Prime Minister of the Arab Federation, Nuri Al-Said.[22] Devastated, Hussein ordered a Jordanian expedition led by Sharif Nasser to reclaim the Iraqi throne,[22] but it was recalled after it was 150-mile (241 km) inside Iraq.[22] Hussein, worried about a similar coup in Jordan, tightened martial law.[22] American troops landed in both Lebanon and Jordan as a show of support for pro-Western regimes in the region against the Nasserist tide.[22] By October, the situation had calmed, and Western troops were recalled.[22]

Hussein went on a vacation to Switzerland on 10 November. As he was flying his own plane over Syria, it was intercepted by two Syrian jets that attempted to attack.[22] Hussein outmaneuvered the Syrians and survived the assassination attempt, landing safely in Amman, where he received a hero's welcome – his popularity in Jordan skyrocketed overnight.[22] Golda Meir, an Israeli politician who would later become prime minister, was reported in 1958 as saying: "We all pray three times a day for King Hussein's safety and success."[22] The Israelis preferred that Hussein remained in power, rather than a Nasserist regime.[22]

In 1959, Hussein embarked on a tour to different countries to consolidate bilateral ties.[23] His visit to the United States gained him many friends in Congress after he spoke openly against Soviet influence in the Middle East, returning with a $50 million aid package.[23] Sadiq Al-Shar'a, an army general who accompanied Hussein to the United States, was found to have been plotting a coup against the monarchy.[23] News of the arrest of the conspiring officers in Jordan coincided with Hussein's visit to the US.[24] Hussein was tipped off to Al-Shar'a's involvement, but did not reveal it until they both landed back in Jordan.[23] Al-Shar'a was tried and received the death penalty; Hussein reduced his sentence to life imprisonment.[23] Four years later, Al-Shar'a was pardoned and appointed director of Jordan's passport office.[23]

Assassination attempts

Hazza' Majali was appointed by Hussein to form a government; it consisted of loyalists who had persuaded Hussein to launch an offensive against the Iraqi government to restore the Hashemite monarchy.[25] The expedition was cancelled amid British opposition and the weakened state of the Royal Jordanian Air Force.[25] UAR agents assassinated Prime Minister Majali with a bomb planted in his office. Twenty minutes later, another explosion went off;[25] it was intended for Hussein as it was expected he would run to the scene, which he did – he was a few minutes late.[25] Hussein, persuaded by Habis Majali, Hazza's cousin and the army chief of staff, prepared for a retaliation against Syria, whose intelligence service was responsible for the assassination.[25] He prepared three brigades in the north, but the operation was called off after combined pressures from the Americans and the British.[25] Egyptian radios denounced Hussein as the "Judas of the Arabs."[25]

Smoke rising out of the Jordanian Prime Ministry building after the explosion that killed Prime Minister Hazza' Majali on 29 August 1960.

Hussein would be subjected to several more assassination attempts.[25] One involved replacing his nose drops with strong acid. Another plot was uncovered after a large number of cats were found dead in the royal palace; it emerged that the cook had been trying poisons to use against the king.[25] He was later pardoned and released after Hussein received a plea from the cook's daughter.[25] Assassination attempts against the king subsided after a successful coup toppled the Syrian regime on 28 September 1961 and the UAR collapsed.[25] With a calmed situation in Jordan, the King issued his slogan "Let us build this country to serve this nation."[25] But critics considered the slogan mere lip service, saying Hussein showed little interest in the economic situation of the country, unlike the military and foreign relations aspects.[25]

In January 1962 Wasfi Tal was appointed prime minister.[26] The young politician who worked to bring sweeping reforms resigned after Hussein sought to solidify his position following the rise of the Nasser-supporting Ba'ath party to the governments of Iraq and Syria in two 1963 coups.[26] The first direct contacts between Jordan and Israel started in early 1960s; Hussein had a Jewish doctor named Emmanuel Herbert who acted as intermediary between the two nations during Hussein's visits to London.[26] In the talks, Hussein highlighted his commitment to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.[26] His secret rapprochement with Israel was followed by a public rapprochement with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1964, which bolstered Hussein's popularity both in Jordan and in the Arab world.[26] Hussein received a warm welcome after visiting West Bank cities afterwards.[26] The rapprochement with Nasser happened during the 1964 Arab League summit in Cairo, where the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were established, and where Jordan agreed to join the United Arab Command.[26] During the summit Nasser also attempted to convince Hussein to purchase Soviet weapons, but the Americans provided Hussein with tanks and jets instead, with the understanding that they would not be used in the West Bank at Israel's request.[26] The PLO identified itself as a representative of the Palestinian people, which clashed with Jordan's sovereignty claim over the West Bank.[26] The PLO started to demand that the Jordanian government legalize their activities, including the setting up of Palestinian armed units to fight Israel; the requests were denied.[26]

Samu Incident

King Hussein and Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser at the 1964 Arab League Summit in Egypt, 11 September 1964

Hussein later stated that during one of his meetings with Israeli representatives: "I told them I could not absorb a serious retaliatory raid, and they accepted the logic of this and promised there would never be one."[27] The Palestinian nationalist organization Fatah started organizing cross-border attacks against Israel in January 1965, often drawing Israeli reprisals on Jordan.[28] One such reprisal was the Samu Incident, an attack launched by Israel on 13 November 1966 on the Jordanian-controlled West Bank town of As-Samu after three Israeli soldiers were killed by a Fatah landmine.[29] The assault inflicted heavy Arab casualties.[29] Israeli writer Avi Shlaim argues that Israel's disproportionate retaliation exacted revenge on the wrong party, as Israeli leaders knew from their coordination with Hussein that he was doing everything he could to prevent such attacks.[29] The incident drew fierce local criticism of Hussein amid feelings he had been betrayed by the Israelis; Hussein also suspected that Israel had changed its attitude towards Jordan and was intending to escalate matters in order to capture the West Bank.[29] Yitzhak Rabin, the then Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, later admitted the disproportionate reaction by Israel, and that the operation would have been better directed at Syria, which was supporting such attacks: "We had neither political nor military reasons to arrive at a confrontation with Jordan or to humiliate Hussein."[29]

If we look at water, it was a problem that both of us suffered from. If we look at even a flu epidemic, it affected both of us. Every aspect of life was interrelated and interlinked in some way or another. And to simply ignore that was something I could not understand. Maybe others could, others who were distant, who were not equally aware or involved. By now there were Palestinians and Jordanians, and their rights, their future was at stake. One had to do something; one had to explore what was possible and what was not.

Hussein recounting his secret meetings with Israeli representatives[30]

The events at Samu triggered large-scale anti-Hashemite protests in the West Bank for what they perceived as Hussein's incompetency for defending them against Israel: rioters attacked government offices, chanted pro-Nasser slogans, and called on Hussein to have the same fate as Nuri As-Said – the Iraqi prime minister who had been killed and mutilated in 1958 along with the Iraqi royal family.[31] Jordanians believed that after this incident, Israel would march on the West Bank whether or not Jordan joined the war.[31] Perception of King Hussein's efforts to come to peaceful terms with Israel led to great dissatisfaction among some Arab leaders.[32] President Nasser of Egypt denounced Hussein as an "imperialist lackey."[32] In a meeting with American officials, Hussein, sometimes with tears in his eyes, said: "The growing split between the East Bank and the West Bank has ruined my dreams," and, "There is near despair in the army and the army no longer has confidence in me."[31] Hussein travelled to Cairo on 30 May 1967 and hastily signed an Egyptian-Jordanian mutual defense treaty, returning home to cheering crowds.[33] Shlaim argues that Hussein had possessed options, but had made two mistakes: the first was in putting the Jordanian army under Egyptian command; the second was in allowing the entry of Iraqi troops into Jordan, which raised Israeli suspicions against Jordan.[31] Egyptian general Abdul Munim Riad arrived in Jordan to command its army pursuant to the pact signed with Egypt.[31]

Six-Day War

Hussein flying over the Dome of the Rock in East Jerusalem when the West Bank was under Jordanian control, 1964

On 5 June 1967 the Six-Day War began after an Israeli strike wiped out Egypt's Air Force.[34] The Egyptian army commander in Cairo transmitted to General Riad that the Israeli strike had failed, and that Israel's Air Force was almost wiped out.[34] Based on the misleading information from Cairo, Riad ordered the Jordanian army to take offensive positions and attack Israeli targets around Jerusalem.[34] Jordanian Hawker Hunters made sorties but were destroyed by Israel when they went to refuel; Syria's and Iraq's air forces followed.[34] Israel's air superiority on the first day of war proved decisive.[34] Two Israeli jets attempted to assassinate Hussein; one was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery, and the other shot directly at Hussein's office in the royal palace.[34] Hussein was not there, the CIA director in Amman Jack O'Connell relayed a message threatening the Israelis, and the attempts stopped.[34] The Jordanians had prepared a war strategy, but the Egyptian commander insisted to build his strategy based on the misleading information from Egypt.[34]

By 7 June fighting led the Jordanians to withdraw from the West Bank, and Jerusalem's Old City and the Dome of the Rock were abandoned after desperate fighting.[35] Israel blew up the bridges between the two banks to consolidate its control.[35] Jordan suffered a severe setback with the loss of the West Bank, which contributed 40% to Jordan's GDP in the tourism, industrial, and agricultural sectors.[35] Around 200,000 Palestinian refugees fled to Jordan, destabilizing Jordan's demographics.[35] The loss of Jerusalem was critical to Jordan, and specifically for Hussein who held the Hashemite custodianship of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.[35] Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam, believed to be where Muhammad ascended to heaven.[35] By 11 June Israel had decisively won the war by capturing the West Bank from Jordan, Gaza and the Sinai from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.[35] Nasser and Hussein, recognizing their defeat, sought to work together towards a more moderate stance.[35]

On 22 November 1967 the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved resolution 242, which became one of Jordan's foreign policy cornerstones.[36] It denounced acquisition of territory by force and called on Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in the 1967 war.[36] Israel rejected the resolution.[36] Hussein restarted talks with Israeli representatives throughout 1968 and 1969, but the talks went nowhere – Shlaim claims the Israelis stalled and that Hussein refused to cede any West Bank territory.[37]

Black September

Hussein after checking an abandoned Israeli tank in the aftermath of the Battle of Karameh, 21 March 1968.

After Jordan lost control of the West Bank in 1967, Palestinian fighters known as "fedayeen", meaning self-sacrificers, moved their bases to Jordan and stepped up their attacks on Israel and Israeli occupied territories.[38] One Israeli retaliation on a PLO camp based in Karameh, a Jordanian town along the border with the West Bank, developed into a full-scale battle.[38] It is believed that Israel had wanted to punish Jordan for its perceived support for the PLO.[39] After failing to capture Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, Israeli forces withdrew or were repulsed, but not before destroying the Karameh camp[40] and sustaining relatively high casualties.[41] The perceived joint Jordanian-Palestinian victory in the 1968 Battle of Karameh led to an upsurge of support in the Arab World for Palestinian fighters in Jordan.[42] The PLO in Jordan grew in strength, and by the beginning of 1970 the fedayeen groups started to openly call for the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy.[38] Acting as a state within a state, the fedayeen disregarded local laws and regulations, and even attempted to assassinate King Hussein twice, leading to violent confrontations between them and the Jordanian army.[38] Hussein wanted to oust the fedayeen from the country, but hesitated to strike because he did not want his enemies to use it against him by equating Palestinian fighters with civilians.[38] PLO actions in Jordan culminated in the Dawson's Field hijackings incident on 10 September 1970, in which the fedayeen hijacked three civilian aircraft and forced their landing in Zarqa, taking foreign nationals as hostages, and later bombing the planes in front of the international press.[38] Hussein saw this as the last straw, and ordered the army to move.[38]

On 17 September the Jordanian army surrounded cities that had a PLO presence, including Amman and Irbid, and began shelling the fedayeen, who had established themselves in Palestinian refugee camps.[38] The next day, a force from Syria with PLO markings started advancing towards Irbid, which the fedayeen declared a "liberated" city.[38] On 22 September, the Syrians withdrew after the Jordanian army launched an air-ground offensive that inflicted heavy Syrian losses, and after Israeli Air Force jets flew over Syrian units in a symbolic show of support of Hussein, but did not engage.[38] An agreement brokered by Egyptian President Nasser between Arafat and Hussein led to an end to the fighting on 27 September. Nasser died the following day of a heart attack.[38] On 13 October Hussein signed an agreement with Arafat to regulate the fedayeen's presence,[38] but the Jordanian army attacked again in January 1971.[38] The fedayeen were driven out of Jordanian cities one by one until 2,000 fedayeen surrendered after being encircled in a forest near Ajloun on 17 July, marking the end of the conflict.[38]

Hussein in a meeting during Black September with Prime Minister Wasfi Tal (right) and Army Chief of Staff Habis Majali (left), 17 September 1970

Jordan allowed the fedayeen to leave for Lebanon through Syria, an event that led to the Lebanese Civil War in 1975.[38] The Black September Organization was founded the same year, named after the conflict.[38] The organization claimed responsibility for the assassination of Jordanian prime minister Wasfi Tal in 1971, and the highly publicized 1972 Munich massacre against Israeli athletes.[38]

In a speech to the Jordanian parliament on 15 March 1972, Hussein announced his "United Arab Kingdom" plan.[43] Unlike the unitary state that had existed between the West Bank and Jordan during Jordan's annexation of the West Bank (1950–1967), this plan envisaged two federal entities on each bank of the Jordan River.[43] According to the proposal, the two districts of the federation would be autonomous, excluding the military and the foreign and security affairs that would be determined by an Amman central government.[43] But the implementation of the plan was to be conditional upon achieving a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.[43] Ultimately, Hussein's proposal was ruled out after it was vehemently rejected by Israel, the PLO, and several Arab states.[43]

Yom Kippur War

After the 1967 war Gunnar Jarring was appointed by the UN as a special envoy for the Middle East peace process, leading the Jarring Mission.[44] The talks between Arab countries and Israel resulted in a deadlock.[44] The stalemate led to renewed fears of another war between Arab countries and Israel.[45] Worried that Jordan would be dragged into another war unprepared, Hussein sent Zaid Al-Rifai to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in December 1972 to inquire.[45] Sadat informed Al-Rifai that he had been planning a limited incursion in the Sinai that would allow some political manoeuvring.[45] Sadat then invited Al-Rifai and Hussein to a summit on 10 September 1973 with him and Hafez Al-Assad, who had become president of Syria.[45] The summit ended with a restoration of ties between Jordan, Egypt, and Syria.[45] Sadat disclosed to Assad and Hussein his intention to initiate military action.[45] Hussein refused Sadat's request to allow the fedayeen's return to Jordan but agreed that in case of a military operation, Jordanian troops would play a limited defensive role in assisting the Syrians in the Golan Heights.[45]

Hussein addressing crowds in Mafraq through his car's megaphone, 12 July 1974

Egypt and Syria launched the Yom Kippur War against Israel in the Sinai and in the Golan Heights on 6 October 1973 without Hussein's knowledge.[46] Between 10 September and 6 October, Hussein secretly met with Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in Tel Aviv on 25 September. Israeli leaks of the meeting led to rumors in the Arab World that Hussein had tipped off Meir about Arab intentions.[47] Hussein only discussed with Meir what both already knew, that the Syrian army was on alert.[46] On 13 October Jordan joined the war and sent the 40th brigade to assist the Syrians in the Golan Heights.[48] Some see it as ironic that it was the same brigade that had been sent to deter the Syrian invasion during Black September in 1970.[46] Subsequent peace talks with Israel collapsed; while Jordan wanted a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Israel preferred to retain control but with Jordanian administration.[48]

In the 1974 Arab League summit held in Morocco on 26 October, a Fatah plot to assassinate Hussein upon his arrival was uncovered by the Moroccan authorities.[46] The plot did not deter Hussein from joining the summit, but at the end Jordan had to join all the Arab countries in recognizing the PLO as "the sole representative of the Palestinian people," a diplomatic defeat for Hussein.[46] The relationship between Jordan and the United States deteriorated when Jordan refused to join the Camp David Accords.[49] The Accords formed the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and allowed the withdrawal of Israel from the Sinai.[49] In 1978 Hussein went to Baghdad for the first time since 1958; there, he met Iraqi politician Saddam Hussein.[49] When Saddam became president of Iraq in 1979, Hussein supported Saddam's Iran–Iraq War that stretched from 1980 to 1988.[49] The relationship grew as Saddam provided Jordan with subsidized oil, and Jordan allowed Iraq to use the Port of Aqaba for its exports.[49]

Involvement in peace initiatives

When the PLO moved to Lebanon from Jordan after 1970, repeated attacks and counter-attacks occurred in southern Lebanon between the PLO and Israel.[50] Two major Israeli incursions into Lebanon occurred in 1978, and the other in 1982, the latter conflict troubled Hussein as the IDF had laid siege to Beirut.[50] The PLO was to be expelled from Lebanon, and Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Defense minister, suggested they be moved to Jordan where the monarchy would be toppled and Jordan would serve as an "alternative Palestinian homeland."[50] Sharon boasted: "One speech by me will make King Hussein realize that the time has come to pack his bags."[50] However, Arafat rejected Sharon's suggestion, and the fedayeen were transported to Tunisia under American cover.[50]

Hussein with American president Jimmy Carter, Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Shahbanou Farah (from left to right), 31 December 1977

In 1983 American president Ronald Reagan suggested a peace plan that became known as the Reagan plan, similar to Hussein's 1972 federation plan.[51] Hussein and Arafat both agreed to the plan on 1 April, but the PLO's executive office rejected it.[51] A year and a half later, a renewed effort by Hussein to jumpstart the peace process culminated in the establishment of a Jordan–PLO accord that sought a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an unprecedented milestone for the PLO and a Jordanian diplomatic victory.[51] The accord was opposed by Israel and garnered no international support from either the United States or the Soviet Union.[51] Around the same time, Hussein met Israel prime minister Shimon Peres on 19 July 1985 in the United Kingdom, where Peres assented to the accord, but later the rest of his government opposed it due to the PLO's involvement.[51] Subsequent talks between the PLO and Jordan collapsed after the PLO refused to make concessions; in a speech Hussein announced that "after two long attempts, I and the government of Jordan hereby announce that we are unable to continue to coordinate politically with the PLO leadership until such time as their word becomes their bond, characterized by commitment, credibility and constancy."[51]

Jordan started a crackdown on the PLO by closing their offices in Amman after the Israeli minister of defense, Yitzhak Rabin, requested it from Hussein in a secret meeting.[51] Jordan announced a $1.3 billion five-year development plan for the West Bank, in a bid to enhance its image in the West Bank residents at the expense of the PLO.[51] Around the same time, Hussein became troubled after he heard that Israel had been selling American weapons to Iran, thereby lengthening the conflict between Iraq and Iran, both supporters of the PLO.[51] The relationship between Hussein and Saddam became very close – Hussein visited Baghdad 61 times between 1980 and 1990,[51] and Saddam used Hussein to relay messages to several countries, including the US and Britain.[51] In June 1982, after Iran's victory seemed imminent, Hussein personally carried to Saddam sensitive photographic intelligence forwarded to him by the US.[51] In return, Saddam provided incentives for Jordanian exports to Iraq, which accounted for a quarter of all Jordan's exports, valued at $212.3 million in 1989.[51] Iraqi aid helped Jordan's finances; Hussein had felt it humiliating to keep asking Gulf countries for assistance.[51] Hussein made a little-known attempt to heal the rift between the two Ba'ath regimes of Iraq and Syria in April 1986.[51] The meeting between Hafez Al-Assad and Saddam Hussein occurred at an airbase in Al-Jafr in the eastern Jordanian desert.[51] The talks lasted for a day, after which no progress was made.[51] Saddam was angry at Al-Assad for supporting Iran against an Arab country, Iraq,[51] and Al-Assad was adamant about establishing a union between Iraq and Syria, which Saddam rejected.[51]

On 11 April 1987, after Yitzhak Shamir became prime minister of Israel, Hussein engaged in direct talks with Shamir's foreign minister, Peres, in London.[52] After reaching an agreement between Hussein and Peres on establishing an international peace conference, Shamir and the rest of the ministers in his cabinet rejected the proposal.[52] On 8 November 1987 Jordan hosted an Arab League summit; Hussein enjoyed good relations with rival Arab blocs, and he acted as conciliatory intermediate.[52] He helped mobilize Arab support for Iraq against Iran, and for Jordan's peace efforts, and helped to end the decade-long Arab boycott of Egypt – a boycott that began after it unilaterally signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.[52] Hussein described the summit as one of the best moments in his life.[52]

Disengagement from West Bank

Hussein flying an airplane with Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 1984

On 9 December 1987 an Israeli truck driver ran over four Palestinians in a Gaza refugee camp, sparking unrest that spread to violent demonstrations in the West Bank.[53] What began as an uprising to achieve Palestinian independence against the Israeli occupation turned into an upsurge of support for the PLO, which had orchestrated the uprising, and consequently diminished Jordanian influence in the West Bank.[53] Jordanian policy on the West Bank had to be reconsidered following renewed fears that Israel would revive its proposal for Jordan to become an "alternative Palestinian homeland."[53] US Secretary of State George P. Shultz set up a peace process that became known as the Scultz Initiative.[53] It called for Jordan rather than the PLO to represent the Palestinians; however, when Schultz contacted Hussein about the plan, he reversed his position and told him it was a matter for the PLO to decide.[53]

The orchestrators of the Intifada were the Unified National Leadership of the Uprising, which issued its 10th communiqué on 11 March 1988, urging its followers to "intensify the mass pressure against the [Israel] occupation army and the settlers and against collaborators and personnel of the Jordanian regime."[53] West Bank Palestinians deviation from the Jordanian state highlighted the need for a revision in Jordan's policy, and Jordanian nationalists began to argue that Jordan would be better off without the Palestinians and without the West Bank.[53] Adnan Abu Oudeh, a Palestinian descendant who was Hussein's political advisor, Prime Minister Zaid Al-Rifai, army chief of staff Zaid ibn Shaker, Royal Court chief Marwan Kasim, and mukhabarat director Tariq Alaeddin, helped the King prepare West Bank disengagement plans.[53] The Jordanian Ministry of Occupied Territories Affairs was abolished on 1 July 1988, its responsibilities taken over by the Palestinian Affairs Department.[53] On 28 July Jordan terminated the West Bank development plan.[54] Two days later a royal decree dissolved the House of Representatives, thereby removing West Bank representation in the Parliament.[53] In a televised speech on 1 August, Hussein announced the "severing of Jordan's legal and administrative ties with the West Bank," essentially surrendering claims of sovereignty over the West Bank.[55] The move revoked the Jordanian citizenship of Palestinians in the West Bank (who had obtained it since Jordan annexed the territory in 1950), but not that of Palestinians residing in Jordan.[53] Nevertheless, the Hashemite custodianship over the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem was retained.[53] Israeli politicians were stunned, thinking it was a political manoeuvre so that the Palestinians could show support for Hussein, but later realized that it represented a shift in Jordan's policy after Hussein asked his West Bank supporters not to issue petitions demanding that he relent.[53] In a meeting in November 1988 the PLO accepted all United Nations resolutions and agreed to recognize Israel.[53]

1989 riots

Jordan's disengagement from the West Bank led to a slowing of the Jordanian economy.[56] The Jordanian dinar lost a third of its value in 1988, and Jordan's foreign debt reached a figure double that of its gross national product (GNP).[56] Jordan introduced austerity measures to combat the economic crisis.[57] On 16 April 1989 the government increased prices of gasoline, licensing fees, alcoholic beverages, and cigarettes, between 15% to 50%, in a bid to increase revenues in accordance with an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).[57] The IMF agreement was to enable Jordan to reschedule its $6 billion debt, and obtain loans totaling $275 million over 18 months.[57] On 18 April riots in Ma'an spread to other southern towns such as Al-Karak and Tafila, where the New York Times reported that around 4,000 people gathered in the streets and clashed with the police,[57] resulting in six protesters killed and 42 injured, and two policemen killed and 47 injured.[58]

Despite the fact that the protests were triggered by a troubling economic situation, the crowds' demands became political.[56] Protesters accused Zaid Al-Rifai's government of rampant corruption and demanded that the martial law in place since 1957 be lifted and parliamentary elections be resumed.[56] The last parliamentary election had taken place in 1967, just before Jordan lost the West Bank, and when the parliament's tenure ended in 1971, no elections could be held due to the fact that the West Bank was under Israeli occupation, but the West Bank's status became irrelevant after Jordan's disengagement in 1988.[56] Hussein relented to the demands by dismissing Al-Rifai, and appointed Zaid ibn Shaker to form a new government.[56] In 1986 a new electoral law was passed, which allowed the reintroduction of parliamentary elections to proceed smoothly.[56] The cabinet passed amendments to the electoral law that removed articles dealing with West Bank representation.[56] In May 1989, just before the elections, Hussein announced his intention to appoint a 60-person royal commission to draft a reformist document named the National Charter.[56] The National Charter sought to set a timetable for democratization acts.[56] Although most members of the commission were regime loyalists, it included a number of opposition figures and dissidents.[56] Parliamentary elections were held on 8 November 1989, the first in 22 years.[59] The National Charter was drafted and ratified by parliament in 1991.[56]

Gulf War

1990 Iraqi stamp of the Arab Cooperation Council, showing President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, King Hussein of Jordan, president Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and president Husni Mubarak of Egypt (from left to right)

A UN-brokered ceasefire became active in July 1988, ending the Iran-Iraq war.[60] Hussein had advised Saddam after 1988 to polish his image in the West by visiting other countries, and by appearing at the United Nations for a speech, but to no avail.[61] The Iraqi-Jordanian relationship developed into the Arab Cooperation Council (ACC), which also included Egypt and Yemen, on 16 February 1989, serving as a counter to the Gulf Cooperation Council.[61] Saddam's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 led six months later to international intervention to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in what became known as the Gulf War.[61] Iraq's invasion of Kuwait caught Hussein by surprise; he was the ACC chairman at that time, and a personal friend of Saddam's.[61] After informing the American president George H. W. Bush of his intention to travel to Baghdad to contain the situation,[61] Hussein travelled to Baghdad on 3 August for a meeting with Saddam; at the meeting, the latter announced his intention to withdraw Iraqi troops from Kuwait only if Arab governments refrained from issuing statements of condemnation, and no foreign troops were involved.[61] On Hussein's way back from Baghdad, Egypt issued a condemnation of the Iraqi invasion.[61] To Hussein's dismay, Egyptian president Husni Mubarak refused to reverse his position and called for Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.[61] An Arab League summit held in Cairo issued a condemnation of Iraq with a fourteen-vote majority, despite calls by Jordan's foreign minister Marwan Al-Kasim that this move would hinder Hussein's efforts to reach a peaceful resolution.[61] Both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia viewed Hussein with suspicion – they distrusted him and believed he was planning to obtain a share of Kuwait's wealth.[61]

Hussein meeting with American president George H. W. Bush on 12 March 1992

On 6 August American troops arrived at the Kuwait-Saudi Arabian border, Saddam's conditions were ignored, and Hussein's role as mediator was undermined.[62] Saddam then announced that his invasion had become "irreversible," and on 8 August he annexed Kuwait.[62] Jordan, along with the international community, refused to recognize the Iraqi-installed regime in Kuwait.[62] The United States, seeing Jordan's neutrality as siding with Saddam, cut its aid to Jordan – aid on which Jordan depended; Gulf countries soon followed.[62] Hussein's position in the international community was severely affected, so severe that he privately discussed his intention to abdicate.[62] Jordan's public opinion was overwhelmingly against international intervention, and against Gulf rulers who were perceived to be greedy and corrupt.[62] Hussein's popularity among Jordanians reached its zenith, and anti-Western demonstrations filled the streets.[62] But Western pundits viewed Hussein's actions as impulsive and emotional, claiming that he could have dampened Jordanian public support for Iraq through better leadership.[62] Hussein's brother, Crown Prince Hassan, also disagreed with Hussein, but the King refused to recognize Saddam's wrongdoings.[62] In late August and early September Hussein visited twelve Western and Arab capitals in an effort to promote a peaceful resolution.[62] He finished his tour by flying directly to Baghdad to meet Saddam, where he warned: "Make a brave decision and withdraw your forces; if you don't, you will be forced out."[62] Saddam was adamant but agreed to Hussein's request to release Western nationals who were being held as hostages.[62] Threats of a war between Israel and Iraq were rising, and in December 1990 Hussein relayed a message to Saddam saying that Jordan would not tolerate any violations of its territory.[62] Jordan dispatched an armored division to its borders with Iraq, and Hussein's eldest son Abdullah was in charge of a Cobra helicopter squadron.[62] Jordan also concentrated its forces near its border with Israel.[62] Adding to Jordan's deteriorating situation was the arrival of 400,000 Palestinian refugees from Kuwait, who had all been working there.[62] By 28 February 1991 the international coalition had successfully cleared Iraqi forces from Kuwait.[62]

Peace with Israel

Peace demands no less courage than war. It is the courage to meet the adversary, his attitudes and arguments, the courage to face hardships, the courage to bury senseless illusions, the courage to surmount impeding obstacles, the courage to engage in a dialogue to tear down the walls of fear and suspicion. It is the courage to face reality.

King Hussein during his address to the Jordanian Parliament in Amman on 12 October 1991 [63]

Jordan participated in the imposition of economic sanctions against Iraq even though the sanctions would severely affect its economy.[62] The effects of the Gulf War, the sanctions on Iraq, and the flow of refugees to Jordan were estimated by a UN report to be $1.5 billion out of a gross domestic product (GDP) of $4.2 billion in 1990, and $3.6 billion out of a GDP of $4.7 billion in 1991.[64] The end of the Gulf War coincided with the end of the Cold War.[64] This allowed the United States to play a more active role in solving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[64] The Bush administration were still angry at Hussein for the Gulf War events but realized they needed Jordan's participation in any peace process.[64] Hussein agreed to an American request to join an international peace conference so that Jordan could start repairing its relationship with the United States, and end its political isolation.[64] Hussein's moves towards democratization in 1989 and his stance during the 1990 Gulf War had won him considerable popularity across Jordan's political spectrum.[64] But when Hussein replaced his conservative prime minister, Mudar Badran, with liberal Palestinian Taher Al-Masri, who was in favor of peace negotiations with Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood – Jordan's main opposition group, who at that time occupied 22 out of 80 seats in the House of Representatives, and whose members and support came mostly from Palestinians in the country – vehemently rejected the new prime minister by voting against him during the vote of confidence.[64] The Brotherhood also refused to participate in the National Congress where the King hoped to gather support for a peace settlement.[64]

Hussein was tasked by the United States with forming a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation to participate in the Madrid Peace Conference.[64] The 28-member delegation consisted of 14 Jordanians and 14 Palestinians.[64] Along with solving the Palestinian problem, Jordan sought to safeguard its interests in relation to security, the economy, water, and the environment.[64] The peace conference convened on 30 October 1991, with delegations representing all parties to the conflict, the United States and the Soviet Union as co-sponsors, and the United Nations as observer.[64] The conference set a framework for negotiations, and PLO representatives offered to accept a Palestinian state under a confederation with Jordan.[64] At home, the Muslim Brotherhood considered Al-Masri and his government as too liberal, and the Brotherhood merged with independent Islamists and formed the Islamic Action Front (IAF), increasing its representation to 34 in the 80-member House of Representative, a force strong enough to bring down the royally appointed government with a motion of a vote of no confidence.[64] Hussein then replaced Al-Masri with his conservative cousin Zaid ibn Shaker.[64] Subsequent peace talks continued in Washington, D.C., stretching from December 1991 to September 1993.[65]

Hussein shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during the Washington declaration that ended the "state of belligerency" as American President Bill Clinton observes, 13 September 1994.

Hussein could not participate in the details of the talks, a task he handed to his brother Hassan.[64] Hussein was referred to the Mayo Clinic in the United States after having urological problems; he had his left kidney removed after tests showed his ureter contained precancerous cells.[64] When Hussein went back healed to Jordan, he received a hero's welcome – a third of Jordan's population filled the streets to greet him.[64] On 23 November 1992 he gave an unusually aggressive speech.[64] He called on extremists on both the right and left of the political spectrum to end their opposition to the peace negotiations, denounced what he saw as the Gulf countries' undemocratic nature, and called on Saddam to introduce democracy to Iraq.[64] Meanwhile, Yitzhak Rabin, under the leftist Labor Party, emerged as prime minister of Israel.[64] Thus, the PLO and Israeli representatives were quick to reach an agreement, which culminated in the 1993 Oslo Accords.[64] The Accords were held in secrecy between Arafat and Rabin without Hussein's knowledge, completely marginalizing Jordan and the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation in Washington.[64]

The parliamentary elections held on 8 November 1993 were the first multi-party elections since 1956, but the proportional representation voting system was replaced by the controversial one man, one vote system.[66] The latter system was introduced to limit the Islamist opposition's representation in the House of Representatives, by gerrymandering Palestinian majority areas and encouraging independents over partisan candidates.[66] Consequently, the IAF's seats decreased from 34 to 21 seats out of 80.[66] On 25 July 1994 Rabin and Hussein appeared at the White House and signed the Washington declaration, which announced the "end of the state of belligerency."[66] Subsequent negotiations culminated in the Israel–Jordan peace treaty, signed on 26 October in a ceremony in Wadi Araba.[66] The treaty was a culmination of over 58 secret meetings over 31 years between Hussein and Israeli leaders.[66] The treaty recognized Jordan's role in Jerusalem's holy sites, which angered Arafat who had sought such a position.[66] Jordan's relations with the United States greatly improved: $700 million worth of Jordan's debt was forgiven by the United States Congress, and Bill Clinton's administration authorized a substantial flow of aid to Jordan.[66] After 1995 Hussein became increasingly critical of Saddam's rule in Iraq.[66]

On 4 November 1995 the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist, who aimed to undermine Rabin's peace efforts with the Palestinians.[66] Due to the close relationship forged with Rabin during the negotiations of the treaty, Hussein was invited to give a speech during Rabin's funeral in Jerusalem.[66] This was the first time Hussein had been in Jerusalem since the 1967 war.[66] Hussein drew parallels between Rabin's assassination and his grandfather's assassination in 1951: "We are not ashamed, nor are we afraid, nor are we anything but determined to continue the legacy for which my friend fell, as did my grandfather in this city when I was with him and but a boy."[66]

Jordan's signing of a peace treaty with Israel, and other issues, were met with disdain by Syria's president Hafez Al-Assad.[67] The CIA handed the King a detailed report in December 1995 warning him of a Syrian plot to assassinate him and his brother Hassan.[67] A month later, the CIA sent Hussein another report warning Jordan of Iraqi plots to attack Western targets in Jordan to undermine Jordan's security due to its support for the Iraqi opposition.[67] In Israel, Shimon Peres of the leftist Labor Party and Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party, were competing for the post of prime minister.[67] Hussein's popularity in Israel had peaked after the peace treaty was signed, and he was expected to express support for a candidate.[67] Hussein initially remained neutral, but later expressed support for Netanyahu.[67] Efraim Halevy, then head of the Israeli intelligence agency (Mossad), claims that Hussein had preferred Netanyahu over Peres as he had deeply mistrusted the latter.[68] The Israeli general election held on 29 May 1996 witnessed Netanyahu's ascension to the prime ministry.[67]

Tensions with Israel

Hussein during a press conference at the White House with American secretary of Defense William Cohen, 2 April 1997

Hussein's support for Netanyahu soon backfired.[69] Israel's actions during the 1996 Qana massacre in Southern Lebanon, the Likud government's decision to build settlements in East Jerusalem, and the events at the Temple Mount where clashes between Palestinian and Israeli police ensued after Israeli tunnel diggings around the Mount, generated an uproar of criticism for Netanyahu in the Arab World.[69] On 9 March 1997 Hussein sent Netanyahu a three-page letter expressing his disappointment.[69] The King lambasted Netanyahu, with the letter's opening sentence stating: "My distress is genuine and deep over the accumulating tragic actions which you have initiated at the head of the Government of Israel, making peace – the worthiest objective of my life – appear more and more like a distant elusive mirage."[70]

Four days later, on 13 March, a Jordanian soldier patrolling the borders between Jordan and Israel in the north near the Island of Peace, killed seven Israeli schoolgirls and wounded six others.[69] The King, who was on an official visit to Spain, returned home immediately.[69] He travelled to the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh to offer his condolences to the grieving families of the Israeli children killed.[69] He went on his knees in front of the families, telling them that the incident was "a crime that is a shame for all of us. I feel as if I have lost a child of my own. If there is any purpose in life it will be to make sure that all the children no longer suffer the way our generation did."[71] His gesture was received very warmly in Israel, and Hussein sent the families $1 million in total as compensation for the loss of life.[69] The soldier was determined to be mentally unstable by a Jordanian military tribunal and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, which he served entirely.[69]

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza and the West Bank surfaced.[69] Hussein's wife, Queen Noor, later claimed her husband was having trouble sleeping: "Everything he had worked for all his life, every relationship he had painstakingly built on trust and respect, every dream of peace and prosperity he had had for Jordan's children, was turning into a nightmare. I really did not know how much more Hussein could take."[69]

On 27 September 1997 eight Mossad agents entered Jordan using fake Canadian passports and attempted to assassinate Jordanian citizen Khaled Mashal, head of the militant Islamist Palestinian group Hamas.[69] Hussein was preparing for a 30-year Hamas-Israel truce three days prior to the attempt, after Hamas had launched two attacks in Jerusalem.[69] Two Mossad agents followed Mashal to his office and injected poison into his ears, but they were caught by Mashal's bodyguard.[69] The two agents were then held by the Jordanian police, while the six other agents hid in the Israeli embassy.[69] Furious, Hussein met with an Israeli delegate who attempted to explain the situation; the King said in a speech about the incident that he felt that somebody "had spat in his face."[69] Jordanian authorities requested Netanyahu to provide an antidote to save Mashal's life, but Netanyahu refused to do so.[69] Jordan then threatened to storm the Israeli embassy and capture the rest of the Mossad team, but Israel argued that it would be against the Geneva Conventions.[69] Jordan replied that the Geneva Conventions "do not apply to terrorists," and a special operations team headed by Hussein's son Abdullah was put in charge of the operation.[69] Hussein called American President Clinton and requested his intervention, threatening to annul the treaty if Israel did not provide the antidote.[69] Clinton later managed to get Israel's approval to reveal the name of the antidote, and complained about Netanyahu: "This man is impossible!"[69] Khaled Mashal recovered, but Jordan's relations with Israel deteriorated and Israeli requests to contact Hussein were rebuffed.[69] The Mossad operatives were released by Jordan after Israel agreed to release 23 Jordanian and 50 Palestinian prisoners including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.[69]

Mounting opposition in Jordan to the peace treaty with Israel led Hussein to put greater restrictions on freedom of speech.[69] Several dissidents were imprisoned including Laith Shubeilat, a prominent Islamist. A few months into his imprisonment, the King personally gave Shubeilat, his fiercest critic, a ride home from the Swaqa prison.[72] However, the crackdown led the opposition groups in Jordan to boycott the 1997 parliamentary elections.[69] In 1998 Jordan refused a secret request from Netanyahu to attack Iraq using Jordanian airspace after claiming Saddam held weapons of mass destruction.[69]

Illness, death and funeral

Royal Jordanian 1 is escorted on 4 February 1999 by an F-16 of the Minnesota Air National Guard during King Hussein's return to Jordan. He died 3 days later.

In May 1998 Hussein, a heavy smoker, was admitted to the Mayo Clinic, but doctors were unable to diagnose his ailment.[73] Hussein returned to the clinic in July after suffering severe fevers; doctors then diagnosed him with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.[73] He stayed in the clinic until the end of 1998, while his brother Hassan, who had been crown prince since 1965, acted as regent.[73] He was given six courses of chemotherapy for his lymph gland cancer over a five-month period.[73] Hussein gained the respect of the Mayo Clinic staff for his warmth and kindness; on one occasion, a janitor cried uncontrollably after Hussein prepared a birthday party for her in his suite.[74]

In October 1998 Bill Clinton invited Hussein, during his stay at the clinic for chemotherapy treatment, to attend the Wye Plantation talks after a stalemate was reached between the Israeli and Palestinian delegations.[75] Hussein, who looked bald and weakened, arrived and urged both Arafat and Netanyahu to overcome the obstacles.[75] Encouraged by his presence, the two leaders agreed to resolve their difficulties.[75] Hussein received a standing ovation at the ceremony and praise from Clinton for interrupting his treatment and coming over.[75]

At home, 1998 was a difficult year for Jordanians: GDP growth had slowed considerably and could not keep pace with an accelerating population growth.[74] Other incidents included a government scandal involving contamination of the country's water supply.[74] Samih Batikhi, the director of the General Intelligence Directorate (mukhabarat), visited Hussein during his stay at the Mayo Clinic to keep him updated.[74] Batikhi discredited the King's brother Hassan, and often voiced his support for Hussein's eldest son Abdullah as successor.[74] Abdullah, who was 36 years old at the time, enjoyed great support from the army.[74] He was crown prince when he was born in 1962, but Hussein transferred the title to his brother Hassan in 1965 due to political uncertainty back then.[74] King Hussein had changed his line of succession a total of four times: "From his brother Muhammad, to his infant son Abdullah, to his second brother Hassan, and again to his then-grown-up son Abdullah."[76] On his way back to Jordan in January 1999, Hussein stopped in London.[77] Doctors advised him to rest and stay in England for a few weeks, as he was still too fragile to travel.[77] According to Jordanian government sources, Hussein stated that:

I need very much to feel the warmth of my people around me, there is work to be done and I will get the strength from my people to finish the business.[78]

Upon his arrival in Jordan, after a six-month medical absence from the country, he announced he was "completely cured."[79] Hussein returned and publicly criticized his brother Hassan's management of Jordanian internal affairs. He also accused him of abusing his powers as regent and crown prince.[79] On 24 January 1999, Hussein replaced Hassan with his son Abdullah as heir apparent.[79] Hassan gracefully accepted the King's decision on television, and congratulated his nephew Abdullah on his designation as crown prince.[80]

Mourners line up along Zahran street in Amman on 8 February 1999 as royal motorcade transported King's coffin.

On 25 January, the day after he proclaimed Abdullah as crown prince, Hussein returned abruptly to the United States, after experiencing fevers – a sign of recurrent lymphoma.[81] On 4 February it was reported that Hussein had suffered internal organ failure, and was in critical condition.[81] The next day, and at his request, he was flown to Jordan where he arrived in a coma after a second bone marrow transplant failed.[81] Fighter jets from several countries flew with his plane as it passed over their territories, including the United States, Britain, and Israel.[81] Hussein arrived at the King Hussein Medical Center in Amman where it was raining heavily, yet thousands flocked from all over Jordan and gathered at the main entrance.[82] The crowds chanted his name, some weeping, others holding his pictures.[82] At 11:43 on 7 February, Hussein was pronounced dead.[82]

Hussein's flag-draped coffin, accompanied by honor guard troops wearing Keffiyeh, was taken on a 90-minute procession through the streets of the capital city of Amman.[83] An estimated 800,000 Jordanians braved chilly winds to bid their leader farewell. Riot police were stationed along the nine-mile-long route to try to hold back the crowds who scrambled for a glimpse of the coffin.[83]

The UN General Assembly held an Emergency Special Session in "Tribute to the Memory of His Majesty the King of Jordan" on the same day.[84] The King's funeral was held in the Raghadan Palace. The funeral was the largest gathering of foreign leaders since 1995, and it was the first time that Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad was in the same room with Israeli statesmen.[83] Khaled Mashal was also in the same room as the Mossad leaders who had tried to assassinate him just two years earlier.[83] Four American presidents were present: Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford.[83] Bill Clinton said about the funeral: "I don't think I have ever seen a greater outpouring of the world's appreciation and the world's love for a human being than I've seen today."[85] Hussein was succeeded as king by his eldest son, Abdullah II.[83]



All what we hope for is that a day will come, when we have all gone, when people will say that this man has tried, and his family tried. This is all there is to seek in this world.

Quote by King Hussein a year before his death.[86]

Israeli writer Avi Shlaim sees that the assassination of Hussein's grandfather King Abdullah I in Jerusalem was the most formative event in Hussein's life, as he had witnessed the event personally at the age of 15.[87] Two years later, the 17-year-old schoolboy would become King.[87] Hussein inherited the throne to a young Kingdom, whose neighbors questioned its legitimacy, along with the Jordanian-controlled West Bank.[87] From an early age he had to shoulder a heavy responsibility.[87] The Kingdom had few natural resources, and a large Palestinian refugee population.[87] He was able to gain his country considerable political weight on a global scale despite its limited potential.[87] In 1980, an Israeli intelligence report described Hussein to be as "a man trapped on a bridge burning at both ends, with crocodiles in the river beneath him."[88] Hussein was able to survive through four turbulent decades of the Arab-Israel conflict and the Cold War, successfully balancing pressures from Arab nationalists, Soviet Union, Western countries and Israel.[87]

Hussein inaugurating a police station in Amman with Prime Minister Suleiman Nabulsi to his right, 24 December 1956

Hussein considered the Palestinian issue to be the overriding national security issue, even after Jordan lost the West Bank in 1967 and after it renounced claims to it in 1988.[87] Initially, Hussein attempted to unite both banks of the Jordan River as one people, but with the formation of the PLO in the 1960s, it became difficult to maintain such a policy.[87] He was relentless in pursuit of peace, viewing that the only way to solve the conflict was by peaceful means, excluding his decision to join the war in 1967.[87] The decision cost him half his kingdom and his grandfather's legacy.[87] After the war he emerged as an advocate for Palestinian statehood.[87] After renouncing ties to the West Bank in 1988, he remained committed to solving the conflict.[87] His 58 secret meetings held with Israeli representatives since 1963 culminated in the signing of the Israel–Jordan peace treaty in 1994, which he considered to be his "crowning achievement."[87]

Hussein's policy of co-opting the opposition was his most revered.[87] He was the region's longest reigning leader, even though he was subject to dozens of assassination attempts and plots to overthrow him.[87] He was known to pardon political opponents and dissidents, including those who had attempted to assassinate him.[87] He entrusted some of them with senior posts in the government.[87] On one occasion before his death, he gave his fiercest critic a ride home from prison after having ordered his release.[72] He was described as being a "benign authoritarian."[89]

Hussein inaugurating the East Ghor Canal in 1961

During his 46-year-reign, Hussein, who was seen as a charismatic, courageous, and humble leader, became widely known among Jordanians as the "builder king."[89] He turned the Kingdom from a backwater divided polity into a reasonably stable well-governed modern state.[90] By 1999 90% of Jordanians had been born during Hussein's reign.[89] From the very start, Hussein concentrated on building an economic and industrial infrastructure to stimulate the economy and raise the standard of living.[90] During the 1960s, Jordan's main industries – including phosphate, potash and cement – were developed, and the very first network of highways was built throughout the kingdom.[90] Social indicators reflect King Hussein's successes.[90] Whereas in 1950 water, sanitation, and electricity were available to only 10% of Jordanians, at the end of his rule these had reached 99% of the population.[90] In 1960 only 33% of Jordanians were literate; by 1996 this number had climbed to 85.5%.[90] In 1961 the average Jordanian consumed a daily intake of 2,198 calories; by 1992 this figure had increased by 37.5% to reach 3,022 calories.[90] UNICEF statistics show that between 1981 and 1991, Jordan had achieved the world's fastest annual rate of decline in infant mortality – from 70 deaths per 1,000 births in 1981 to 37 per 1,000 in 1991, a drop of over 47%.[90]

Hussein established the Al-Amal medical center in 1997, a clinic specializing in cancer treatment in Jordan.[91] Renamed in 2002 to the King Hussein Cancer Center in honor of the late King, the center is a leading medical facility in the region, treating around 4,000 patients each year.[91]


Hussein dancing the dabkeh with Bedouins in the Jordanian Badia, 1960

The King disliked paperwork, and had no solid view for the economy.[87] He was dubbed the "fundraiser-in-chief": throughout his reign he managed to obtain foreign aid from different sources, leaving a legacy of a foreign aid-dependent Jordan.[87] British aid in the early 1950s, American aid from 1957 onwards, Gulf aid in the 1960s and 1970s, Arab League and Iraqi aid in the early 1980s, and, after formalizing peace with Israel, American aid in the 1990s.[87]

He was also seen as too lenient toward some ministers who were alleged to be corrupt.[92] The price of establishing peace with Israel in 1994 he had to pay domestically, with mounting Jordanian opposition to Israel concentrating its criticism on the King.[87] The King reacted by introducing restrictions on freedom of speech, and changing the parliamentary electoral law into the one-man, one-vote system in a bid to increase representation of independent regime loyalists and tribal groups at the expense of Islamist and partisan candidates.[89] The moves impeded Jordan's path towards democracy that had started in 1956 and resumed in 1989.[89]


  • "He won the respect and admiration of the entire world and so did his beloved Jordan. He is a man who believed that we are all God's children, bound to live together in mutual respect and tolerance." – United States President Bill Clinton[93]
  • "He was an extraordinary and immensely charismatic persuader for peace. At the peace talks in America when he was extremely ill, he was there, talking to both sides, urging them forward, telling them nothing must stand in the way of peace." – British Prime Minister Tony Blair[93]
  • "King Hussein was a leader of international prestige, who contributed greatly to all efforts towards finding a solution to the Middle East problem, he was an exceptional figure, who spoke his mind and dealt with matters in such a way that Jordan, despite its many enemies, managed to survive as an independent state. He also contributed greatly to preventing war in the region" — Cypriot President, Glafcos Clerides[94]
  • "King Hussein was irreplaceable, someone who would have a very distinguished place in history, How can one pay tribute that is adequate? He was a unique person. He had wonderful qualities as well as being a very great monarch". — former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher[95]
  • "President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian people and leadership have received with great sorrow and pain the news," it said in a statement. – The Palestinian Authority[93]
  • "He was a generous brother and a dear friend," said a statement. – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak[93]
  • South African President Nelson Mandela believed the death would be "deeply mourned by all peace-loving people."[93]
  • UN Secretary General Kofi Annan paid tribute to the late king, praising him for his "lifelong struggle to bring peace."[93]

Personal life

King Hussein and Queen Dina at their wedding on 19 April 1955 at Raghadan Palace

King Hussein married four times and had eleven children:

Hussein was an enthusiastic ham radio operator and an Honorary Member of The Radio Society of Harrow and a life member of the American Radio Relay League.[98] He was popular in the amateur radio community and insisted that fellow operators refer to him without his title.[99] His call sign was JY1, which inspired the name for Jordan's first cube-sat. The JY1-SAT was launched in 2018.[100]

Hussein was a trained pilot, flying both airplanes and helicopters as a hobby.[101] In a 1999 interview Henry Kissinger described being flown by Hussein, saying that "...he was a daring pilot, and he would be zooming along at treetop level, and my wife, in order to be politely insistent would say, 'You know I didn't know helicopters could fly so low.' 'Oh!' said the King, 'They can fly lower!' and went below tree top level just skimming along on the ground. That really aged me rapidly."[101]

Hussein was also an avid fan of motorcycles.[101] The cover of the paperback version of Queen Noor's book Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life features a photo of the King and Queen riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.[101] The King was also a fan of race-car driving, water sports, skiing, and tennis.[2][failed verification]

In 1989 the attorney of the son of American actress Susan Cabot alleged that her son (born in 1964) may have been Hussein's during their relationship of several years.[102][103]


} }
(eponymous ancestor)
Abd al-Muttalib
Abu TalibAbdallah
(Islamic prophet)
(fourth caliph)
(fifth caliph)
Hasan Al-Mu'thanna
Musa Al-Djawn
Abd Al-Karim
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
Abu Numayy I
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
Barakat I
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
Barakat II
(Sharif of Mecca)
Abu Numayy II
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
(Sharif of Mecca)
Auon, Ra'i Al-Hadala
Abdul Mu'een
(Sharif of Mecca)
Monarch Hussein
(Sharif of Mecca King of Hejaz)
Monarch Ali
(King of Hejaz)
Monarch Abdullah I
(King of Jordan)
Monarch Faisal I
(King of Syria King of Iraq)
(pretender to Iraq)
'Abd Al-Ilah
(Regent of Iraq)
Monarch Talal
(King of Jordan)
Monarch Ghazi
(King of Iraq)
(pretender to Iraq)
Monarch Hussein
(King of Jordan)
Monarch Faisal II
(King of Iraq)
Monarch Abdullah II
(King of Jordan)
(Crown Prince of Jordan)

Titles and honours


Styles of
King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan
Coat of arms of Jordan.svg
Reference styleHis Majesty
Spoken styleYour Majesty
Alternative styleSir
  • 14 November 1935 – 20 July 1951: His Royal Highness Prince Hussein of Jordan
  • 20 July 1951 – 11 August 1952: His Royal Highness The Crown Prince of Jordan
  • 11 August 1952 – 7 February 1999: His Majesty The King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan


National honours

  •  Jordan:
    • JOR Al-Hussein ibn Ali Order BAR.svg Grand Master of the Order of Al-Hussein bin Ali
    • JOR Order of the Renaissance GC.SVG Grand Master of the Supreme Order of the Renaissance
    • JOR Order of the Hashemite Star ribbon.svg Founding Grand Master of the Order of the Hashemite Star
    • Order of Military Gallantry (Jordan).png Grand Master of the Order of Military Gallantry
    • JOR Order of the Star of Jordan GC.svg Grand Master of the Order of the Star of Jordan
    • JOR Order of Independence GC.svg Grand Master of the Order of Independence
    • JOR Order of the Al-Hussein GC.svg Founding Grand Master of the Order of Al-Hussein for Distinguished Contributions
    • JOR Order of the Millitary Merit GC.SVG Founding Grand Master of the Order of Military Merit
    • Ma'an Medal 1918.gif Sovereign of the Ma'an Medal of 1918
    • Medal for the Battle of Karama 1968.gif Founding Sovereign of the Medal for Participation in the Battle of Karameh
    • Medal for the Silver Jubilee (Jordan).png Founding Sovereign of the Silver Jubilee of Hussein bin Talal
    • Medal of Arab Independence 1921.gif Sovereign of the Medal of Arab Independence 1921
    • Medal of Honour (Jordan).png Founding Sovereign of the Medal of Honour of Jordan
    • Service Medal (Jordan).png Founding Sovereign of the Service Medal
    • Al-Hussein Medal for Excellence.gif Sovereign of the Al-Hussein Medal of Excellence
    • Long Service Medal.gif Sovereign of the Long Service Medal
    • Medal of Leadership Competence (Jordan).png Sovereign of the Administrative & Leadership Competence Medal
    • Medal for Administrative and Technical Competence.gif Sovereign of the Administrative & Technical Competence Medal
    • Medal of Training Competence (Jordan).png Sovereign of the Administrative & Training Competence Medal

Foreign honours

Streets, squares, parks

See also


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External links


Media coverage

Hussein of Jordan
Born: 14 November 1953
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Jordan
Succeeded by
Abdullah II