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The Military Transportation United States

B-52s: The Plane That Refuses To Die 290

HughPickens.com writes: Dave Phillipps has an interesting article in the NY Times about B-52's and why the Air Force's largest bomber, now in its 60th year of active service and scheduled to fly until 2040, are not retiring anytime soon. "Many of our B-52 bombers are now older than the pilots who fly them," said Ronald Reagan in 1980. Today, there is a B-52 pilot whose father and grandfather flew the plane. Originally slated for retirement generations ago, the B.U.F.F. — a colorful acronym that the Air Force euphemistically paraphrases as Big Ugly Fat Fellow — continues to be deployed in conflict after conflict. It dropped the first hydrogen bomb in the Bikini Islands in 1956, and laser-guided bombs in Afghanistan in 2006. It has outlived its replacement. And its replacement's replacement. And its replacement's replacement's replacement. The unexpectedly long career is due in part to a rugged design that has allowed the B-52 to go nearly anywhere and drop nearly anything the Pentagon desires, including both atomic bombs and leaflets. But it is also due to the decidedly underwhelming jets put forth to take its place. The $283 million B-1B Lancer first rolled off the assembly line in 1988 with a state-of-the-art radar-jamming system that jammed its own radar. The $2 billion B-2 Spirit, introduced a decade later, had stealth technology so delicate that it could not go into the rain. "There have been a series of attempts to build a better intercontinental bomber, and they have consistently failed," says Owen Coté. "Turns out whenever we try to improve on the B-52, we run into problems, so we still have the B-52."

The usefulness of the large bomber — and bombers in general — has come under question in the modern era of insurgent wars and stateless armies. In the Persian Gulf war, Kosovo, Afghanistan and the Iraq war, the lumbering jets, well-established as a symbol of death and destruction, demoralized enemy ground troops by first dropping tons of leaflets with messages like "flee and live, or stay and die," then returning the next day with tons of explosives. In recent years, it has flown what the Air Force calls "assurance and deterrence" missions near North Korea and Russia. Two B-52 strategic bombers recently flew near artificial Chinese-built islands in the South China Sea and were contacted by Chinese ground controllers but continued their mission undeterred. "The B.U.F.F. is like the rook in a chess game," says Maj. Mark Burleys. "Just by how you position it on the board, it changes the posture of your adversary."
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B-52s: The Plane That Refuses To Die

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  • BUFF (Score:5, Informative)

    by queBurro ( 1499731 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @08:36AM (#51079711)
    Shirley, that'd be Big Ugly Fat Fucker. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
  • by Schmorgluck ( 1293264 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @08:38AM (#51079719)
    At some point they really need to send them all elsewhere. I suggest Planet Claire.
  • by segedunum ( 883035 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @08:42AM (#51079729)
    Having a plane that can be kept in the air as much as possible trumps technology every time.
  • by Richard Kirk ( 535523 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @08:44AM (#51079733)

    There are a few examples of engineering projects where everything went right, or at least better than expected. The UK equivalent plane was the Vulcan bomber, which would have been a stealth bomber by accident: only the upright tail gives it away on radar. The AK-47 has it. The London Routemaster bus had it. The Soyuz lifter has it. The Panama canal has it too. Can you think of any others?

    More importantly, can we make everything work like that?

    • Can you think of any others?

      Have to give a mention to the English Electric Lightning - one of the best planes ever produced by the British aviation industry. Very capable at the job it was designed for, and despite its age could still outpace most modern aircraft in a climb.

      The Chinook's a very able workhorse as well

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        But it really sucked in range, sensors, and weapons. Great hot rod but really not a great interceptor.

        • But it really sucked in range, sensors, and weapons. Great hot rod but really not a great interceptor.

          Not when it was built. But in typicla British fashion, the government decided for about 40 years continuously that there'd be something much better they could buy from America juuust around the corner and so never upgraded it.

          As for range... that's irrelevent if you can never catch up with your target in the first case. The Lightning was the only plane capable of catcing the Concorde in a stern chase (stand

    • the underwire bra...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underwire_bra
    • The Vulcan bomber was never a good candidate for stealth - the engine faces were completely exposed, even tho they were embedded in the wing, so it had a larger than average radar cross section for an aircraft its size.

      My suggestion as an example would be the Heavy Press Program to produce massive forging and extrusion presses in the US in the 1950s, and most of those 10 presses are still in use today producing parts for the latest generation of military aircraft (the F-35 main structural frame is produced

      • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

        "The Vulcan bomber was never a good candidate for stealth - the engine faces were completely exposed, even tho they were embedded in the wing, so it had a larger than average radar cross section for an aircraft its size."

        Seriously? The engines are virtually invisible compared to the pod mounted engines of most civil and transport aircraft which reflect radar like a flying disco ball.

        • Yes, seriously - for its time, the Vulcans engines faces were quite large which made the radar return twinkle and spike a *lot* in comparison to other aircraft. Even the Victor had a lower return, due to the baffles the Victors intakes had.

    • by stud9920 ( 236753 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @09:30AM (#51080015)

      There are a few examples of engineering projects where everything went right, or at least better than expected. [...]. The Panama canal has it too. Can you think of any others?

      More importantly, can we make everything work like that?

      The Panama canal bankrupted thousands of French investors, killed thousands of workers, and ruined Gustave Eiffel's reputation for the rest of his life.

      • You are talking about the first French attempt, where they shipped in people as they died from malaria. I was talking about the US one, where they cleared the banks of the canal and build mosquito-proof quarters and fever hospitals whoever they went. That one worked. At the time, there was enough forest to retain enough water. Now, the surrounding forests have been felled, and there is a lot more shipping, but that isn't the original designers' fault.
    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @09:47AM (#51080137) Homepage Journal

      I have an automotive example, so slashdot should love it: The Mercedes-Benz W126 body. Design finalized in 1978, they kept making cars based on it until 1992 worldwide, or 1994 in South Africa. It was Mercedes' first chassis made of 100% high strength steel. The car is literally 1,000 pounds lighter than its predecessor or successor, yet one of the most rigid chassis produced in the era. The handling is excellent even today, in fact it's far superior to most vehicles of any age. And they're nuts-simple to maintain.

      The Panama Canal, I'm sorry to say, is a very poor example. In spite of a retrofit which saves 1/3 of the fresh water they piss away into the ocean, they're still having trouble coming up with enough water to operate the canal... And about that retrofit, that took a damned long time.

    • An impressive percentage of the things John Browning had his fingerprints on would appear to qualify. The M-2's 100th anniversary is coming up and it is still in active use, with some of his other designs no longer in US military service but ridiculously common.
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      The F-4, F-15, F-16, C-130, Nimitz class carrier, Saturn-V, Atlas, Titan, Delta, Bell Jetranger, Chinook, and the list goes on and on.

    • by Catmeat ( 20653 )

      Can you think of any others?

      The Bell Rock Lighthouse [wikipedia.org]. Built between 1807 and 1810.

      Proof - it's still there.

    • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
      The C-130 and it's variants (AC-130 and KC-130) are arguably the most versatile, long-lasting and best engineered platforms out there today. The A-10 would also be in the list of best-engineered airframes not the planet.
    • by invid ( 163714 )
      The A-10 Warthog. [wikipedia.org] You can't take those things down.
    • by Zobeid ( 314469 )

      off the top of my head. . .

      Douglas DC-3
      Dodge Power Wagon
      Mauser 98
      Colt M1911
      Browning M2HB
      Parker 51
      Lamy 2000
      Pentax K1000
      Unix
      LP records
      The Rolling Stones

    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      Ironically, you won't see any AK-47 around except at shows of historical weapons. The gun most people call the AK-47 is actually the AK-74. Yes, switched ciphers in the model number, pointing to a major overhaul of the concept in 1970, and the new gun together with a new type of ammunition, 5.45×39mm replacing the 7.62×39mm of the AK-47, got introduced to the Red Army in 1974, hence the name. On the other hand, even the AK-74 is also more than 40 years old now.
      • by Zobeid ( 314469 )

        Not quite that simple. . .

        The original AK-47 was only produced for a few years because it was quite heavy and the milled receivers sometimes cracked. An improved version, the AKM with a stamped receiver, is what's been produced in vast quantities around the world. The great majority of AKs that you see are AKMs or some kind of variant of it. The AK-74 that you mentioned introduced the smaller caliber ammo (over Kalashnikov's objections, by the way!) and was intended to fully replace the AKM, but in pract

    • Yeah, no kidding.

      The B-52 is a feat of engineering which I question could be replicated these days.

      The F-35 is a bloated, over-budget plane which tries to be 10 different things and apparently does none of them well.

      Meanwhile things like the B-52 and the A-10 continue to work, fly, and do what they were built to do. Absolutely NOTHING we have now can readily replace either of them.

      I very much doubt anybody is building things which will still be operational in 60 years ... so much crap made nowadays is esse

    • by nukenerd ( 172703 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @12:36PM (#51081625)
      In the railway world :- years.

      1) The British High Speed Train (HST) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org], mainstay of UK non-electrified Inter-City services for the last 40 years.

      2) London Underground "1938 Tube Stock". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]. Having spent decades as the workhorse of the extremely heavily used London Northern Line, six of them are still at work on the Isle of Wight line today. This is an ordinary work-a-day line, not a preserved heritage one, and ex-London tube stock was chosen to solve the problem of its close clearances. "1938" is when they were built, so over 75 years old and going strong.
    • The Mars Rovers certainly qualify.

  • If it ain't broke... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @08:47AM (#51079753)

    I'm sure things like avionics and perhaps engines have been updated over the years. So maybe the B-52's replacement should simply be a B-52 built out of more modern materials? Call it a B-53.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's not webified enough.

      It should be B-52.0

    • Unacceptable, does not look good on an OPR.
    • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

      The Air Force typically adds a letter to the next version. We're on the H model of the B52
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • In fact the only active model is the B-52H. All B-52Hs came into service between May 9, 1961 and Oct 26, 1962. Any active B-52 is at least 53 years old.

    • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@noSPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @09:17AM (#51079919)

      Simply updating the design with brand new materials is often as big a job as producing an all new design, as the current design is based around the strength, stiffness and capability of the material used - changing that material means revisiting every aspect of the design to ensure that the new materials characteristics handle all the stresses, loadings and movements without issue.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      The engines are still the TF-33 that came with the H out of the factory.
      The TF-33 is a J-57 based turbofan and the J-57 was what was on the the A-F versions of the 52.

    • by 4im ( 181450 )

      I'm sure things like avionics and perhaps engines have been updated over the years.

      I'm positive that's a yes for the avionics. I'm less sure about the engines though. One should think that 4 engines as used on a modern 747 would out-perform the 8 old jets from the B-52 in most if not all possible categories - the only thing that comes to mind would be ground clearance.

      Btw, NATO also hasn't upgraded the engines on their AWACS planes (at least those registered in Luxembourg, flying around Europe), unlike the US did for their own. I always wonder why when I get to see them and listen to them

      • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@noSPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @10:13AM (#51080343)

        There are two reasons the USAF don't reengine the B-52 (and it has come up several times) - first is the fact that there is still a significant parts stockpile of engines already bought and paid for which are next to worthless on the open market, and secondly is the fact that by going from four engines on a wing to two, you have to drastically change the single engine out characteristics of the aircraft, which means a bigger tail to compensate etc.

        The USAF tankers and utility aircraft (E-3, RC-135s etc) have been reengined because they spend a lot more time in the air than the B-52s, and generally operate off of the standard USAF operational budget, whereas the B-52s typically operate under specialist budgets per conflict except for training flights.

      • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )

        There actually was a plan and proposal to move to a 4 engine variant- I believe in late 90s if I remember correctly. It ended up being scrapped (for reasons I was not privy to) and just hasn't happened. I think the general consensus is "why mess with it if it's still working and we can still source the parts". The H model has been in production since the early 60s so the engines could certainly be replaced with something more efficient but again, why fix what ain't broken?

        Northrop Grumman just won a cont

  • Also, see the A-10 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @08:47AM (#51079755)

    The A-10 [wikipedia.org] isn't quite so old, having been introduced in 1977, but it too is uniquely successful at its job, with no practical replacement in sight.

    Ask any Army Soldier or Marine Rifleman that has seen combat and needed close air support what their favorite jet is, and you'll hear only one name.

    Rather than talking about retirement, we should be building more of these two jets. Yes, I know it would be expensive to re-create all of the tooling. In my opinion, new production lines for them should be established and maintained in perpetuity as national treasures, at least until suitable replacements are found and validated by real-world experience.

    (The C-130 [wikipedia.org] should probably be included too, and would be much easier, since it is still in active production.)

    • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @09:04AM (#51079837)

      Agreed 100%. There does not seem to be a leap in technology that warrants a replacement of these aircraft. The machines are workhorses, and the only thing that really needs to happen with them is to maybe make them more efficient when possible (lighter, more fuel efficient, etc).

      For fighters, I think the F-16 and F-22 are well-regarded by their pilots; and the F-18 is beast on the Navy/Marine side.

      The JSF looks like an expensive complicated mess of an aircraft. I don't really follow aircraft news, but my impression is that they are throwing dump trucks of money at it to get it to perform at levels at our below our current arsenal.

      It would be nice if aircraft design and construction had a lot less to do with politics, job creation, and greasing palms; and a lot more to do with air superiority, capability, ease of maintenance, and cost.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        For fighters, I think the F-16 and F-22 are well-regarded by their pilots; and the F-18 is beast on the Navy/Marine side.

        There's only one fighter plane thatll be my honey-bunny shnookielumps forever and ever, and that's the F-15 Strike Eagle, the greatest airborne weapons platform ever created. Be still mah heart!

        For everything else, there's the A-10, also known as the "make-them-shit-their-pants-in-fear" plane.

    • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

      You're off by a year, they entered service in '76 as did I.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      (The C-130 [wikipedia.org] should probably be included too, and would be much easier, since it is still in active production.)

      Speaking of the C-130, if an AC-130 has a max T/O weight of 155,000 lbs and is as bad ass as it is, imagine what a gunship variant of a B-52, with a max T/O weight of 488,000 lbs, would be like. That thing would be a flying battleship. It probably can't get down to a slow enough cruising speed without stalling to be useful, but a plane packing 3 times the firepower of an AC-130 would have to be a beautiful sight.

      • Dale Brown wrote a book on that, I remember being entertained and it does seem like an interesting.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        In a somewhat similar vein there is the B1BR proposal, replace engines with the F22 reduces range but increases speed, improve the RADAR and then cram it full of A to A missiles.

      • C-130 stalls at 100 mph, the B52 at about 150. Not ideal for lingering over the battlefield. Plus lingering means "target", in the B52's case "very big, very expensive target". Plus its turning radius must be huge, combined with the higher speed you couldn't keep it targeted on a small piece of real estate. Just not the right tool for the job.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by inhuman_4 ( 1294516 )
      Except the A-10 isn't successful at it's job, never has been.

      The A-10 was designed to strafe tanks during the Cold War, but never got used for that mission. They tried to use it to attack Republican Guard tanks during First Iraq War. But the A-10 proved too vulnerable to anti-air defences and the job was given to F-16s using laser guided bombs. The majority of ground attack missions in the Second Iraq War was conducted by F-16s and F-18s. The same is true for Afghanistan. The only reason the A-10 is still a
      • by Major Blud ( 789630 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @11:40AM (#51081173) Homepage

        "but never got used for that mission"

        I don't believe that's accurate. Straight from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        During the first Gulf War, the A-10 destroyed "more than 900 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 other military vehicles and 1,200 artillery pieces". Although 4 were shot down by missiles, it had "flew 8,100 sorties, and launched 90 percent of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles fired in the conflict.".

        Although the stats are pretty impressive, I hear mixed things from soldiers who had to rely on it for close air support. Some were displeased with it not having supersonic capabilities.....their argument was that it was better to have an F-16 or F-15E that could arrive at the battle much quicker. The other argument was that it was better to have a huge bomber, such as the B-52, that could loiter over a combat area for an extended period of time, and drop precision guided munitions as needed. The flip side is that the A-10 is much more durable than an attack helicopter, which is the Army's main method of providing close air support.

      • But the A-10 proved too vulnerable to anti-air defences and the job was given to F-16s using laser guided bombs.

        Too vulnerable? If you mean vulnerable due to the fact that it's about 15,000 feet closer to the AA then you're right. But I think most pilots would rather be hit by an AA missile in an A-10 than an F-16. Have you seen how resilient those things are? You can land them with one engine missing, one tail missing, and up to 10 feet of wing missing - all at once. One pilot claims to have taken 3 SAM hits and still safely landed his A-10.

        Of course there was an Israeli F15 pilot who landed his plane after losi

        • I think most pilots would prefer to not be shot at all.

          The problem with the A-10 is it's whole philosophy is low and slow. You can't build a flying tank. Sure can put some armour on aircraft, but it's a losing proposition. Armour is heavy, and heavy thing don't fly too well. It's also hard to upgrade the armour of a plane. Case in point is the A-10 which was designed to withstand the Soviets 23mm AA, to which the Soviets responded by upgrading their AA to 30mm.

          This is why every other plane flies high and fa
    • The A-10 [wikipedia.org] isn't quite so old, having been introduced in 1977, but it too is uniquely successful at its job, with no practical replacement in sight.

      Then follows a rant about how the A-10 should be kept in service....

      I'm not going to debate the effectiveness of the A-10 at close air support, it was a great platform and served the guys on the ground well. We all morn it's loss. HOWEVER.... There are good reasons for the A-10's demise..

      Aircraft wear out. Airframes suffer from work hardening as they flex in flight and eventually they will start to fail. The more flexible the airframe, the quicker it wears out. The A-10 is a pretty flexible airframe a

  • "flee and live, or stay and die,"

    I hope they are not doing it the Conquistador's way [wikipedia.org].

  • by fremsley471 ( 792813 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @09:06AM (#51079851)

    Only time I've felt terror from above was glancing up and seen five of these flying in close formation. It turns out their air base was having a long [runway] overhaul and they did a little tour of nearby cities as they departed. Had some evolutionary flashback to being some meerkat-like creature. Also appreciated why civilian jets are called 'wide-bodied'.

  • by Spacelord ( 27899 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @09:07AM (#51079855)

    The thing that makes the B-52 work is that it's a simple bombtruck that can carry an insane amount of ordnance. It's achilles heel though is that it is not survivable in contested skies. It's a big lumbering airplane and if your enemy has a somewhat capable air defense, the B-52 is going to get shot down. This rules out use against countries like Russia and China, or even Iran, at least in first wave strikes. Even relatively simple SA-2 SAMs managed to take out several B-52s in Vietnam.

    Its successors all tried to address the survivability issue. The B-1 did it by adding speed and low level flying to the equation, the B-2 by adding stealth.

    Luckily, most of the US' conflicts since the Vietnam war have been with adversaries that are not technologically advanced, so the B-52 is still highly useful.

    It has this in common with the A-10 by the way, very useful plane in the current context, but not usable against an adversary with an actual air defence system.

    • Not all our adversaries are going to have a capable air defense systems. It is probably worthwhile to develop strategies to attack and degrade enemy air defense systems. So B-52s and A-10s can continue to operate.

      With hindsight it might have been a good idea to create a separate aircraft with the express purpose of enhancing B-52's air defense. With modern high speed communications we could even have a couple of drones designed to follow B-52s in very close formation providing air defense alone, while lea

      • > It is probably worthwhile to develop strategies to attack and degrade enemy air defense systems

        This is the so called Wild Weasel mission. They've been doing that since Vietnam. It's expensive, extremely dangerous, not foolproof and you lose any element of surprise.

        > drones providing air defense

        Escort fighters, drones and dragged decoys have been a thing for decades, but a drone isn't going to stop an incoming S-400, and the S-400 is clever enough not to go for the decoy but for the big juicy B-52 in

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      The thing that makes the B-52 work is that it's a simple bombtruck that can carry an insane amount of ordnance. It's achilles heel though is that it is not survivable in contested skies. It's a big lumbering airplane and if your enemy has a somewhat capable air defense, the B-52 is going to get shot down. This rules out use against countries like Russia and China, or even Iran, at least in first wave strikes. Even relatively simple SA-2 SAMs managed to take out several B-52s in Vietnam.

      Its successors all tried to address the survivability issue. The B-1 did it by adding speed and low level flying to the equation, the B-2 by adding stealth.

      Luckily, most of the US' conflicts since the Vietnam war have been with adversaries that are not technologically advanced, so the B-52 is still highly useful.

      It has this in common with the A-10 by the way, very useful plane in the current context, but not usable against an adversary with an actual air defence system.

      Wasn't the whole point of the US Air fleet during the Cold War that we would have combined fleets on missions? You know, fighters to keep Soviet interceptors at bay and maintain a clear sky allowing bombers to come in and hit their targets, aircraft running Wild Weasel missions to take out anti-air sites and radar, and ground attack aircraft like the A-10 to take out nice big rows of T-72s in one pass. Now, though, the Air Force seems determined to go with one size fits none aircraft like the F-35.

      • Yes, that's what they pretty much had to do out of necessity. Also, a rather high amount of combat attrition was calculated in.

        This multi-tiered approach has distinct disadvantages though:

        It speaks for itself that high attrition is bad. When B-52s were initially used as a nuclear deterrent, they weren't even expected to return if they would ever be used against the Soviet Union. The whole A-10 inventory was expected to be lost after about a week if the Soviets actually attacked through the Fulda gap.

        It's a

    • It certainly doesn't improve the cost per pound of explosives delivered; but B-52s have been adapted for launching cruise missiles if the situation is deemed too scary for closer approach. A lot more expensive than dropping bombs(even guided ones); but presumably cheaper than having each missile capable of B-52 level range.
    • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )

      The problem with this thought process is we don't fly them the way we did in Vietnam. Those were all very low level carpet bombing runs and these days they don't fly them that way as often. We do high altitude runs (often after SOF has disabled key defense systems on the ground) and then send in the grunts.

      They've also massively improved the EW capabilities of the B-52 since then and they most definitely can survive in contested airspace. Hell they were "dodging" SAMs left and right in Iraq in '91. SA-2

      • Yes, but these SAMs are becoming more and more sophisticated. An S-400 can easily reach a B-52's cruising altitude.

        • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )

          Yes, but these SAMs are becoming more and more sophisticated. An S-400 can easily reach a B-52's cruising altitude.

          Yes, they can. How well do they work against EW countermeasures? (I don't know.) I'm just pointing out that even "contested" space is a relative thing and something can be heavily defended without being practically defended against even B-52s. There are really not many countries (that we're likely to go to war with) that have the capabilities you're talking about. That doesn't mean they are unprotected though.

          Is the B-52 the best choice in areas where they do have modern defenses? Probably not as a f

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      I thought the primary defense mechanism of the B-52 was to fly at unusually high altitudes, out of the reach of most SAMs. Was that the case when it was designed, but is not longer true?

      • There's no such thing as "out of reach" for an S-400. It can hit targets as high as 185km. That's 600,000 (six hundred thousand) feet.

        A B-52 has a ceiling of 50,000 feet.

    • The A-10 is a CAS plane, and it was very much designed for use against "an adversary with an actual air defense system" aka the Soviet Union, who had the most extensive air defense system in the world at the time it was designed. There was no need to redesign or replace it, because it was never intended to penetrate that air defense network - it's a front line ground attack plane, not a deep strike bomber. It's certainly expected to take a lot of fire, whether from mobile AAA or from SAMs, but that's partly
      • The A-10 was specifically designed to take out Russian tanks invading Western Europe through the Fulda gap. It's certainly tough, but it's not invincible. At the time, it was projected that the whole A-10 inventory would be lost to combat attrition in about a week if such an attack would actually take place, and this was against a 1970s state of the art air defense, not a modern one.

  • It's true (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @09:15AM (#51079883)

    "...The $2 billion B-2 Spirit, introduced a decade later, had stealth technology so delicate that it could not go into the rain."

    I know someone who works with the B-2 Spirit bombers, and he confirms this. If it's more than a drizzle, they don't fly them (they won't even take them out of the hangar). Thank goodness our enemies would never attack us while it's raining.

    And don't even get me started on the F-35, also known as the "Little Plane That Can't". Can't fly, can't dogfight, can't turn, and can't land. Can't start the engine or takeoff if it's too hot or too cold, can't fly in the rain, can't shoot its gun twice in a row without jamming. As someone in the know once said, "It's like a $148 million garbage disposal for money." And that's the budget model, the Navy version (the F-35C) costs a staggering $337 million each.

    • ""It's like a $148 million garbage disposal for money."

      That's not entirely accurate. It's more like a giant funnel for directing that money to the corporate profits of Lockheed-Martin.

  • Peak Aeroplane (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Catmeat ( 20653 ) <mtm@sys[ ]a.ac.uk ['.ue' in gap]> on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @09:17AM (#51079917)
    The B-52 first flew in 1952,they only built them for 10 years, the youngest now flying dates from 1962. But this is a one-off. A combination of a robust design that's useful for a niche purpose, and the insane cost of a clean sheet, replacement. Note that the Vickers Valient, a similar British strategic nuclear bomber that dated from the same era, only lasted in service until the mid-60's as they were basically falling to pieces. That could easily have been the B-52, had it's designers made some bad decisions.

    It's interesting to compare this with the C-130 which first flew a little later, 1954, and is still being built. The time interval over which they have been building them is longer than the time interval between the Wright Brothers, and the first C-130 flight.

    This gives rise to the interesting thought that in certain niche areas (dropping insanely huge numbers of bombs, landing 10 tons of cargo on a remote dirt airstrip) we have reached "peak aeroplane" and did so decades ago. Essentially, spending a huge wodge of money on a clean sheet design to do those jobs will never result in benefits that justify the cost. Far better just to tweak the designs we have with a few incremental improvements.

    Civil aircraft don't seem to have reached peak as there are still improvements (in running cost) to be made, which justify new designs. "The average amount of energy consumed per mile, per passenger, fell by 74% on domestic flights in America between 1970 and 2010", according to The Economist [economist.com]. But presumably that will also eventually peak out in the future, eventually making brand-new civil designs pointless.

    • There is just not much need for a strategic bomber anymore, thus the old machines are still being used. Same for Russia with their Tu-95 - a quite similar airplane.

    • by Zak3056 ( 69287 )

      Civil aircraft don't seem to have reached peak as there are still improvements (in running cost) to be made, which justify new designs

      I don't know if you're talking about the bizjet fleet or the piston fleet, but if you're talking about the latter, we haven't even begun to scratch the surface Even "advanced designs" are still using 1930s technology thanks to our friends at the FAA.

  • by ausekilis ( 1513635 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @09:18AM (#51079933)
    I was reading about the B-52 some time ago and came across this gem:

    "The B-52 has the power of 8 locomotives, 10 miles of wire, and enough metal to make 10,000 trash cans. That's exactly how it flies, like 8 locomotives pulling 10,000 trash cans with 10 miles of wire."
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @10:23AM (#51080435)

    There is one huge advantage of old technology over new one: Repairs. As any military mechanic will tell you, you're SOL with new technology and no spare parts. You NEED the correct spare for the job, you may be able to salvage one from another plane of exactly the same spec, but even that's not a given. You cannot simply "patch" it. The old joke about beer cans being used to fix leaking fuel lines was originally no joke. You could actually do that. Couldn't for the longest time now, but there were still a few things you could do without necessarily having exactly the right spare parts.

    Not with any modern jet, tank or other vehicle. And I'm not even talking about anything complex like avionics or electronics. Something as simple as a hole in the wrong section of the fuselage without you having the correct part to replace it grounds the plane.

    This is of course not a problem for an army with a logistic that overshadows its actual fighting staff. And bluntly, with the US military I often get the idea that the whole intent is to make it as un-repairable as possible to maximize profits for replacements. Well, you have to somehow, it's not like many of those planes are lost in a battle against an enemy that is essentially unable to put a dent into those birds. But that can be very relevant for an army that actually has to fight without more logistic staff than fighting staff. Being able to repair your weapons with minimal equipment is key to many armies on this planet.

    There's a reason Russian weapons technology is prized. Yes, it's ugly, yes, it's rather low tech, yes it's sometimes unreliable and less accurate under most circumstances. But it works in ANY terrain, ANY climate condition and most of all, can be kept operational with an absolute minimum of repair equipment and skill.

    • by chthon ( 580889 )

      And you know what: that is exactly what one of my teachers (electronics) said already 25 years ago!

  • by dlenmn ( 145080 ) on Tuesday December 08, 2015 @11:15AM (#51080863)

    The B-52 is great at bombing people back into the stone age, so long as the people were not that advanced to begin with (i.e. as long as the people can't really shoot back). This was evident even back in the Vietnam war.

    Want to bomb some insurgents in south Vietnam who don't have surface to air misses or fighter aircraft? No problem.

    Want to bomb north Vietnam, which has some fighters and reasonably good surface to air missiles? Danger!

    For example, look at operation Linebacker II [wikipedia.org], the American bombing campaign that "ended" the Vietnam War. The US used 207 B-52s, which flew 741 sorties during the operation. The North Vietnamize had 14 S-75 missile [wikipedia.org] batteries distributed over their whole country. The S-75 design was about 15 years, so not super high tech even at the time. (The USSR had newer missilea, but they didn't give them to North Vietnam.) These 14 missile batteries shot down 15 B-52s. Granted, that's only a 2% loss rate per sortie, but imagine if North Vietnam had more than 14 missile batteries! Imagine that the missile batteries used modern technology rather than 1950s technology. The B52-s would be mincemeat even with more modern countermeasures. If the B-52 had a 2% loss rate in Iraq or Afghanistan, you would not be seeing the above headline.

    That's the fundamental issue with the B-52. It's not a threat to a modern and competent foe like China or even Russia. Iran just bought [bbc.com] a bunch of modern surface to air missiles (with a ~250 mile range) from Russia, so who knows how B-52s would fare in Iran.

    Short version: The B-52 is great against people who wield AK-47s and drive around in Toyota pickup trucks. It's not clear how useful the B-52 is against a reasonably modern and competent military. I should add, rightly or wrongly, that is the logic for why the air force wants to ditch its A-10s, which fly at lower altitudes than the B-52 and are thus more vulnerable to man-portable surface to air missiles.

    • by dlenmn ( 145080 )

      I should change "distributed over their whole country" to "in the whole country." The missiles were not very well distributed.

    • The B-52 will not be the lead bomber in the case of a conflict with a modern military. There will be a package of Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, right now lead by EF-18G Growlers, F16 configured as Wild Weasels, B2 and B-1B bombers. Once either the temporary or permanent suppression is done, then the B-52's will come in with large bomb/missile loads. The US is very much about integrating forces so that the sum of the attack is greater than the parts.
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Nothing can outrun modern air defense. That's what they figured out when they tried to design the first replacement for the B-52. [wikipedia.org] The SR-71 had a good survival rate because its tactic for handling SAMs was to turn and run. But that's no good for a bombing mission.

      The solution is to use some sort of stand off weapon or missile. The launch platform doesn't have to be particularly fast or stealthy. It just gets close enough, dumps a load of cruise missiles and heads home. The weapons and mission profiles have

  • ...and fly the plane your father flew, they used to say.

    Now, it's "fly the plane your grandfather flew".

    Pretty soon, it'll be great-grandfather.

If you can't understand it, it is intuitively obvious.

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