‘We do heavy maintenance to the B-52. I mean heavy,’ Darren Dennis, Aerospace Propulsion Apprentice at US Air Force.
Since it entered service, the B-52 Stratofortress has been the backbone of the manned strategic bomber force for the US. The BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F****r as the B-52 is dubbed by its aircrews) is capable of dropping or launching the widest array of weapons in the US inventory. This includes gravity bombs, cluster bombs, precision guided missiles and joint direct attack munitions (JDAMs).
Actually, the US Air Force (USAF) has decided that the B-52 will remain in service until at least 2040, by which time the service plans to have retired all B-1B and B-2 bombers. For this reason, in 2018 a proposal was undertaken to re-engine the fleet of 76 B-52H aircraft fleet to fly alongside the next-generation Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. This effort is known as the Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP) with the idea of outfitting the legendary aircraft with commercial off-the-shelf, in-production business jet engines.
But how was the iconic BUFF able to remain in service for so long?
‘I work on the engines of the B-52 and I can tell you that anything that even looks broken, from everything from clamps to major components gets replaced or repaired by the good ole maintenance folk.
‘Not to mention the Air Force has a very strict guideline of how our parts and components are maintained and kept serviceable.
‘Think about it this way. Imagine you buy a car and as the years wear on it, eventually you can’t drive it anymore because the parts are too worn out. Even if you change the fluids and do every simple maintenance thing you could to it.
‘Now imagine if every 1,000 miles on your car, mechanics are going in and changing out everything from your tires, wiring, body paneling, AC, fluids, lights, car seats. Essentially your car will last forever.
‘Same concept with the B-52. Also, it’s just a reliable aircraft.’
‘The Air Force isn’t getting rid of them any time soon cause there isn’t anything good enough to replace it yet. Much like the A-10 Warthog.’
One day a new aircraft will be designed to replace this legendary machine and maintainers’ efforts may be the best hope to keep the iconic BUFF flying for at least another quarter century proving that old soldiers never die, they simply fade away.
Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel and Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman / U.S. Air Force