GEAR & TECH

How the 65-year old B-52 Stratofortress just keeps getting better with age

Usually as planes get older, they become less capable. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress has been a decided exception to that rule.


In fact, as it gets older it get even more deadly.

Part of this venerable bomber's ascent to a new level of combat capability is new electronics. The short version: The B-52 is becoming "smarter" through the addition of the Combat Network Communication Technology package, or CONECT.

Airmen assigned to the 36th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load an inert AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile onto a B-52H Stratofortress during a munitions loading exercise July 13, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexa Ann Henderson)

According to a 2014 Boeing release, CONECT allows a B-52 to use intelligence in real time on moving map displays, the re-targeting of weapons in flight, and also gives the BUFF a state-of-the-art computing network. This makes the B-52 a much more flexible asset, meaning ordnance doesn't have to be brought back if the target is gone for one reason or another.

The Air Force, though, has also been tinkering with the bomb bays on the 76 B-52s in service to add the ability to carry more weapons, according to a 2014 announcement by the service. This would not be the first time such a modification was done on B-52 bomb bays.

B-52D dropping 500-lb bombs - it was able to carry 84 internally and 24 on the wings. (Image: Wikimedia)

In 1965, the Air Force modified most of the B-52D versions of the Stratofortress to carry a lot of conventional bombs. The modifications increased the number of bombs from 27 to either 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs or 42 750-pound M117 bombs. These bombers proved effective, first in the bombing missions in support of ground troops, then during Operation Linebacker II.

When the modification program is complete, the B-52H bombers in service will be able to carry a dozen missiles like the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile on the wing pylons and eight in the bomb bay. In essence, each B-52 will be able to carry 20 weapons, as opposed to 12 — that's a 66 percent increase in targeting capability.

It means fewer sorties, and less strain on a force that has just turned 65 years old.

Once the modifications are done, imagine this happening 20 times per B-52. (YouTube: Lockheed Martin)

That's not a bad thing. You can see a video about the upgrades to the B-52 below.

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