3. Lemay was pushed by his vision of nuclear war with the Soviet Union
Curtis Lemay desired a heavy bomber for his Strategic Air Command which would allow him to implement his plans for a nuclear war. Lemay and his close ally, Air Force Chief of Staff Hoyt Vandenberg, believed nuclear war with the Soviets was inevitable. Both men pushed for the Air Force to deliver up to 80% of American atomic bombs on the Soviet Union within a period of one month. By the late 1940s, the Air Force pushed for an American nuclear arsenal of 220 bombs, with all of them assigned to the Strategic Air Command. In order to establish the viability of his plans, Lemay needed a heavy bomber capable of flying from American bases. Storing airborne atomic weapons in overseas facilities was to Lemay unthinkable. Nor did he believe the Army or especially the Navy should play any role in America’s ability to wage nuclear war.
The Soviets did not detonate their first atomic bomb until August, 1949. Their success did not change Lemay’s thinking. Instead, it added urgency to his desire for long range heavy bombers able to strike quickly to destroy Soviet installations, factories, and infrastructure. He considered research into the use of missiles to deliver atomic bombs frivolous, and lobbied hard for the increasingly limited defense budgets to create a modern, jet driven, Strategic Air Command. After several prototypes were built, tested, and modified to incorporate lessons learned, Boeing was awarded a contract for 13 B-52A airplanes in February, 1951. Only three were built. They were used as test beds for the further development of the aircraft, and evaluation of its performance. An aircraft, designated the YB-52, made its first flight on April 15, 1952.