Take a seat next to the B-52 heavy bomber’s Radar Navigator

Dec 24 2012 - Leave a Comment

The following video brings you on board a U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress during a mission from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.

Anything related to the most iconic U.S. bomber is interesting. Still, I believe this video is worth a special mention because, unlike the majority of the other ones you can find online, it gives you the exclusive opportunity to take a quick look at the Radar Navigator and Navigator stations located on the lower deck.

The Radar Navigator is the B-52 crew member whose role is to identify targets and design the attack using cruise missiles, GPS guided weapons, unguided munitions, mines and so on, to achieve a specific level of target damage.

This officer manages targeting pods and weapons by means of the Offensive Avionics System that the video briefly shows at work.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

The video reminded me of an interesting and quite detailed article about B-52′s Radar Navigators published few months ago on the Barksdale AFB webpage:

It takes a whole crew to complete a B-52H Stratofortress mission with precision.

One of these crew members, the radar navigator, contributes to the mission by identifying targets and making sure the weapons hit their target.

“First and foremost, it’s my job to get bombs on-target, on-time,” said Capt. Nate Barnhart, 20th Bomb Squadron radar navigator instructor.

Depending on mission requirements, the radar navigator identifies a target and determines whether the aircraft should execute a bomb run or if the targeting pod would be needed in a close-air-support environment.

“The radar navigator has endless duties that pilots and crew rely on in order to achieve the mission,” said Maj. Aaron Tillman, a B-52H aircraft commander with the 20 BS. “The radar navigator is primarily responsible for the mission planning and weaponeering of numerous cruise missiles, GPS guided weapons, unguided munitions, mines and more.”

The B-52H’s payload flexibility means the radar navigator’s inputs are crucial, Tillman said.

“As the aircraft commander, I must rely on the information the radar navigator gives me,” he said. “I rely on the radar navigator to select the right weapons, against the right target, to impact and detonate in or around a target in a very precise way in order to meet our objectives.”

The Radar Navigator’s uses a complicated navigation system known as the Offensive Avionics System, which includes four screens he or she is constantly cross-checking.

“The radar has a multitude of uses,” Barnhart said. “From takeoff and throughout the mission, it’s used to evaluate our position from a fixed point, such as a bridge or significant terrain feature. Additionally, we are able to use it to scan for weather or to find a tanker during aerial refueling.”

Before a standard training sortie, the aircrew receives an intel scenario and formulates a tactical game plan to strike the target in accordance with the commander’s intent and the acceptable level of risk, Barnhart said.

“Once the tactical planning is complete, the crew will table fly,” he said.

During this table flight, the crew discusses their flight route and the various factors or parameters they need to meet in order to defeat the threats and get weapons on target.

“Thorough mission planning is the key to success in the aircraft,” Barnhart said.

The long trip to the planning table begins with undergraduate navigator training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., or Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

“It was a year long and was quite demanding,” Barnhart said, who graduated from the 562nd Flying Training Squadron at Randolph in July of 2005. “The course covers general navigation and Airmanship that can be useful across all Air Force platforms.”

When a class graduates, the new navigators are given a list of planes and assignments they can choose from, said Barnhart.

“Each class is racked and stacked with the top student getting his or her choice from the available list,” Barnhart said. “From there it is up to class ranking for who gets what assignment.”

When looking for a radar navigator, Tillman looks for someone who works well under pressure and has a desire to learn. A radar navigator must be detail oriented, thorough, and good at problem solving.

“He or she must be assertive, a strong team member and enthusiastic,” he said. “The crew most definitely cannot do our mission without the radar navigator.”

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