100 years flying: Meet the US Air Force’s plans for the B-52J

Between 2011 and 2016 it cost the Air Force around $1.2 billion annually to operate 76 B-52s

The U.S. Air Force could get a new version of the iconic B-52 bomber. The “B-52J” designation might supersede the current “B-52H” moniker that the flying branch has applied to the eight-engine bombers since they entered service in the early 1960s.

Air Force magazine reporter John Tirpak has the story.

“The Air Force is likely to redesignate the B-52H as the B-52J once it receives a slew of modifications adding up to a ‘major modification,’” Tirpak wrote, quoting Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s program executive officer for fighters and bombers.

The B-52 is slated to receive new engines beginning in about 10 years, and “that probably would be enough” to warrant a letter change, but the venerable bomber will also be getting new digital systems, communications, new weapons and a new radar, as well as a variety of other improvements.

Collins also said that Air Combat Command is considering the possibility of reducing the number of aircrew on the B-52, now that certain functions requiring weapon systems officers can operate autonomously. No decision has been made in that regard, Collins said.

Air Force magazine in its January 2019 issue took a deep dive into the re-engining effort.

“If Air Force plans hold up, the B-52 will be approaching nearly a century of service by 2050,” Tirpak wrote in that issue. “To keep the airplane flying, the service plans to equip each B-52 with new engines, which are expected to be so much more maintainer-friendly and efficient that they’ll pay for themselves in just 10 years.”

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