July 21st, 2012
The backbone of the United States Air Force is long-range strategic bombers. Today this duty falls to the Rockwell B-1 Lancer,the venerable Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and the Northrop-Grumman B-2 Spirit. The Joint Base Lewis McChord Air Expo 2012 displayed the “Big 3” strategic bombers in flight (saturday only). There is always something special about seeing these big birds fly!
Rockwell B-1B Lancer
The B-1B also known by its nickname “Bone” (B-ONE) is a 4 engined bomber with a crew of 4 (aircraft commander, copilot, and two weapon systems officers) carries the largest weapons payload of any aircraft in the USAF inventory (34,019 kilograms /75,000 pounds – a conventional payload could include 84 x 500 pound bombs!). It is big yet it manages to remain a sleek and mean looking machine.
With variable geometry swing wings, supersonic speed (Mach 1.2) capability and manoeuverability the B-1B is the ultimate low-level penetrator that courtesy of advanced avionics and laser guided systems can deliver its payload with extreme accuracy. These types of characteristics along with sophisticated anti-air defence systems (electronic jammers, radar receiver, chaff/flares) enhance the aircrafts survivability and also allow it to operate equally as well at low and high altitudes. First introduced in 1986 (100 were built by 1988), the B-1B has seen active duty over Iraq and Afghanistan and 66 remain in service today (operated by Air Combat Command). To see a B-1B take off with full afterburner, do a slow pass and then multiple high-speed passes with its wings fully swept is really something!
Boeing B-52H Stratofortress
The B-52 must be the most famous jet bomber aircraft in modern history and has seen active duty in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 744 of the big 8 engined bombers were built with the first entering USAF service in 1955 (B-52A) and amazingly the current fleet have been serving for at least 50 years with the last B-52H leaving the production line in 1962 (85 remain in USAF service operated by Air Force Global Strike Command)! Even more amazingly they will continue in service to around 2050! Obviously there have been plenty of upgrades to avionics etc. to keep the aircraft at frontline status and even after all these years it remains the backbone of the USAF bomber force earning the endearing nickname “BUFF” (Big Ugly Fat Fellow or other less PG variants!).
The B-52 has a crew of 5 (aircraft commander, pilot, radar navigator, navigator and electronic warfare officer ) and has a big weapons payload (31,500 kilograms / 70,000 pounds). The B-52 can also carry the widest range of munitions in the USAF inventory from conventional bombs to mines and cruise missiles (including nuclear capable weaponry). At the Air Expo this B-52H only did one pass as it was actually on a training mission from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. You could see those smoky old engines from a long way off but to see and hear such a big aircraft flyover is always impressive!
Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit
The B-2, better known as the “Stealth Bomber” can penetrate deep into enemy air defences with its low observable technology (including “radar absorbing” composite materials and special coatings) and unusual “flying wing” design which makes it difficult for air defence systems to detect and track the bomber. Hidden within that airframe are 4 jet engines that are designed to reduce heat emissions to significantly decrease the chance of infrared detection.
There is really nothing else like the B-2 and I am sure it has contributed to UFO sightings in America! With a weapons payload of 18,144 kilograms / 40,000 pounds it is capable of delivering conventional and nuclear munitions over very long distances (9,600km /6,000 nautical miles unrefueled). The B-2 is a big aircraft but only has a crew of 2 (mission commander and pilot, with the provision for a third crew member if required).
The B-2 first entered USAF service in 1993 and have seen active duty over Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and are believed to have been used during the Libyan Civil War in 2011. Today 20 of the original 21 built remain in active service and operated by Air Force Global Strike Command (1 crashed in 2008). Not many ever entered service as they are incredibly expensive at $1.157 billion per aircraft (1998 cost – four times the cost of a B-1 and twenty times the cost of a B-52)! This particular B-2 was the last bomber flight display at the Air Expo and was also on a training mission, flying from Whiteman AFB in Missouri. I thought we would get only one pass, but to my surprise and joy they did multiple passes showing off the unusual lines of the “Stealth Bomber“!