B-52 maps its way into new century
Released: 19 Nov 1999
by Gail Kulhavy
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFPN) -- The B-52 is undergoing changes that will keep this combat veteran a key part of the Air Force's plans for the bomber fleet through the year 2040.
The B-52H joi ned the Air Force fleet in 1960. According to the Bomber Roadmap recently provided for congressional direction of America's bomber fleet, it's going to "continue performing its mission for another 40 to 45 years," said Col. James McGinley, B-52 System Program director.
"At the time the aircraft was built, it was over-designed for its initial, high altitude bombing mission. The result is a very strong and durable B-52 aircraft. Combined with structural modifications made in the mid-1980s to permit the B-52 to fly low-altitude missions, the B-52 is going to be around well beyond what anyone ever envisioned."
The aircraft is structurally sound to the year 2040, but to stay combat relevant, offensive and defensive avionics modifications are needed.
"We recently gained approval for a new program called the B-52 Avionics Midlife Improvement Program," said McGinley. "AMI replaces three key offensive avionics component subsystems -- the inertial navigation, avionics computers and data transfer system."
Today's B-52 inertial navigation system is being replaced with the SNU-84, the system used on the F-117 aircraft.
"This replacement dramatically improves the reliability and maintainability of the INS," said McGinley. "The INS is the number one depot-level repair item for the B-52, as it consumes 13 percent of ACC's B-52 depot level repair budget, breaks a lot and is expensive to maintain.
"The replacement SNU-84 will be much better in terms of reliability, maintainability and it meets ACC's performance requirements. We'll have to modify the new INS to a certain extent, but the basic components will stay the same. Adding the SNU-84 to the B-52 also solves parts-obsolescence issues we were facing with today's INS.
"The new computer will markedly increase B-52 avionics capabilities, taking us from Commodore-type to Pentium-era computers with open architecture," McGinley said. "We'll also re-host the software to ... a more advanced and supportable software programming language."
Defensive avionics upgrades are also planned for the B-52. Air Combat Command has asked the B-52 Systems Program Office to map out an electronic combat roadmap, and to improve the situational awareness capabilities of the B-52. The SPO is in the process of shaping an upgrade program for B-52 defensive situational awareness.
Programmed depot maintenance for the B-52 is performed exclusively at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and brings in approximately $68 million worth of business annually.
"The B-52 is a very good customer for the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center," said McGinley. "The center's Aircraft Production Division of the Aircraft Management Directorate, overhauls about 22 aircraft annually. It's dependable work and the program is very stable."
According to McGinley, the B-52 has one of ACC's best capability rates.
"The aircraft is solid in terms of sustainment," he said.
The B-52 armament carriage capability remains the most flexible of all aircraft. As new weapons are developed, the B-52 is often selected as the test bed aircraft.
"Weight and size are almost never a constraint for the B-52 as we can carry anything and everything -- we used to carry other aircraft on our wings," said McGinley. "In fact we're still working with NASA on the 'Access to Space' program through an old venue -- using the B-52 as a mothership. It would be a throwback to Chuck Yeager days-gone-by.
"The B-52H is 40 years young and still having fun," McGinley added.