Nearly six years ago on this blog, we noted the 50th anniversary of the production of the final B52 Stratofortress – a plane whose design processs kicked off as the rubble from World War 2 was still smoking, which first flew in the early fifties, went into series production in 1952, and whose final example rolled off the line before I was born.
The Air Force has been working to replace the B52 – the BUFF Big Ugly Fat Fella) or BMF (Boeng Multirole Flight-platform), as its crews and support staff call it – almost since it first rolled off the production line.
First came the =B58 Hustler – a sleek, fast, incredibly flashy plane that broke all sorts of world records, and lasted maybe five years in front line service due to mechanical and electronic bugs and cost overruns.
The FB-111 was intended to augment the B-52 rather than supplant it; it was part of the strategic bomber fleet for perhaps a decade and a half before being retired.
The B1 and B1A? After a protracted, costly development dogged by systems issues and a left-leaning Congress that was drunk with pacifistic power after pulling the US out of Vietnam, the plane was downgraded into the more pedestrian but fairly successful B1B, currently gracing the skies of South Dakota from its home base near Rapid City – and will be for another fifteen years, according to the Air Force, retiring a decade or so before the original plan.
Same with the B2 “Spirit” – the first strategic “stealth” bomber, which will also be leaving service in the early 2030s.
But the B52? It’s going to outlive them all:
“With an adequate sustainment and modernization focus, including new engines, the B-52 has a projected service life through 2050, remaining a key part of the bomber enterprise well into the future,” said Gen. Robin Rand, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, in a statement issued by the Air Force.
But today’s B-52 has evolved from the planes first flown in the ’50s. The Stratofortress has undergone numerous upgrades and modernization over the years, including the addition of an advanced communications system that displays real-time intelligence feeds overlaid on moving maps…The Air Force plan calls for the B-1s and B-2s to be “incrementally retired,” once enough [of the brand new, just-started-design] B-21s are operational. “If the force structure we have proposed is supported by the Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future,” Wilson said. “They will be B-52s and B-21s.”
The B21, of course, will run into delays and overruns, and the B52 will (I predict) be in service through the 2070s.