USAF Spends $34M to Cut the Number of People Needed to Fly the B-52 Stratofortress

B-52 Stratofortress 10 photos
Photo: L3Harris
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It's not long now until the world will pass a significant milestone: in the 2050s the B-52 Stratofortress will become the world's first airplane to be flown in regular service a century after it was first made.
Introduced in 1955, the Big Ugly Fat Fella (BUFF), as it is affectionately nicknamed, is presently one of the three nuclear-capable bombers operated by American forces. The other two, the B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit will soon be replaced by the B-21 Raider currently in the works, but the Stratofortress will soldier on for decades to come, a proof of great engineering and skill.

Because it's so old the plane would have been irrelevant in today's world without major upgrades. Everything that's been done to it so far, however, pales in comparison to what needs to be done to keep it in the air until the middle of the century.

We already know a thing or two about the modifications the plane will undergo, but new details keep emerging as the plan moves forward. For instance, we've known for a while that the upcoming variant of the B-52 will use Rolls-Royce F130 engines instead of the current Pratt & Whitney units.

Then, the bomber will be at the receiving end of a new electronic warfare system, a new power system, but also an entirely new suite of radar systems that should give the massive chunk of metal "fighter-like" capabilities when it comes to detection, accuracy, targeting, and tracking.

But the changes that are to be made to the bomber go far deeper than that, and it will even impact the number of people needed to fly one.

As it presents itself today, the B-52 needs a crew of five to go about its business: there are two pilots, two navigators, and an electronic warfare officer. The future version will keep the two pilots, but will merge the electronic warfare officer station with that of a navigator. That means the plane will be operated by a crew of four.

To make that happen changes need to be made to the interior layout of the cockpit. More to the point, the electronic warfare control and display panels will have to be moved over to the navigator.

That may sound simple, but in order for the move not to affect aircraft weight and balance, but also structural and electrical loads, some research needs to be conducted first.

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) tasked defense contractor L3Harris with doing this, which will receive $34 million in exchange for its work.

Neither of the parties involved said anything about when the switch to a smaller crew in the B-52 Stratofortress will take place, or whether the process will require additional money.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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