The potential 100 year life of the B-52 bomber and the history of attempted replacements

The B-52 is an Air Force plane that refuses to die. Originally slated for retirement generations ago, it 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.

Air Force commanders are now urging the Pentagon to deploy B-52s in Syria.

76 B-52s still make up the bulk of the United States’ long-range bomber fleet, and they are not retiring anytime soon. The next potential replacement — the Long Range Strike Bomber, which has yet to be designed — is decades away, so the B-52 is expected to keep flying until at least 2040. By then, taking one into combat will be the equivalent of flying a World War I biplane during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Air Force to churn out more than 740 of the swept-wing B52 bombers at a then-unprecedented cost of around $8 million each. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber. The B-52 was designed and built by Boeing, which has continued to provide support and upgrades. It has been operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) since the 1950s. The bomber is capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons. The first flew in 1952 and the last was built in 1962.

The -B52’s rugged design has allowed it to go nearly anywhere and drop nearly anything the Pentagon desires, including both atomic bombs and leaflets.

Underwhelming jets have been put forth to take the place of the B-52.

Even as the B52 bombers were being assembled, defense officials were planning their replacement, but each plan was undone by its own complexity. First was a nuclear-powered bomber able to stay aloft for weeks (too radioactive),

The Convair X-6 was a proposed experimental aircraft project to develop and evaluate a nuclear-powered jet aircraft. The project was to use a Convair B-36 bomber as a testbed aircraft, and though one NB-36H was modified during the early stages of the project, the program was canceled before the actual X-6 and its nuclear reactor engines were completed. The X-6 was part of a larger series of programs, costing US$7 billion in all, that ran from 1946 through 1961.

An air-to-air view of the Convair NB-36H Peacemaker experimental aircraft (s/n 51-5712) and a Boeing B-50 Superfortress chase plane during research and development taking place at the Convair plant at Forth Worth, Texas (USA).

Project Pluto was a United States government program to develop nuclear powered ramjet engines for use in cruise missiles. Project Pluto was in the 1960s.

then the supersonic B-58 with dartlike wings (kept crashing), and


then the even faster B-70 (spewed highly toxic exhaust).


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, with its delicate radar-evading coating, had to be stored in a climate-controlled hangar to be effective, and its sensors at first could not tell a storm cloud from a mountain. It soon became known as the $2 billion bomber that cannot go out in the rain.

The Air Force is trying to change the image of the B-52 from indiscriminate carpet bomber to precision weapon. Laser-targeting pods attached to the wing of many of the bombers in recent years allow them to drop guided “smart” bombs.

The Long Range Bomber Program

The Pentagon awarded the most fiercely-fought weapons contest in more than a decade to Northrop Grumman Corp., a $21.4 billion initial deal to build new long-range bombers for the U.S. Air Force.

Northrop Grumman was selected over a Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. team to build the first 21 jets to replace aging B-52 and B-1 war planes. The contract eventually could be worth $80 billion and provide 100 planes total. The first aircraft are due to enter service around 2025.

The new radar-evading bomber is designed to fly undetected over potential adversaries such as Russia or China that have upgraded their air defenses. The plane is capable of firing conventional and nuclear weapons, becoming the third leg of the nuclear triad alongside submarine and land-based ballistic missiles

Pentagon officials in recent weeks have provided a few details on what the Air Force has called one of its top three priorities, alongside the Lockheed-built F-35 fighter and Boeing-built KC-46A refueling tanker.

The contract is broken up into two parts — the cost-plus incentive fee development contract awarded today, and a separate agreement on the first five low-rate initial production lots that will be fixed-price incentive fee. Those first five lots will cover the production of 21 bombers.

The service requested that two independent government cost estimators look at the program. The two groups projected that each bomber will cost $511 million in 2010 dollars on average if 100 planes are built, Air Force officials told reporters on Tuesday — substantially less than the original $550 million target cost set by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. This translates to $564 million per plane in fiscal year 2016 dollars.

LRS-B’s projected unit cost is higher compared to the B-1, but significantly lower relative to the $1.5 billion price tag of Northrop’s B-2, according to an Air Force handout. The expected development cost overall for LRS-B is also lower than for the B-2, at $23.5 billion.

SOURCES- Wall Street Journal, Defense News, wikipedia, NY Times