If there’s one type of military aircraft that gets better with age, it’s the B-52 Stratofortress. A Boeing update turns the already deadly aircraft in an even deadlier one. The update consists of a new weapons bay launcher that change improves the aircraft’s weapons capacity and mission flexibility.
The upgrade modifies an existing common strategic rotary launcher into a conventional rotary launcher, enabling the US Air Force’s B-52s to carry smart weapons in the weapons bay. The bomber has been able to carry guided weapons on its wing pylons for years but adding this capability in the bay increases the quantity and variety of B-52 weapons carriage. The option to fly the aircraft with no visible weapons on its wings, offers crew members greater mission flexibility to adapt to changing conditions on the ground.
“This upgrade allows us to provide better close air support for army personnel on the ground and future increments improve our strategic attack capability, a cornerstone of the B-52. Being able to go and perform long-range strikes on night one of an operation and carrying an additional eight cruise missiles in the bay is huge,” said Capt. Ryan Hefron, B-52 pilot with the US.Air Force 419th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base.
Flying without visible weapons on the wings, known as “clean wing,” provides tactical advantages as well as fuel savings by reducing wind resistance. Mike Houk, Boeing’s B-52 sustainment program manager: “We estimate fuel savings to be 15 percent when the B-52 flies without wing mounted weapons. Clean wing also means that adversaries don’t know what weapons the B-52 is carrying.”
Boeing engineers have created three prototypes for the new launcher, the first of which is now being tested. Close cooperation between Boeing and the U.S. Air Force allowed all three prototypes to be delivered ahead-of-schedule.Military crews will continue field testing the new launcher prototypes at Edwards until March, when flight tests commence.
Featured image (top): A B-52 Stratofortress (‘Buff’) strategic bomber of the United States Air Force (Image © Marcel Burger)