Skip to comments.Alive and kicking (Air Force’s youngest B-52 Stratofortress turns 50 this year)
Posted on 04/05/2012 9:03:58 PM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
Alive and kicking
Air Forces youngest B-52 Stratofortress turns 50 this year
The Air Forces youngest B-52 Stratofortress, Tail No. 1040, will hit a milestone this year, when it turns 50 years old. Of course, young is a relative term when youre a long-range, heavy bomber that was created during the height of the Cold War.
Tail No. 1040, the last of 744 B-52s to be manufactured, was delivered to the Air Force, in October 1962.
I dont think anyone really knew this was going to be the last B-52 ever made, said Robert Michel, the 5th Bomb Wing historian. They expected it to be in service for probably about 20 years, (not close to) a hundred.
With Tail No. 1040 and the rest of the Air Forces B-52s scheduled to keep flying through 2040, there are several reasons why the B-52 has been flying for more than 50 years.
I dont think you can get a bomber that could replace the B-52 that will do everything the B-52 does, Michel said.
Thats because the B-52 can perform nuclear deterrence and conventional operations, fly at both high and low altitudes while carrying nuclear and conventional bombs, cruise missiles or aerial mines, he said. Its like the Swiss Army bomber.
To keep a fleet of aircraft flying for so long, it takes constant attention from maintainers to ensure the planes are every bit as airworthy as the rest of Air Forces fleet.
The aircraft has seen some really good maintainers through its years, said Staff Sgt. Eric Thomas, a dedicated crew chief assigned to the 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. I think its a compliment to the maintainers and the people who support the airframe because there arent many aircraft that are flying 50 years after it left the factory. Its definitely not the prettiest plane out there, but it can take a beating and keep on kicking.
However, even with highly trained maintainers, keeping the B-52 flying day in and day out is no easy task.
Thomas said 1040 requires less maintenance than the rest of the B-52s at Minot AFB, which is surprising, considering its also the most active aircraft at the base. On average, the rest of Minot AFBs B-52s have between 17,000 to 18,000 flying hours, while 1040 has more than 21,000, Thomas said.
When the aircraft was delivered to Minot, it looked much different than it does now. I dont think you would even recognize it as being a B-52H with the exception of the engines, Michel said. It would have been natural aluminum with maybe a tail number when it arrived. The B-52 has been continuously upgraded essentially since it came out.
The only thing thats original in our (H models) is the airframe itself, he said. Pretty much everything else has been gone through and updated.
Like the mechanical and cosmetic changes the B-52 has undergone throughout its life, its mission has changed as well.
The airplane, when it was originally delivered, was used solely for strategic deterrence a nuclear mission whereas today, its used both for the nuclear mission and conventional bombing operations, the historian said.
Throughout its lifetime, the B-52H has taken part in five named operations: Desert Strike, Desert Fox, Allied Force, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Michel said.
For the people who fly the B-52s today, many still have the same passion the aircrews had when the aircraft was originally brought into service. Airmen like Capt. Kim Brown, a 5th Bomb Wing B-52 navigator, learned about the aircraft from her fathers friend when she was a child.
My fathers best friend was a B-52 navigator, and he told me stories when I was growing up about the B-52, she said. Back then, I never thought Id join the Air Force, let alone fly B-52s. It was neat getting that perspective from him of what they were like.
She said she still keeps in touch with her fathers friend over email. The two navigators trade stories and insight of what the B-52 was like over the course of several generations.
He also jokes with me by saying, back when we used to do it, we had to do it without computers, she said.
Today, theres a saying within the B-52 community that the last Stratofortress pilot hasnt even been born yet.
Its cool to think that one day my kids or grandkids could be flying this exact same aircraft, Brown said.
Thirty years from now, when Tail Number 1040 and the rest of the B-52s are finally retired for good, the Air Force will have lost its most iconic aircraft, Michel said.
The B-52 is a classic airplane; its one of those things that you instantly identify with America, he said. It will be a sad day when the B-52 finally goes away because it has been a cornerstone of deterrence. Its hard to think of the Air Force without the B-52.
For now, Tail No. 1040 and the rest of the B-52s at Minot will celebrate another birthday and yet another year of continued airpower.
<< I got buzzed by a B-52 back in the nineties while driving on the interstate in Eastern Washington. It was simply awesome! >>
Wasn’t so “awesome” for me when I was at Barksdale AFB during Viet Nam where they used to take off every four or five minutes fully loaded and I was working off the end of the runway only a few dozen feet from the point where they lifted off.
The 20% loss of hearing that I’m living with today is a painful and constant reminder of how powerful those things are!
I grew up in Riverside, finished high school (1957 Poly) went to work for Rohr Aircraft where they were building major components for the B52.
Awesome. I’ve seen that before but it’s always great to see. Thanks.
What I don't understand is why, if the B52 is still necessary to our defense, that we don't contract and build an improved version with all of the upgrades now built into the old ones? I don't mean a "new" plane, but one that would be built on the original air frame but with all new upgrades.
Yep, they would have to build new machinery but it would be worth it, since we don't seem to be able to design new aircraft the way we used to, everything being caught up in red tape and BS in today's military with costly delays and inferior planes(F35 for example)being pushed on us.
I think the B-52 and C-130 have given us probably the biggest return on investment we could ever get from an airframe. So many years in service and so many different types of missions that can be performed.
Hard to maintain, plagued with gear problems, only 1 weapon. Unlike the Buff, the B58 could not be adapted to anything other than high altitude, high speed, penetration.
Still, sexiest damn bomber we ever had!
Think of my Great Grand father. Born in 1868. 8 years old when Custer got killed. 18 when Geronimo was captured.
77 when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were lit up, and died the year the B-52 was accepted by the US Air Force.
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