AFLCMC Keeps 'Em Flying

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- America's oldest, most lethal, and versatile bomber, the B-52 Stratofortress recently began combat operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, marking another engagement in a long line of conflicts for an aircraft that has been flying since before the Vietnam War.

The challenge for the Air Force has been keeping the more than 50 year old fleet in the air.

The men and women of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Fighters and Bombers Directorate headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base play a significant role in keeping the B-52 operational and ready to face the threats of today and tomorrow.

From the beginning, professionals here have been involved in the life cycle management of the B-52.

"We really enjoy working with this aircraft," said Tom Brown, a program manager with the B-1 & B-52 Division. "It's a beast with such a great history and its impact on campaigns around the world is incredible."

According to Boeing historical records, on Oct. 21, 1948 a team from Boeing met with Air Force acquisition officials in a Dayton hotel to discuss the design of a new bomber. The Air Force team told Boeing to scrap the propellers on the original design and develop an all-jet bomber. Over the next couple of days in a room of the hotel Boeing designed what became the B-52.

Since its first flight in 1952, the B-52 Stratofortress has been a mainstay of the United States Air Force. Of the 744 built through nine different versions, only 76 B-52Hs remain in service.  The B-52 served our nation well as a deterrent during the Cold War and in 1965 B-52's joined the fight in Vietnam. It has since participated in Desert Storm, Desert Strike, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and now Inherent Resolve.

Experts from the Fighters and Bombers Directorate's B-1 & B-52 Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Tinker Air Force Base continue the long tradition of supporting and sustaining the aircraft. The team works closely with Air Force Global Strike Command to determine the needs of the B-52.

"The entire B-52 team is looking into the future - what enhancements can we make to the aircraft and what are the needs, whether it's communications, weapons or structural," said Brown.

Working in partnership with craftsmen, engineers and other experts from the Air Force Sustainment Center located at Tinker AFB, the division ensures the structural integrity of the fleet by putting each aircraft through an extensive inspection process known as program depot maintenance - in which the aircraft are inspected for damage and repaired. In addition, the division's Aircraft Structural Integrity Program monitors flight profiles and inspects approximately 100 areas of concern on the aircraft regarding corrosion and fatigue. 

Not only does the division provide a variety of technical expertise during the PDM process, but it works with the Air Force supply chain and DLA to ensure that the sustainment team has all of the parts and hardware they need to do their job.

These efforts are crucial to maintaining the bombers ability to stay in the air. 

In addition to coordinating mechanical repairs, the division provides expertise whenever there is political, operational or strategic interest in the B-52 fleet.

One of the challenges to maintaining B-52's is that many of its parts are no longer made and there's no company with a ready supply of spares. So when a part has to be replaced, the division's first option is the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson, Arizona which manages the aircraft storage facility commonly referred to as the "Boneyard."

"Working to sustain the B-52 is an awesome challenge," said Brenden Shaw, chief of the Logistics Branch of the B-52 Division. "The Logistics Branch is the warfighter's 'hot button' for action. We think of ourselves as the integrators to enterprise.  "In an effort to increase the communication and education, we host a monthly review with our enterprise stakeholders. This helps to prioritize and leverage sustainment options for tenacious parts issues."  

Keeping the B-52 in the air and relevant not only involves maintaining its physical structure but updating its technology.

Brown's team has led various projects to upgrade and modernize the B-52, including the Radar Modernization Program, Link 16 and the Extremely High Frequency Communications Program. He said that the upgrades the division has spearheaded are crucial to the success and continued relevance of the aircraft.

"Upgrading the radar will give aircrews' greater situational awareness and allow them enhanced capabilities with navigation and targeting," Brown said. "Together with Link 16 comm upgrade and EHF, communications will be faster and much more reliable as well as allow for the communications between multiple platforms on the ground, air and space."

Link 16 and EHF will improve communications by making it faster, more reliable as well as allow for the communication between multiple platforms on the ground, air and space.

Renee Sauerland also a program manager with the B-1 & B-52 Division, leading the Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) program, said that one of the challenges of working with the B-52 is integrating older technology and structures with new technology and bringing the aircraft's capabilities into the 21st century.

"We are continually assessing current capabilities to ensure we enable the warfighter with the best tools to execute their mission," said Sauerland. "I'm proud of the work our geo-agnostic team has accomplished in providing CONECT's multifunction, critical capability."