Back to Squawk list
  • 28

What makes the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress so long-lasting?

When Michael Riggs started work on the Boeing B-52 programme almost 20 years ago, the newly-hired engineering graduate expected Boeing would soon move him off the Stratofortress programme. “I thought it was going to be kind of a short stint, because it was an old aircraft. I thought it was an old aircraft because my dad flew it in Vietnam. So I thought, ‘Hey, I'll spend a little time on here and I'm going to need to look for another platform to be working on’,” he says. ( 更多...

Sort type: [Top] [Newest]

Robert Cowling 26
It was designed with slide rules, and calculations written by pen on paper. They were then in effect over designed. Just like all other airframes of that time, and earlier.


Computers decide what can be made weaker to save weight, save strength, and I'm sure to save money.

What makes a B-52 long lasting? Engineers trying to figure out how much it *could* carry, not how much it *should*.

THAT, I see it, is the problem with the 'New Boeing'. Why 'waste' money on engineering, when a computer can tell them what to do. Why 'waste' money on beefing up the substructure of the plane, when a computer tells them it's 'good enough'. Why have redundant systems when management tells you the computer tells them it's all okay. Why waste money on an educated workforce, when the chances the computer is wrong has been accounted for in the bean counters Monty Carlo Risk Assessment computer program to protect their jobs, management's, and investor returns. Why indeed...
Torsten Hoff 14
All very true.

But... today’s aircraft can’t be designed with sliderules and pen and paper calculations. In fact, no ordinary computer is capable of much of the simulation that is needed, and supercomputers are used for that.

What’s really needed is an approach that combines the technology of today with the pragmatism and common sense of the past. I’m sure I don’t need to cite recent examples where this was not the case and resulted in tragic consequences.
jbermo 6
All perhaps due to American companies run by businessmen bean counters. . . . For example, take the auto industry - American manufacturers take the profits of a successful car and issue stock dividends. . . when in Japan, they plow their profits back into improving the successful car.
SmittySmithsonite 2
Cars are worse than ever today. Difficult to work on (which = higher labor costs for consumers), and built with expensive yet cheaply engineered, failure-prone parts. These days you're lucky to have an engine last much over 100k miles. Meanwhile my '86 Grand Marquis has 274k on the original driveline with no signs of slowing down yet. My '07 Silverado is on its 7th brake job, 3rd set of hub bearings, an entire suspension replacement, a new rear differential, and a new transmission at 104k miles. Most of that stuff failed just out of the 3 year / 36k warranty. Most expensive vehicle I've ever bought in my life, yet broke down and cost more than any other I've ever owned.
WhiteKnight77 1
I saw that as a motor vehicle mechanic. Who thinks it is a good idea to take the starter from the bottom of the engine and put it in the valley between cylinder heads and under the intake manifold (Notrhstar V8)? As far as my truck, a '14 Silvetrado, at 77,000+ miles, I finished replacing the original 50,000 mile tires and still had a couple of thousand more miles on them. The only real issue I have had with it is the air conditioning, but 2-60 helps that. ;) I still have at least 10,000 more miles left on the front brakes.
SmittySmithsonite 3
Same is true in the auto industry today. They mask their massive cheapout scheme with big power, nice handling, an a smooth ride. What we mechanics see on a daily basis you wouldn't believe ...
Dave Mathes 2
...Well said Robert...
Steve Cutchen -1
So if a person used a slide rule, pen and paper to come to the same design you'd be good with it.
Michael Stansfield 9
It is the concept of "build it strong enough, then double it".
Tom Bruce 4
yep..that's what they were..are
Phillip Rakestraw 6
I was a B-52D Crew Chief from 1975-79. I have to stop and go look at the "Tall Tails" on static display whenever I see one. Great planes, will outlast their replacements.It's not that it's just a great design, it's the care and preventive maintenance the Air Force puts in to keeping them mission ready. Then there's the constant weapons package upgrades.
W B johnson 5
I remember as a young grade schooler eating in the employee cafeteria At McConnell AFB with my dad and my uncle who was a draftsman for Boeing, and looking out the windows at rows and rows of B-47's and a some of the "new" B-52's. I think that was one of the main factors that stimulated my interest in aviation. Been flying for 56 years now and still going strong, but never thought the BUFF would outlast me.
jbermo 5
I was born with the B-52, and I hope that I will live long enough to die with it.
Bill Bunke 2
One of my favorite childhood movies - "Bombers B-52"(1957), says it all for me.
James Patterson 5
Big Ugly Fat... Fella? Methinks it's really another word that begins with F lol
Neil Klapthor 6
"Fella" was used in, uh, polite company. We crewdogs generally used the other "F" word. :)
sparkie624 5
In this case... Fat is Beautiful!
D Chambers 4
Cool: The wings droop so much that there is a wheel out at the end of each wing. Sorry if I bored anyone.
Neil Klapthor 6
There's about a 30 degree arc of flex in the wings. As the BUFF is on takeoff down the runway, the wings will lift up to the max arc and then the plane will lift off. So the wings sort of start "flying" before the aircraft does.
Tom Bruce 7
flying over Laos 1968... we'd be advised to move our orbit west... then the Buffs would fly in.. 3 then 3...then 3 more... the jungle would blow up... always wondered if they hit much... we were listening for truck activity..and, after the raid... traffic would pick up again
matt jensen 4
just more catfish holes
Bill Bunke 1
One of my favorite childhood movies - "Bombers B-52", says it all for me.
sparkie624 2
Great Movie! Always loved that one.
Bill Bunke 0
Michael Mathers 3
There certainly have been metal fatigue problems. In 1986 or 87 I visited Boeing-Wichita to teach a course on design with composite materials. One of the projects was using boron/epoxy patches to repair cracks in the wings. It stands out in my memory because B/Ep was so seldom used. Wish I could remember why they chose that material system.
Mike Connelly 3
I wonder how they monitor and address metal fatigue? I know the article noted that the airframes were over designed because they were engineered in the slide rule era. Even so, the H-models are turning 59-years old. It would seem these aircraft would have experienced a lot of flight cycles in 59-years? And, even in the 1950’s too much over design was probably avoided because, in general, it adds weight. Weight quickly works against aircraft performance.

However, there might be an analogy that is applicable here from another industry? Railroad bridges! It turns out when designing bridges folks worry about axle loads and speed. The faster the speed, the more the impact loading, and hence induced metal fatigue. But many railroad bridges were designed maybe a 100-years ago or more when freight trains (nobody worries about passenger trains when designing bridges) were doing 25MPH hauling 50-ton freight cars. Now, in some corridors unit coal moves at maybe 50MPH hauling 157-ton cars so what gives? The bridges in the past were well overdesigned. Now, folks keep a close watch on the bridges they have but, having faster trains with heaver cars did not require rebuilding the railroad. Over design helped them out.

However, when they originally designed and built railroad bridges, they were not flying them!
Ro Gal 2
Having worked on various joint service programs over my career, I met an old timer who led the contractual negotiations for the government with Boeing. He said the entire initial acquisition contract for the B-52 aircraft program fit into ONE 3 inch binder. Today, that size would only cover a moderate upgrade to an aircraft!
sparkie624 1
I am sure... and that is probably an Understatement!
skylab72 1
Right truck for the right trucking company, at the right time. Really good Luck.
sparkie624 1
I think it was more than Just Luck!
skylab72 1
The politics were luck, the engineering was skill.
Gene McAvoy 1
"Bombers B-52" - Available now on Amazon Video $2.99 for rental or $5.99 for your very own copy! Yee Ha! :-)
WhiteKnight77 1
Being born on a B-52 base a few years after their introduction, I can only hope I last as long as they have. The nice thing about airframes with realatively low flight hours is that thet can keep flying for years. As far as metal fatigue, it should not be too hard to create a CNC program, load up a piece of metal and cut it to specifications. Surely there are design prints, somewhere with the dimensions of each piece that makes up the plane, laying around.
Michael Mathers 1
The B-52 has outlived the B-58 Hustler (~100 production aircraft; in service 1960-1970), in addition to the B-1 and B-2 mentioned in the article. Maybe the lesson is that mission specialization leads to a short service life.
paul gilpin 1
no one started the arguement.
i will.
the b52 should have been re-engined back in 2000. even now, 4 fuel efficient engines could pay for theirselves over the next thirty years, compared to eight gas guzzlers. engines manufacturers are obviously unaware of the correct general to bribe.
get buck turgidson on the line.
James Willich 4
The development costs would have been paid for in fuel many times over by now...
Peter Fuller 2
In a low-speed high-power situation, like accelerating for takeoff or initial climb, would a 4-engine B52 have enough rudder authority to handle yaw resulting from loss of an outboard engine?
David Stocker 1
The B-52 A thru G models (now all retired) used water injection to increase the take-off thrust by approx 10%. I recall an incident at March AFB in the late 1970's when a B-52 for some reason lost water injection on one side only. The aircraft flipped over and crashed inverted near the end of the takeoff runway. Only the tail gunner survived.
Brad Benson 1
Just shut down it’s opposite twin! Problem solved. ;)
Peter Fuller 1
Yep, straight ahead, wings level, as you sink into the trees. ;)
Neil Klapthor 4
Speaking of trees...back around mid-1980s I was in Stan/Eval (Standardization/Evaluation) giving a checkride to the Radar Navigator & Navigator. The pilot on that flight was an Instructor Pilot giving a "PUP"(Pilot Upgrade Program) ride for the copilot. This IP was probably the most experienced B-52 pilot in SAC and knew the capabilities of the BUFF better than anyone, Boeing engineers included. He had actually been called on several times to participate in conference calls between the base Command Post and Boeing when there was any complicated inflight emergency situations with the BUFF. Best BUFF pilot evah!!

Anyway, on this particular flight, we'd completed the flight and were back in the pattern where the PUP training consists of doing numerous and varied approaches and touch-and-go's...hours of this, which is like torture for the rest of the crew.

So, we'd been doing this for a good while and we're doing yet another touch-and-go know how you get attuned to the normal sounds of your aircraft, especially of the engines...well, we're on the "go" and suddenly, something doesn't sound right. I couldn't tell what it was but it definitely wasn't normal. Also, the BUFF has forward looking cameras that are displayed at the RNs and Navs station so you can see straight ahead down the runway. I looked at the display and saw the tree line at the end of the runway still in view where normally we would have lifted off and couldn't see the trees. By now my pucker factor is off the charts, but the plane seemed under control and the pilot had not indicated there was any problem so, wide-eyed, I watched the trees approach. After what seemed like forever, we lifted off and the trees sloooowly disappeared at the bottom of the display and we proceeded on with the PUP declaring, WOW!

At the mission debrief, I asked the IP "what the #@%# was that?" He said he was waiting to burn down fuel to get below a certain gross weight and then, as a demonstration to the PUP, on that touch-and-go, he pulled ALL FOUR ENGINES on the left side back to idle, compensated, and proceeded with the "go". He said "the book" says it can't be done but, well, there it is!

So, since I'm guessing any new engines would have greater thrust than the old ones (I was in the G model which has even less power than the H) then the loss of engines on one side could probably be handled depending on the gross weigh at the time...and who the pilot is. :-)
jbermo 1
Such a scenario had certainly complicated the 52's engine selection process.
sparkie624 2
Actually I said that a long time ago and we discussed it here about putting large CFM engines on it! I have always felt that a More Fuel Efficient engine would be a good improvement, and it is certainly a high enough off the ground to support it.
paul tamsen 1
I read recently that ONE engine of the newest 747-800 has more thrust than all eight B-52 engines. U are right, it should have been re-engined long ago.
skylab72 1
Yeah, I always wondered why so much amazing engine technology never got strapped to a B-52H. Modern reliability has long since obviated the need for Eight engines! Really. Rudder authority and range? Wow, if you have ever seen a Buff shooting touch&gos in a gusty Barksdale cross-wind during tornado season, you might not even as the question...
Brad Benson 1
If they flew as much as the airliners, yes. Considering they fly less than a typical Cessna (250 hours a year), it would take a long time to pay off new engines on fuel savings.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Dave Mathes -8
...please feel free to go f*×k yourself....
sparkie624 3
Please... Language... Don't stoop to their level! At that point, they win!
Ken Endacott 0
I crawled over a B52 in the aviation museum at Darwin. What an amazing aircraft. Very interesting to see the technology of over 60 years ago. None of this hydraulic stuff, control surfaces were activated by cables. The cockpit would have made Biggles proud. What was impressive was the bank of eight throttles.


还没有帐户吗? 现在就注册(免费),设置诸多自定义功能、航班提醒等等!