Military Aviation

B-52H aircrews are now trained to operate the BUFF with just four members instead of the usual five

In years to come, the B-52 Stratofortress is scheduled to get a new radar, a new set of engines, and a lot more capabilities in its offensive equipment. With that it will take less people to operate.

The B-52 Stratofortress Formal Training Unit , operated by the 93rd and 11th Bomb Squadrons at Barksdale Air Force Base (AFB), La., is scheduled to graduate its first class of air crew this fall using the new curriculum designed to fly the B-52 with four people instead of five.

“This is really the first of a significant, decades-long bow wave of change that’s coming to the B-52,” said Lt. Col. Aaron A. Bohl, 93rd Bomb Squadron commander, to Tech. Sgt. Callie Ware, 307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs, for the article B-52, party of four.

Currently, the bomber has a navigator seat, a radar seat for the weapon systems officer, and an electronic warfare officer seat. In years to come, the B-52 is scheduled to get a new radar, a new set of engines, and a lot more capabilities in its offensive equipment.

With that, Bohl said it will take less people to operate.

The workload for new students has increased significantly as they learn to transition between each compartment, said Bohl.

He explained that students will work with different compartment instructors over several sorties to learn the various roles so they are ready to sit in any of the offensive or defensive seats when called upon. For now, both legacy electronic warfare officers and weapon system officers will have positions in the B-52.

But Bohl said cross training will be necessary within the next half decade.

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Though the jet is not due for modification yet, he explained the formal training unit is working to build a crew force now so that new students graduating will be qualified to sit in all three seats of the jet until it is structurally modified for a four-person crew.

The FTU started training early so that by the time the structural modifications are made, the newest students will have the experience to be the next generation of instructors.

Bohl said the young aircrew now will eventually be the first cadre of B-52 instructors to hold all qualifications necessary.

They will be trained to assimilate into the four-person construct that much easier.

“There will be a lot of challenges ahead with how we execute and continue to sustain the needs of the combatant commander with long range strike,” said Bohl. “But it’s a challenge that we are excited to get after.”

The radar and engine program represent “the largest modification in the history” of the B-52. The new package includes radar, engines, communications, pylons, cockpit displays, and the deletion of one crew member station, meaning “it makes sense” to have a new designation. The B-52H will be redesignated the B-52J or possibly B-52K, but the US Air Force (USAF) hasn’t yet decided what will constitute the new B-52 variant.

Since some of the new APG-79B4 radars will be installed on the bombers before the new Rolls-Royce F130 engines, the question is whether there will be two designations. For the version with the new radar the B-52 pilot operating manual and maintenance manuals will be re-written; and will be re-written again when the engines are changed.

Photo credit: Arpingstone, Own work via Wikipedia

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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