Tag Archives: B-52 Stratofortress

Lightning Strike Tore A Person-Sized Gash In B-52 Bomber Tail

A lightning struck a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing upon final approach to Barksdale Air Force Base: the tail of the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.

On Dec. 19, 2017, B-52 Stratorfortress (60-0051), with the 93rd Bomb Squadron/307th BW AFRC was about to land at Barksdale AFB, La, when the crew heard something that sounded like a thud coming from the outside of the bomber. The aircraft landed safely, but once on the ground the crew discovered that the sound they heard was actually a lightning strike that tore a person-sized gash completely through the tail of the aircraft.

“Close encounters” between civil and military aircraft and lightnings occur every now and then around the globe.

In the 1980s, some F-16 Fighting Falcon jets were lost after being struck by lightinings. In one case, the lightning ignited the vapors in the empty centerline tank, which exploded causing extended damage to the aircraft’s hydraulic system.

Since lightning strikes are quite rare (1 event each year on average) these are seldom a real risk to military or civil aviation.

Furthermore, planes are shielded by a so-called Faraday Cage made by a conducting material, that blocks out external static electrical fields: charges redistribute on the conducting material and don’t affect the cage’s interior.

All commercial and mil planes have to meet several safety lightining-related requirements to get the airworthiness certifications required in the U.S. and Europe. For instance, they must be able to withstand a lightning strike without suffering significant airframe damage, without any possibility of accidental fuel ignition in the tanks and preserving the avionics and systems failures induced by the electromagnetic field created by the electrical charges of the lightning.

The old tail from aircraft 60-0051, a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing, bears a gaping hole from lightning damage incurred at the end of a routine training mission. The tail could not be repaired and had to be replaced. Changing an entire tail on the B-52 is an uncommon and difficult task, but maintainers from the 307th Maintenance Squadron were able to accomplish the feat in about 10 hours of work time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle/released)

After assessing the damage, it was determined that the tail was damaged beyond repair and would have to be replaced: a large-scale, and uncommon, repair.

The B-52 is equipped with a lightning arrester designed to mitigate damage from lightning strikes, but this one was too strong even for the jet’s safeguards. “We see a handful of strikes every year, but out of all the maintainers we have, no one had seen lightning damage that bad,” said Lt. Col. George P. Cole, III, 307th Maintenance Squadron commander in a public release.

“I’ve been with the unit for fifteen years and this is the first time we have had to change a tail,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Nelson, 307th MXS flight maintenance superintendent. “We only had one other maintainer on our team that has ever changed one.”

According to the U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Eric Allison, 307th MXS B-52 aircraft mechanic, was the only maintainer on the eight person team with experience replacing a tail prior to the lighting strike. “It’s challenging because you have to position the tail just right and it is a two-thousand pound piece of metal,” he said. “It is like lining up the hinges when replacing a door,” said Tech. Sgt. David Emberton, 307th MXS B-52 aircraft mechanic. “You have to line it up correctly and the whole time it is twisting and flexing.”

Another possible obstacle was finding a replacement but instead of ordering it from the 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group), the maintainers from the 307th Maintenance Squadron found that one tail was available from a retired jet.

“Having that tail on hand saved us a great deal of time because ordering it from AMARG would have taken months,” Nelson said.

So, the 307th MXS completed the works and made the B-52 available for flight operations in just a couple of weeks. Sporting a different tail reclaimed from another decommissioned B-52, still able to take to air again.

By the way, the Stratofortress has already proved it can fly with damages to the tail: actually, even with a detached vertical stabilizer, as happened 54 years ago, when a B-52H involved in a test flight lost its tail at about 14,000 feet over New Mexico. Six hours later, the civilian test pilot Chuck Fisher and his three-man crew managed to perform the first and only Stratofortress‘s tailless landing.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


Take A Seat In the Cockpit Of A U.S. B-52 Bomber As It Drops GBU-31 “Bunker Buster” Bombs On ISIS Targets In Mosul

Rare Insight Into The Operations Of The B-52s.

The venerable U.S. Air Force B-52 Buffs have been supporting the air war on ISIS since April 2016. They Stratofortress strategic bombers, based at Al Udeid, Qatar, launched their first air strike against a Daesh weapons storage facility in Iraq on Apr. 18, 2016.

As already highlighted in a previous article, the USAF B-52s have mainly flown Close Air Support and Air Interdiction mainly delivering two types of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions): the 500-lb laser-guided GBU-54s and the 2,000-lb GPS-guided GBU-31V3 “bunker busters” loaded onto the Heavy Stores Adaptor Beam pylons.

The typical loadout includes 3x GBU-31s and 8x GBU-54s along with PGMs carried inside the bomb bay of the B-52H Stratofortress. With the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade the Buffs can carry up to 16 external laser JDAMs (8 per pylon) as well as 8 internal J-series weapons mounted on a conventional rotary launcher: a mix of PGMs that gives the Buffs the ability to deliver attack both stationary and moving ground targets. In particular, the GBU-54s, that combines 500-lb Mk-82 warhead and the precision strike capability delivered by its dual Laser/GPS mode guidance system can be used against targets with reduced collateral damage.

For hardened targets or concrete shelters, the weapons of choice is the GBU-31s.The JDAM is a GPS aided inertially guided bomb. The Guidance and Control Unit (GCU) containing a HG1700 RLG, GEM-III GPS receiver and computer package is installed inside the bomb tailkit. The GCU is used on the bunker busting 2,000-lb class BLU-109/B forged steel penetrator warhead.

The GBU-31s are assembled at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, by airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron’s Munitions Flight. Considered that the base

The following video provides a really interesting point of view: it shows a high-altitude attack on a target in western Mosul (according to @obretix), as seen from the cockpit of a B-52 of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron on May 23, 2017. The detonation of the bombs as they hit the ground appears to be pretty huge.

H/T @obretix for the heads-up


Things heat up near South China Sea: two U.S. aircraft carriers, B-52s and EA-18G Growler detachment

The U.S. build-up in the disputed waters of South China Sea continues with bombers, carriers and Electronic Attack planes.

Some interesting photographs have been arriving from the troubled waters of Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

The most recent ones, released on Jun. 18, show the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) carrier strike groups (CSG 3 and CSG 5) crusing close each other during dual carrier flight operations in the Philippine Sea.

Such operations included air combat training, long-range strike training, air defense drills as well as sea surveillance.

The CSG 3, that started operations in the Western Pacific on Feb. 4, consists of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) and guided-missile destroyers of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 21, USS Stockdale (DDG 106), USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) and USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), and the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9.

CSG 5, begun its summer patrol of the Indo-Asia Pacific, on Jun. 4, and consists of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), guided-missile cruisers USS Shiloh (CG 67) and USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and guided-missile destroyers from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USS McCampbell (DDG 85), USS Benfold (DDG 65); the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan and routinely, patrols the Western Pacific.

According to the U.S. Navy, the CSGs (Carrier Strike Groups) began coordinated operations in international waters to demonstrate “the United States unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups in close proximity.”

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers regularly conduct dual carrier strike group operations in the Western Pacific and sometimes also in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Philippine Sea: this occurs when carriers deployed to the 7th Fleet area of operations from the U.S. West Coast are joined with the forward deployed carrier strike group from Japan. When it happens a force of 12,000 sailors, 140 aircraft, six combatants and two carriers operates in the same sea: an impressive “show of force.”

Two carriers in South China Sea

Previously, in Sept. 2012, USS George Washington (CVN 73) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) strike groups conducted combined operation in the South China Sea and East China Sea. In 2001, USS Constellation (CV 64) and Carl Vinson operated together in the South China Sea.

A few days before the two carriers started combined operations, a joint service bombing exercise at the targeting island Farallon de Medinilla, an uninhabited small island in the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean located 45 nautical miles north of Saipan, saw two U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers launched from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, fly over USS Spruance (DDG 111) in a maritime attack training sortie.

Along with the two carrier strike groups and the B-52 providing extended deterrence, Washington has also deployed to the Philippines the first temporary detachment of Navy EA-18G Growlers.

The electronic attack aircraft have arrived at Clark Air Base, on Jun. 15. Even though they are officially there to train with the local FA-50, the detachment, made of 4 aircraft and 120 personnel with the Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 138, “will support routine operations that enhance regional maritime domain awareness and assure access to the air and maritime domains in accordance with international law.”

Therefore, the strategical deployment brought not far from the disputed waters in the South China Sea some cutting-edge aircraft capable to perform electronic escort missions on both U.S. ships and spyplanes that are frequently shadowed by Chinese spyplanes or intelligence gathering ships. Furthermore, the Growlers could jam, if needed, the Chinese radars on the Spratly, Paracel, Pratas and the rest of the islands, including those that have been artificially created, decreasing Beijing ability to establish an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) similar to that in the East China Sea and to support its warplanes in the area.

The presence of (some more…) EA-18Gs could theoretically limit the operations of the Chinese Air Force (PLAAF) and Navy (PLANAF) that, according to “Flashpoint China: Chinese air power and regional security” published by Harpia Publishing and written by Andreas Rupprecht, one of the most authoritative sources on Chinese Air Power, “are able to ensure virtually continuos, round-the-clock aerial coverage and combat air patrols over the area during a crisis or a conflict.”

In particular, the PLANAF is pretty active in the area with a regiment each of H-6 bombers and JH-7 fighter-bombers and no fewer than three regiments of J-11 interceptors covering the South China Sea . “The availability of long-range J-11s and aerial refueling assets implies that much of the SCS [South China Sea] is now de-facto Chinese airspace,” says Rupprecht.

It’s not a coincidence that a recent close encounter in the area involved few weeks ago two Chinese J-11 tactical aircraft that carried out an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft on a routine mission in international airspace over the South China Sea.

VAQ-138 Clark AFB refuel

The Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 138 is an expeditionary squadron based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, that has previously taken part in deployments across the region. The Growler detachment comes after a first temporary Air Contingent made of five A-10C Thunderbolt aircraft, three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and approximately 200 personnel deployed from multiple Pacific Air Forces units that took part in exercise Balikatan and completed their final mission on April 28, 2016.

Image credit: U.S. Navy


While B-2s deploy to the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. is considering moving B-1 bombers to Australian soil

U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific theatre grows.

On Mar. 10, the U.S. announced the deployment of three Air Force B-2 stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing, from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to the Asia-Pacific region amid growing tensions with North Korea.

Although the U.S. Air Force has not disclosed where the aircraft will be based, it is quite likely that the aircraft will operate out of Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam, strategically located in the Pacific, that has already hosted U.S. bombers involved in extended deterrence missions in the region.

On the previous day, Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force, told to Reuters that the U.S. could deploy long-range bombers to Australia as concerns over China’s military expansion in the Asia-Pacific area continue to grow.

In fact, as reported by FoxNews.com, high-level discussions are in progress to deploy B-1 bombers in northern Australia and to expand B-52 bomber missions in the region, even if details such as the duration of the rotations and the number of personnel involved are still being hammered out.

Pickart added that these deployments would not only provide training opportunities for U.S. airmen but they would also deliver Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Pacific Command leaders “a credible global strike and deterrence capability to help maintain peace and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”

The talks about the chance to rotate bombers through northern Australia come in the wake of a freedom of navigation exercise conducted by the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and its Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in the South China Sea, where China is militarizing the region to guard its excessive territorial claims.

However an agreement between the two nations about bomber rotations in Australia would put USAF B-1B Lancers within striking distance of the South China Sea, most likely a move that would add more pressure on China, as already highlighted by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei “Cooperation among relevant countries should protect regional peace and stability, and not target the interests of third parties.”

Noteworthy while the U.S. Air Force conducts B-52 missions from Australia periodically, doesn’t fly any B-1s from there.

Moreover, as we have explained, this is not the first time that U.S. take in consideration the chance to base the Lancers on the Australian continent, but any previous rumour about this possibility never turned into the real thing.

Nevertheless an eventual deployment of the B-1B in Australia could finally bring back the Lancer in the Pacific Region.

In fact, unlike the B-52 and the B-2, the B-1B has been taken out from the Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) rotation at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base because it can’t carry any kind of nuclear weapon.

On the contrary giving its conventional bombing role the Bone has been heavy tasked in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

B-1B Australian soil

Image credit: Senior Airman Kate Maure and Airman 1st Class Peter Thompson / U.S. Air Force



U.S. Air Force B-52s take part in French-led CAS exercise “Serpentex” for the first time

U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers deployed to Moron Air Base have joined French Air Force fighters in CAS exercise

Taken on Mar. 1, 2016 the photo in this post shows a French Air Force Mirage 2000 performing a friendly intercept of a U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress belonging to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana in the skies over Northern France.

This aircraft, which is one of the three BUFFs deployed to Moron Air Base, Spain, in the last days, was intercepted during its flight to Norway for NATO exercise Cold Response 16.

Currently these B-52s are participating in close air support (CAS) exercise Serpentex 16 hosted by France in the Mediterranean Sea.

Kicked off on Mar. 7, Serpentex is an annual exercise that involves joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) from many partner countries.

The JTACs operate on the French Island of Corsica and work together to practice identifying targets and using that data to call in air strikes from nearby French and American aircraft.

Serpentex differs from other joint military exercises held in the region because it focuses on close air support only: in fact, during the drilsl, the B-52s joined with French fighters to support JTACs from several NATO nations, as well as those from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who are also participating this year.

The presence of the B-52, which is taking part in exercise Serpentex for the very first time, represents a great training opportunity for the JTACs. “Most of them haven’t worked with bombers for these types of missions before. We have a longer duration and a lot wider turn radius than some of the fighters, so they’re going to have to find a new pacing for calling us in for close air support. But I promise that bomber CAS is worth the wait” Maj. Sarah Fortin, the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron assistant director of operations, said in a USAF release.

Noteworthy, whilst CAS role has traditionally been filled by various fighter platforms, the BUFF is well-suited for the mission since is able to loiter for extended periods and carrying a wider range of munitions than any other aircraft in the U.S. inventory.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force