Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command

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

 

U.S. B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers from Whiteman AFB conduct precision airstrike in Libya. Drones perform scene “cleanup”

Two B-2 stealth bombers performed a round-trip mission from CONUS (Continental US) to perform airstrikes on Daesh training camps in Libya. Drones “cleaned-up” the operation firing Hellfires at fighters trying to run to safety.

Two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base carried out a precision air strike in Libya on Jan. 18, 2017.

According to the information released by the U.S. DoD, the raid was conducted in conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, to wipe out four Daesh camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte.

The Spirit dropped 108 precision-guided bombs on the ISIS training camps: along with the Hellfires fired by U.S. drones (most probably MQ-9 Reapers or MQ-1 Predators often reported flying over northern Africa) immediately thereafter to “clean up” the operation, the air strike killed an estimated 85 terrorists according to Fox News who spoke with U.S. defense officials.

This is not the first time the B-2s conduct a Global Strike mission around the globe to attack ground targets in Libya: in March 2011, as happened during Operation Allied Force in 1999, the stealth bombers launched from Whiteman AFB, Missouri and with the support of many tankers along the route dropped 40 conventional bombs on the aircraft shelters at Ghardabiya airbase where no less of 7 LARAF units equipped with Mig-21s, Su-22s, Su-24s, J-21s, Mi-8s and Mi-24s were based.

A B-2 spirit stealth bomber from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base takes off in support of operations In conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the U.S. military conducted precision airstrikes Jan. 18, 2017 destroying four Daesh camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jovan Banks)

Last December a U.S. Air Force B-52 tested the AGM-86B nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile over Utah

The AGM-86B nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile was tested by the Air Force Global Strike Command’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Air Combat Command’s 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron recently.

The U.S. Air Force tested the ability of its strategic bomber force to configure, load, fly and deliver an unarmed version of the AGM-86B nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile.

The AGM-86B is a standoff weapon designed to be launched from outside of a combat area, allowing aircrews to accurately strike distant targets without exposing themselves to enemy fire.

Powered by a turbofan jet engine that propels it at sustained subsonic speeds, the relatively small missile deploys wings, tail surfaces and engine inlet after launch.

It’s able to fly complicated routes to a target through use of a terrain contour-matching guidance system. The AGM-86C/D CALCM (Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles), that carries a conventional blast/fragmentation payload instead of nuclear payload, uses an onboard Global Positioning System coupled with its INS (inertial navigation system) to fly.

B-52H bombers carry six AGM-86B/C/D missiles on each of two externally mounted pylons and eight internally on a rotary launcher, giving the B-52H a maximum capacity of 20 missiles per aircraft.

AGM-86B launched by a B-52H (U.S. Air Force file photo)

As part of the Nuclear Weapon Systems Evaluation Program, or NucWSEP, “a stockpile-to-target evaluation of a nuclear weapon system designed to provide U.S. Strategic Command valuable data used in deciding stockpile requirements and for operational planning” the U.S. Air Force launched the long-range standoff weapon from a B-52 bomber.

To make it simple, in order to validate that the U.S. deterrence force is safe, secure and reliable round-the-clock, the Air Force Global Strike Command conducts periodic evaluations where 49th TES (Test and Evaluation Squadron) personnel and front-line unit perform an end-to-end assessment of the bomber force weapon delivery capabilities.

The process to conduct such a weapons test takes months

“After the 2nd BW was selected to perform the NucWSEP, 2nd Munitions Squadron Airmen got to work. A primary and back-up missile were randomly selected from the stockpile and checked to ensure that all test requirements were up-to-date,” , says an Air Force release.

“Once the missiles had been validated, they were loaded onto a Common Strategic Rotary Launcher and prepared for the mission. The 49th TES then installed instrumentation equipment into both the primary and secondary missiles.”

“After all the items were installed and the tests completed, the launchers were loaded onto two B-52 Stratofortresses by a certified weapons load team. After takeoff, the aircrew flew the B-52 to the Utah Test and Training Range and launched the weapon, striking the target.”

So, along with contributing to drug-interdiction operations acting as NTISR (Non-Traditional Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platforms, the Buffs still undertake strike training sorties to ensure deterrence.