Skip to comments.Boeing B-52 set to receive major radar upgrade
Posted on 05/20/2010 6:59:33 AM PDT by ErnstStavroBlofeld
The US Air Force is moving forward with a major new upgrade for the half-century-old Boeing B-52H fleet, focused on replacing the bomber's radar, which is roughly 30 years old.
The Northrop Grumman APQ-166 strategic radar is nearing the end of its useful life and will be replaced on 76 B-52Hs, the USAF says in a request for information issued to industry. The new system will perform all of the mission functions now performed by the APQ-166 mechanically scanned array, but provide "new and enhanced capabilities", the air force says.
Although active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology is now available off the shelf and being integrated on the Northrop B-2A bomber fleet, the air force document stops short of demanding that level of technology integration for the B-52H.
"The main focus of the [Strategic Radar Replacement (SR2)] programme is sustainability/supportability," the air force says.
Budget documents indicate the programme is well-funded. The SR2 line item in the air force's fiscal year 2011 budget request contains $151.3 million to complete development and production through 2022. The air force plans to launch the development in late FY2013, following an analysis of alternatives phase and a competitive contract selection.
The SR2 requirement is the latest major B-52 upgrade to emerge as the air force protects its investment in a fleet that entered service in the mid-1950s, but continues to be relied on heavily today in combat operations.
The USAF also is upgrading the B-52's ability to communicate with other forces in the combat network communication technology programme. It is also integrating extremely high-frequency antennas on the B-52 fleet.
(Excerpt) Read more at flightglobal.com ...
What magnificent airplanes!
How much longer are these bombers going to be allowed to fly?
Until the year 2040
I remember reading about a day when an engine went out on one of these birds, and the pilot requested an emergency landing, and the tower radioed back, ‘Ah yes, the dreaded 7-engine landing’.
But, I guess the USAF brass would screw that up as well.
An indication of the service life of the B-52 would be to imagine the Air Force flying operational missions in Vietnam with the Wright Military Flyer!
“sustainability/supportability” = spare parts availability
We oughta replace em with 747’s for a bigger payload. Carpet bombing is needed in several areas.
In 1971 I was excited about the prospects of flying “defensive fire control” in the B-52D and was disappointed to learn latter models would move me out of the tail gunner position, into a camera operated position, behind the EWO officer.
I ended up working in nuclear weapons and never did fly or get stationed in ‘Nam.
40 years later I’m not so sure I’d be excited about flying in this same airframe.....
I hear you.
But D.C. is Restricted Airspace.
When was the last engine upgrade? Swap out the 8 old for four new high bypass turbofans and keep it flying for another 50 years.
The Plane That Time Forgot.
That was already discussed and dismissed, over a decade ago.
Still worth reviewing every ten years or so, just to see if it’s economically feasible.
“An indication of the service life of the B-52 would be to imagine the Air Force flying operational missions in Vietnam with the Wright Military Flyer!”
A Wright flyer with vastly improved avionics, air defense, engines, and flight crew.
The B52 of today is vastly more capable than the early models. The airframe itself is largely the same but then the laws of physics and aerodynamics haven’t changed much since 1950.
Three cheers for the BUFF’s and the fathers and their sons who have flown them.
Not to the Air force.
How about reviving the B-58 Hustler? One bad-ass looking bomber.
Actually, that comment was made by an F-16 pilot who, although running low on fuel, was put into a holding pattern to allow that B-52 with one engine out to make an “emergency” landing.
Yeah, I love the Hustler! It’d be a good one, but not sure about it’s payload vs the B-25
There have been proposals for a 747 bomber since the 1970s.
I love and hate the BUFF.
Amazing maneuverability for such a large aircraft. Unfortunately, some of the pilots don’t know when to ease back on the stick. One almost crashed into my survival group at Fairchild AFB in 1994.
Now that you mentioned it, that is the way it happened. Fuzzy memory.
Ahh, the BUFF, what a GRAND Lady she truly is.
B-52 still ‘BUFF’ at 50 (actually 58)
This month, the B-52, which made its maiden flight when Harry Truman was president, celebrates its 50th birthday. That heady milestone is only a marker for middle age, however. The bomber, whose lifetime spans 11 presidents, four wars and nearly every technological leap of the jet age, is still a vital part of the Air Force fleet.
It is scheduled to fly until 2040. That would make it the longest-serving military jet in history.
“It is quite a remarkable aircraft,” observes Wayne Thompson, an Air Force historian in Washington, D.C. “The interesting thing is, everything it does today, it was never designed to do.”
Though the youngest B-52 in today’s Air Force fleet is 41 years old, the giant bomber is anything but a Cold War relic. It proved its mettle once again in Afghanistan by helping rout Taliban forces last fall. Lurking high in the sky like airborne artillery guns, B-52s hunted their prey by dropping smart bombs from 40,000 feet.
Linked to special operations soldiers on the ground by laptop computers and satellite relays, B-52 crews flew higher than commercial passenger jets to drop their payloads satellite-guided bombs aimed at Taliban and al-Qaeda troops who could neither hear nor see the origin of their destruction.
“The B-52 is the Air Force’s answer to the Navy aircraft carrier in terms of fear and morale,” says Chris Bolkcom, an aviation analyst with the Congressional Research Service. “Nobody wants 70,000 pounds of ordnance dropped on them, and just the threat of B-52s flying overhead is enough to make our adversaries run.”
The B-52 is to bombers what Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., is to U.S. senators. By the time the current B-52H models are retired, they will have served nearly 80 years. No other bomber or fighter has seen so much history pass beneath its wings, or so much technology zoom past its tail.
Ugly, fat and ageless
Known to Air Force crews as the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fellow), it was for nearly four decades an essential part of the United States’ deterrent against the Soviet Union. The brainchild of legendary Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, the B-52 was dreamed up by Boeing engineers in a Dayton, Ohio, hotel room in October 1948.
U.S. Air Force file photo
The first production model B-52A Stratofortress rolls out of the Boeing plant in Seattle in March 1954.
The first B-52 lifted off April 15, 1952, for a test flight. Since that time, the lumbering bomber played a major role in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
The B-52 owes its longevity to slide-rule-generation engineers who conceived the design after World War II. Built before the advent of computer models, the B-52’s many structural redundancies from landing gear to wing design keep it airworthy today.
The B-52 is challenging for pilots to fly, short on space and modern comforts but nonetheless beloved by many who have climbed through its cramped entryway in the bottom of the fuselage.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom Keck, who commands the 8th Air Force, has spent 3,000 hours flying the giant bomber. His dad, retired lieutenant general James Keck, also flew B-52s. The younger Keck surmises that by the time the B-52 is retired, it will have been theoretically possible for four or five generations from the same family to fly it.
Although the Air Force built more than 700 B-52s, only about 90 survive. Boeing long ago shut down the productionline, leaving crews to scrounge spare parts in the strangest places, including aviation museums and the Air Force’s “Bone Yard,” a repository for aging aircraft in the Arizona desert. Mechanics have literally scavenged repair parts by tearing up old B-52s with chain saws to keep the current fleet flying.
B-52 officers “Wall Street,” “Doogie” and “Splash,” assigned to a Reserve squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, joined the military in the 1980s when the United States still kept the bombers on nuclear alert. (During the war on terrorism, the Air Force permits B-52 crewmembers to be identified only by their first names or military nicknames.)
The three Barksdale crewmembers marvel at how the bomber morphed from Cold War sledgehammer to its current role using smart bombs for surgical strikes. All three say they feared for the B-52’s survival in the 1990s, when many officers thought it would be phased out in favor of newer B-1s and B-2 stealth bombers.
Now, they say, the B-52 has proved indispensable because it is so reliable and can carry a huge store of smart bombs.
“When they gave us the coordinates, we’d kill whatever they told us to,” says “Wall Street,” a B-52 pilot who flew 19 missions over Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, the Air Force used B-52s to perform roles usually reserved for smaller, sleeker and faster fighter jets. The success of B-52s in a troop-killing role that the military calls “close air support” turned conventional wisdom on its head. For one, it suggested the Pentagon can modernize without spending billions on sexy new hardware. The aircraft’s rebirth also rekindled a debate over the role of the nation’s bomber fleet, which some say is too small.
Instead of flying dozens of fighter jets capable of dropping only one or two bombs each, the Pentagon dispatched a handful of B-52s or B-1 bombers in Afghanistan to visit destruction equal to an entire squadron of smaller aircraft.
The practice of dropping large numbers of satellite-guided smart bombs from high altitude, which one senior Air Force general has dubbed “mass precision bombing,” is certain to play a role in future U.S. attacks.
The effectiveness of the large bombers also has implications for U.S. basing as the Pentagon ponders options against Iraq. Because the bombers can fly thousands of miles farther than fighter jets without refueling, the United States could be able to attack Iraq even if Arab allies don’t allow the use of their bases.
The United States has dropped about 12,000 guided bombs in Afghanistan. Satellite-directed weapons are viewed by military planners as the new weapon of choice. By using B-52, B-1 and B-2 bombers with clusters of satellite-guided bombs, the United States will put far fewer pilots at risk while greatly increasing the pace of attacks.
“The bomber re-emerged in this war,” says Tom McInerney, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and Fox News military analyst. “People in the Pentagon don’t fully appreciate what we did and how we used firepower in Afghanistan.”
Army soldiers at Bagram air base near Kabul credited air cover provided by fighters and B-52 bombers for helping rout dug-in al-Qaeda forces during Operation Anaconda in March.
On at least two occasions, Air Force B-52s cruising high over Afghanistan prevented the defeat of Northern Alliance and U.S. Special Forces troops under siege. On Nov. 2, an Air Force Reserve B-52 from Barksdale came to the rescue of about 10 Special Forces soldiers under attack from an estimated 1,000 Taliban fighters near Kandahar. Twenty minutes after receiving the distress call, the B-52 was guided to the target by Army ground controllers and destroyed a ridge line full of Taliban forces.
The B-52s carry a mother lode of weaponry, including 16 satellite-guided smart bombs under their wings and 27 unguided “dumb” bombs in their bellies.
Air Force B-52s loitered for three to four hours at a time over Afghanistan, where soldiers directed them to enemy soldiers during the heat of battle using laser range finders and hand-held navigation aids linked to satellites.
The tactics, never before used in war, allowed the United States to destroy the same number of targets as during the Gulf War by flying a tenth the missions.
B-52 crewmembers describe their airplane as a ‘57 Chevy in a world of late-model sports cars.
The cabin and cockpit are more cramped than a backyard tree house and have about the same amenities. There are no bathrooms; instead, the five crewmembers urinate into a tube with little privacy.
Inside the crew cabin, the jet is noisier than its namesake rock band, the B-52s. The 120 decibels generated by its engines are, according to crewmembers, louder than a typical rock concert.
The cockpit is crammed with buttons, dials and Vietnam War-era gauges and wires. Until about a decade ago, the B-52 crew included a tail gunner, a holdover from the days when U.S. bombers filled the skies over Europe during World War II.
Just behind the cockpit, there’s another telling sign of the B-52’s age: an opening in the top of the fuselage to navigate by sextant.
There was little glamour inside or outside the B-52 during its heyday in the Cold War.
Bomber crews would rotate on alert status for a week at a time, confined to Spartan barracks known as “mole holes” from which they would race to their aircraft to get airborne before incoming Soviet missiles struck. The B-52 played a major role in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as a nuclear bomber, and later, in Vietnam, proved to be a symbol of American futility despite an extensive and at times devastating bombing campaign in North Vietnam.
During its days carpet-bombing North Vietnam, B-52s turned triple-canopy jungle into moonscape, gouging giant craters into the earth during more than 100,000 bombing missions there.
The B-52 is the monster truck of airplanes. It is the only military jet still flying that has eight engines. The aircraft is so sturdy, 8th Air Force commander Keck says, that even if it lost half its engines to enemy fire it could still land safely.
“You could probably land with three,” Keck says, adding, “it’s just a large, reliable airplane.”
For all its archaic hardware, the BUFF remains the backbone of a bomber force that includes 21 stealthy B-2s and 93 B-1s.
“People have a soft spot in their hearts for the B-52,” says Air Force Gen. Donald Cook, a former B-52 pilot who now heads Air Force training. “It’s not sexy, but the aircraft always does a good job”
“Three cheers for the BUFFs and the fathers and their sons who have flown them.”
And *grandsons*. THe last BUFF was built in 1962. That means that the newest one is not just old enough to vote, it is old enough to run for President, and will be eligible for early retirement from its original manufacturer (Boeing allows early retirement at 55) in just 7 years.
The only analogy I can find in military history would be ships-of-the-line. HMS Victory was 48 years old at the Battle of Trafalgar, and one of Admiral Byng’s ships-of-the-line at the Battle of Mallorca was 90 years old.
How about reviving the B-36? :0)
Three cheers for the BUFFs and the fathers and their sons who have flown them.
A big cheer and thank you from this Vietnam “grunt”.
To make a story short: They saved our butts.
Take your pick.
Based on the current economic outlook I’d say another 50+ years.
My brother was in the USAF in the late 1960s/1970s. He pulled many new cables to replace broken ones within B-52 airframes. Even then those planes were full of pop-riveted repair plates and "stop drilled" cracks. They were old planes then and down right ancient now. Air crews were afraid of them then, so they must be petrified of them now.
It is a wonderful bomber. They should tool up and build new ones. Our crews deserve to fly in something besides scrap metal.
The B-58 was a crew-killer. They came apart because they produced a shockwave that entered the outboard engines as they crossed into supersonic. They were removed from a short service life for really good reasons.
I didn’t know that. Thanks for the info. I always thought that they had a short career because of SAMs.
Open question to someone in the know. How can the metal on these bombers last that long under incredible weather, weight, aerodynamic, landing and many other stresses without developing metal fatigue. Know they have upgraded w/ titanium but what else. Swap out engines, avionics, radar, fly by wire(?)
We drive every car we have all the way and then swap out an engine/drivetrain so this all fits re-usability. Not, of course any kind of modern fighters though (too slow, etc.)
Just interested, no secret stuff if you know.
In the G models that I worked in the early 80's, the gunner was in the seat to the right of the EWO, on the upper deck and facing backward.
They can't and they haven't. Those airplanes are each several tons heavier now than when they were manufactured. They are full of "stop-drilled" cracks with reinforcement plates pop-riveted over them. They all have lots of new cables pulled through their airframes, and the unused cables are still laced in place. Those airplanes desperately need to be scrapped. It is a wonderful design. Tooling should be made to put them back into production.
***How about reviving the B-36? :0)***
I saw one of them flying low over Farmington,NM way back in 1955!
I worked on B-52s back in 1966-67, Walker AFB Roswell, NM. Years before I used to watch the B-47s take off from there.
***In the G models that I worked in the early 80’s, the gunner was in the seat to the right of the EWO, on the upper deck and facing backward.***
I had a crew chief tell me that the tail gunners often became alcoholics due to being so far removed from the rest of the crew on the B-52 A models.
I worked on B-52-A and the tail gunner position was very isolated!
... and there’s a lotta carpet in a 747!
Poem from my childhood:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
You’ve got a nose
Like a B52
Boeing (IIRC) has a plan to do just that. Replace the eight obsolescent engines with four CFM high-bypass ones. Year after year, it falls below the cutoff line in USAF budgeting.
We need to build these with all new airframes.
Was it this guy?
Wow, didn’t know that. Imagine what a newly manufactured 52 could do, with lighter weight, fly by wire, new metallurgy, carbon fiber/kevlar, etc. Bet that would add some speed, too.
***Went TDY to Kadena AFB Okinawa to work on KC-135s during the Vietnam war.**
When Walker AFB closed (1967)I was sent to Little Rock AFB and worked on KC-135Q. Spent some time in 1968 TDY Okinawa, Guam and 1969 UTapao, Thailand. Lots of other little two week stints in Goose Bay Labrador, Fairbanks, and Beale AFB.
We may have crossed paths!
***The first production model B-52A Stratofortress rolls out of the Boeing plant in Seattle in March 1954.***
I think it is interesting that my Great Grandfather lived from the end of the Civil War to the time the B-52 went into service.
When he was born the Santa Fe Trail was closed due to Indian raids. Buffalo covered the plains.
8 years old when Custer got killed at Little Big Horn,
Worked on the ranches of Oklahoma and Colordo in at the turn of the 1890s -1900 when he homesteaded land in Oklahoma.
Then died when the B-52 went into service. 10 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
What a time to be alive and see so many changes in one lifetime! He is buried in a cemetery on the Cimmaron Cuttoff of the Santa Fe trail, where one lifetime before he would have been scalped!