The instructors at Barksdale AFB shared with us their in-depth knowledge of BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fella), with lots of interesting and little-known details.
For nearly 70 years, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber has been one of the most representative aircraft of the US Air Force, and is expected to be until 2050, for a total lifespan of nearly 100 years. Our friend Erik Johnston brought us last week the most detailed and comprehensive video ever of this legendary bomber, recorded during a visit to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. The aircraft in the video is the B-52H with serial number 61-031, a 60-year-old airframe assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing of Air Force Reserve Command.
The tour begins with Lt. Col. Aaron Bohl, an instructor pilot, leading viewers through the outer tour as performed by a pilot. Each member of the crew has in fact a certain number of external checks to perform during the lap, depending on his role. For example, pilots check the safety and airworthiness of the B-52, while the weapons systems officer checks everything related to weapons, targeting systems and navigation systems.
To describe the longevity of the BUFF, Lt. Col. Bohl used an interesting anecdote: âThe last Civil War veteran was still alive when this plane entered the Air Force, and the last pilot of B- 52 is not yet born â. The B-52 first flew in 1952, while the first aircraft entered service in 1955. During 10-year production, 742 B-52s in various versions were built, of which 102 were in the configuration current B-52H built between 1960 and 1962.
One of the notorious features of the B-52 described shortly after the start of the tour is the landing gear. The landing gear has a unique dual-bike setup with particularly attractive crosswind assist, which allows pilots to rotate it up to 20 degrees and perform a “crab” landing keeping the gear aligned. with the runway while the fuselage points up to 20 degrees from the runway centreline. In fact, it is the only technique that can be safely used by the B-52, the “low wing” method being the most dangerous as it would cause a wing strike on landing, given the enormous wingspan of the bomber.
A well-known fact of the BUFF is its eight-engine propulsion. The engines are the Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofan engines, the military variant of the JT3 that was used on the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. The crew as the ability to perform either a cartridge start, which allows simultaneous starting of the eight motors, or a more common pneumatic start, by starting the motors 4 and 5 (those which are inside immediately next to the fuselage) which then supply air to start the remaining engines. As we recently reported, the B-52 will replace the TF33 with new Rolls-Royce F130 engines, with the first expected by the end of 2025.
The B-52’s large throttle quadrant received a thorough examination that uncovered some pretty interesting aspects about the throttle and engines. One of them is throttle friction, which helps to compensate for the tendency to over-control the throttle as well as set the required thrust, and then use motors 4 and 5 to fine-tune the speed. Pilots often practice both six-engine operation, with two throttles set to idle and the other ‘net’ to simulate the asymmetric thrust caused by engine loss, and four-engine operation, this time. without the asymmetric thrust. More interestingly, Lt. Col. Bohl mentioned that the B-52 is capable of circulating with only two engines in certain gross weight configurations, as was practiced during the instructor’s course.
After a very comprehensive cockpit tour, Major Brian Heck took over for a tour by an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO). The tour begins with the bulbs on the side of the fuselage (both on the nose and tail) which are used to house the ALQ-172 (EW) electronic warfare system, a RadioFrequency (RF) jamming system that protects the airborne and ground missile and radar bomber. This is just one of the bomber’s many self-protection systems, as shown by the number of antennas explained in the video.
An interesting mention goes to the so-called âshark finsâ on the side of the fuselage. These fins are used for low band transmitters and they can be mounted in two positions. The ailerons were initially mounted on a bulge higher than their current position, but with the START Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) they were moved to the new position which is on the lower part of the fuselage. Shark fins can only be found in their original position on coded combat jets, allowing for satellite verification of how many bombers are combat ready, as required by the treaty.
Then it was the turn of Major John Roberts, WSO instructor, who made a detailed tour of the radar navigator’s compartment. A first interesting fact, which many may already know, is that the ejection seat used by both WSOs ejects downward, as opposed to the standard up ejection. The compartment still houses many legacy systems that are no longer or rarely used, although it has been upgraded in recent years with the addition of new Multifunction Displays (MFDs) to complement the old ones. The upgrades also provided full keyboards and a trackball to control a “Windows 95 interface”, as Major Roberts mentioned.
The WSO lookout tour begins with the two nose-mounted infrared pods, the AN / AAQ-6 Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) and the AN / AVQ-22 Low Light TeleVision (LLTV) that have been installed on the Stratofortress in the 1970s. as part of the AN / ASQ-151 Electro-Optical Visualization System (EVS). It has been reported that these will likely be removed to improve airflow in the front of the bomber, as they are no longer supported on the aircraft. Their abilities were replaced by the Litening and Sniper targeting mods, which also allowed autonomous guided weapons to be used without needing someone else to laser the target.
Obviously, the visit continues with the weapon pylons and the bay. The two external weapon racks can carry up to nine unguided weapons or up to eight guided weapons. These mounts are different from those used for nuclear weapons or air-launched cruise missiles. The bomb bay can be configured with the conventional rotary launcher (like the plane in the video) which allows guided weapons to be transported also indoors, instead of just outdoors as happened during years after the B-52 received the ability to use these weapons. Without the CRL, the BUFF can carry 27 âdumbâ bombs, while with the CRL, the bay can hold up to eight smart weapons.
A rather curious feature related to the bomb bay is the gangway, which allows the crew to access the bomb bay in flight and check if the weapons have been released correctly. To do this, the plane must descend below 10,000 feet, depressurize the cabin, then crawl through a small door. The gangway continues to the rear of the bomb bay, where another door leads to the old rear gunner station, at least before it is removed from the aircraft.
The visit ends with Staff Sergeant Todd Bevan, B-52H crew chief, describing some of the technical aspects of the maintenance. An interesting technical fact about the engines is that each of them needs 41 quarts (about 39 liters) of oil to run, while the eight engines together burn a total of 20,000 pounds of fuel per hour at idle.