Historic bombers in pictures

Since before the First World War there have been attempts to build ever bigger aircraft for the purpose of dropping bombs on enemy positions. Here is a look the evolution of the military bomber over the past 100 years.

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    Martin MB-2

    First ordered in June 1920, the Marin MB-2 was the first U.S.-designed bomber produced in large number, and it replaced the handful of British and Italian-made bombers produced in the U.S. under license. This original Marin MB-2 is now at the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
    U.S. Air Force Photo
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    Avro Lancaster

    Designed prior to World War II, the Avro Lancaster entered service in January 1941 and first saw active service with RAF Bomber Command in 1942. Its long, unobstructed bomb bay meant that the Lancaster could hold the largest bombs used by the RAF during World War II including bombs up to 12,000 pounds.
    REUTERS/Gareth Fuller/POOL
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    One of the most famous bombers to ever take flight, the B-17 prototype first flew on July 28, 1935 and by the time production ended in May 1945 a total of 12,726 had been built. The aircraft served in every combat zone, but it is best known for the daylight strategic bombing of German industrial targets. Above is the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress known as "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
    U.S. Air Force photo
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    More than 18,000 Liberators were produced during World War II, and the B-24 was employed in operations in every combat theater during World War II. Because of its great range, it was particularly suited for such missions as the famous raid from North Africa against the oil industry at Ploesti, Romania, on Aug. 1, 1943. Its long range also made the airplane ideal for long missions over water in the Pacific Theater. Above: a Consolidated B-24D Liberator at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
    U.S. Air Force Photo
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    Above is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress named "Bockscar" at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Bockscar was the B-29 that dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, three days after the atomic attack against Hiroshima. It was one of 15 specially modified "Silverplate" B-29s assigned to the 509th Composite Group. Most B-29s carried eight .50-cal. machine guns in remote controlled turrets, two .50-cal. machine guns and one 20mm cannon in a tail turret, and up to 20,000 pounds of bombs. Designed in 1940 as an eventual replacement for the B-17 and B-24, the first B-29 made its maiden flight on Sept. 21, 1942, and the famous bombers returned to combat during the Korean War.
    U.S. Air Force photo
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    B-36 Peacemaker

    The B-36 "Peacemaker" was the response to the U.S. Army Air Forces' requirement for a strategic bomber with intercontinental range. Designed by Consolidated Vultee (later Convair) during World War II the B-36 made its maiden flight in August 1946, and in June 1948 the Strategic Air Command received its first operational B-36. Above is a Convair B-36J Peacemaker in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
    U.S. Air Force photo
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    B-52 Stratofortress

    The B-52 is still flying high after six decades. It became operational in 1955 and was the primary long-range heavy bomber of the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War. Even after 60 years it continues to be an important part of the USAF bomber force today. Nearly 750 were built before production ended on Oct. 26, 1962; 170 of these were B-52Ds. The B-52D Stratofortess that is on display at National Museum of the Air Force saw extensive service in Southeast Asia and was severely damaged by an enemy surface-to-air missile on April 9, 1972. In December 1972, after being repaired, it flew four additional missions over North Vietnam. Transferred from the 97th Bomb Wing, Blytheville Air Force Base, Ark., this aircraft was flown to the museum in November 1978.
    U.S. Air Force photo
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    Boeing B-1B Lancer

    The Boeing (formerly Rockwell International) B-1B Lancer is the improved variant of the B-1A, which was cancelled in 1977. Initiated in 1981, the first production model of this long-range, multi-role, heavy bomber flew in October 1984. The first operational B-1B was delivered to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, in June 1985, and the final B-1B was delivered in 1988. First used in combat against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox in 1998, the B-1B has also been employed in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Starting in 2002, the U.S. Air Force began reducing the number of B-1Bs as a cost-saving measure. The aircraft on display arrived at the National Museum of the United States Air Force from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2002.
    U.S. Air Force photo
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    Northrop B-2 Spirit

    In the 1980s the USAF incorporated the revolutionary low-observable, or "stealth," technology into a long-range bomber capable of delivering large payloads of conventional or nuclear weapons. The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit merged the high aerodynamic efficiency of the "flying wing" design with composite materials, special coatings and classified stealth technologies. As a result, the B-2 became virtually invisible to even the most sophisticated air defense radar systems. Above: A Northrop B-2 Spirit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
    U.S. Air Force photo
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    In February the U.S. Air Force unveiled the first concept image of its futuristic B-21 long range bomber, which will be built by Northrop Grumman. Previously known as the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), the designation B-21 recognizes the aircraft as the military's first bomber of the 21st century. It can launch from the continental U.S. and deliver airstrikes on any location in the world.
    U.S. Air Force graphic
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