3 Reasons The Legendary B-52 Bomber Will Outlive All Of Us


Do you remember when the defense industry could actually build airplanes? Not just build airplanes, but mass produce them in large numbers?

Of course you don’t.

Over time, military aircraft have become so complicated and defense industry has become so impervious to outside forces that you probably weren’t born when the United States could actually build tough, reliable and relatively low cost airplanes.

Look no further than the B-52, also known as the “BUFF” for “Big, Ugly, Fat F*cker.” Boeing built more than 700 of the bombes between 1952 and 1962 and the Air Force expects to keep flying the BUFF until the 2050s. That means that a bomber first built during the Truman administration will still be putting warheads on foreheads about the time the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reach their halfway mark.

In comparison, the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit, which first flew in the 1980s, are both expected to be retired in the early 2030s -- more than a decade earlier than planned, according to Air Force Magazine. NASA’s Space Shuttle retired in 2011 after 30 years of service. The SR-71 Blackbird bowed out in 1990 after flying for 24 years.

Back in the day, America built things to last

As the longest serving combat aircraft in the U.S. military, the BUFF proves that when it comes to bells and whistles, less is more.

“I’m not an engineer, but I’d have to tell you that the folks that built this airplane designed an aircraft that is pretty sturdy,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere.

B-52s took part in Operation Linebacker II over North Vietnam in 1972.Air Force photo.

Bussiere leads 8th Air Force, which is responsible for the service’s bomber fleet. He was born in 1963 – the year after the last B-52 was delivered to the Air Force.

Originally intended to be America’s nuclear bomber, the B-52 gained a new mission with the advent of GPS-guided weapons: Close air support. The BUFF has come to the aid of troops in contact in Afghanistan and Iraq with a payload of 70,000 pounds of bombs and missiles.

Although the B-52 has been updated over the years, the bomber’s core technology dates back to the 1950s and 1960s, making it totally unlike the Air Force’s newest aircraft, Bussiere told Task & Purpose on April 20.

“Essentially, we’re working today with 1960s versions of aircraft that have been modified – like other weapons systems in any service,” Bussiere said. “The fact that it has served so long and will continue to serve so long is a pretty remarkable statistic.”

One key to the B-52’s longevity is that bombers pull fewer G-forces than fighters, which are designed to “yank and bank,” he said. Also, many bombers spent years on alert with Strategic Air Command, the forerunner to U.S. Strategic Command, so they were not flying many missions.

Did someone say, ‘let’s play global thermonuclear war’?

Despite its age, the B-52 is expected to continue to shoulder the nuclear mission along with Air Force’s newest bomber the B-21 Raider. The Air Force ultimately plans to buy 100 B-21s, which are expected to begin flying in the mid-2020s.   

One reason why the B-52 will outlast the newer B-2 is that the U.S. government made a “disastrous decision” to only buy 20 bombers instead of the 132 B-2s it initially intended to purchase, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula,  dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

“For too long the Air Force and the DOD has let arbitrary budget levels drive force structure—it’s time to turn that equation around and have the National Security Strategy drive force structure,” Deptula told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

With advancements in fighters and air defense systems, the B-52 can fire “standoff” conventional and nuclear weapons from a distance without putting itself at risk, Bussiere said. The B-1 showed how this can be done during the April 13 strike against Syria by launching cruise missiles at targets while outside Syrian airspace.

Opening a can of whoop-ass on the Taliban and ISIS

The B-52 has also proven invaluable to commanders in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan because it can carry a lot of fuel and a lot of weapons, so it can loiter for a long time and provide the firepower to get U.S. troops and their allies out of danger, he said.

A B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., drops live ordnance over the Nevada Test and Training Range. capabilities.Air Force/ Senior Airman Brian Ferguson.

During its 2017 rotation to the Central Command theater of operations, the 23rd Bomb Squadron flew 400 consecutive sorties against ISIS and Taliban targets before a maintenance issue cancelled a mission, breaking the B-52’s previous record for consecutive missions set during Operation Linebacker II in 1972, according to U.S. Air Forces Central Command. Not to be outdone, the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron flew a total of 834 B-52 missions after arriving in theater in September 2017.

The record-setting rotations are a testament to the “robustness and ruggedness” of the B-52, the work Air Force Materiel Command has done over the decades to maintain the bomber, and the dedication of airmen to keep the B-52 flying, Bussiere said.

“If you ever have a doubt about the motivation or discipline of an airman, I’d offer you to go out on the flight line and look in the eyes of a maintainer launching a B-52,” Bussiere said. “The B-52 warriors that rotated in and out of the Middle East absolutely crushed their mission.”


U.S. Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain is captured in this photo during a media opportunity while serving as backup crew for NASA Expedition 56 to the International Space Station May, 2018, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. (NASA photo)

NASA is reportedly investigating one of its astronauts in a case that appears to involve the first allegations of criminal activity from space.

Read More Show Less
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen of the 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (CST) and 106th Rescue Wing prepare to identify and classify several hazardous chemical and biological materials during a collective training event at the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Facility, New York, May 2, 2018. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Harley Jelis)

The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation's bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by The Los Angeles Times.

The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.

The information — housed on a dot-org website run by a private contractor — has been moved behind a secure federal government firewall, and the website was shut down in May. But Homeland Security officials acknowledge they do not know whether hackers ever gained access to the data.

Read More Show Less
A U.S. Marine with Task Force Southwest observes Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps soldiers move to the rally point to begin their training during a live-fire range at Camp Shorabak. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Luke Hoogendam)

By law, the United States is required to promote "human rights and fundamental freedoms" when it trains foreign militaries. So it makes sense that if the U.S. government is going to spend billions on foreign security assistance every year, it should probably systematically track whether that human rights training is actually having an impact or not, right?

Apparently not. According to a new audit from the Government Accountability Office, both the Departments of Defense and State "have not assessed the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces" — and while the Pentagon agreed to establish a process to do so, State simply can't be bothered.

Read More Show Less
The Topeka Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Public domain)

The Kansas City VA Medical Center is still dealing with the fallout of a violent confrontation last year between one of its police officers and a patient, with the Kansas City Police Department launching a homicide investigation.

And now Topeka's VA hospital is dealing with an internal dispute between leaders of its Veterans Affairs police force that raises new questions about how the agency nationwide treats patients — and the officers who report misconduct by colleagues.

Read More Show Less
Jeannine Willard (Valencia County Detention Center)

A New Mexico woman was charged Friday in the robbery and homicide of a Marine Corps veteran from Belen late last month after allegedly watching her boyfriend kill the man and torch his car to hide evidence.

Read More Show Less