The B-52 is getting new wheels and brakes as part of Air Force’s effort to keep it flying for decades

Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar
A pair of US Air Force B-52 bombers taxi after landing at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, April 9, 2016.

  • The Air Force’s plan to keep the B-52 flying into the 2050s includes numerous upgrades to the bomber.
  • As part of that effort, the service has awarded a contract for the design and development of a new wheel and brake for the aircraft.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

With the US Air Force‘s plan to keep the long-range B-52 Stratofortress flying into the 2050s, the venerable, Cold War-era bomber is going to need new brakes and wheels.

The service selected Collins Aerospace, part of Raytheon Technologies, to design and develop a new wheel and brake for the bomber, and to retrofit 77 new brake and wheel combinations, including spares provisioning, the company said Wednesday.

To increase the brakes’ wear life, the company will use its carbon heat sink material known as DURACARB, which provides “increased thermal absorption” as the aircraft slows and brakes on the runway during a landing, explained Matthew Maurer, vice president and general manager of military programs, landing and mechanical systems.

“Today, the aircraft uses the steel brake, and we’re going to be replacing that with a carbon brake,” Maurer said in an interview Monday.

The new brake-wheel combination “is going to allow for longer intervals between brake overhauls or longer intervals between inspections on the wheels,” he added. “We anticipate being through the design and development phase and supporting flight testing by 2023, and then [retrofitting] the fleet by 2026.”

Air Force maintainers will work alongside engineers to learn how to change or update the system; Maurer said the service will run the schedule, choosing which bombers will receive the first upgrades. Collins did not publicize the cost of the contract award.

Air Force B-52 wheels
Airmen drag chocks alongside a B-52 at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, February 28, 2017.

The Air Force already uses the DURACARB system on the C-130 Hercules, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle. The new wheel is rated for 12,500 miles, a major upgrade from just 1,500 miles for the B-52’s current brake system, Maurer said.

The Air Force is also nearing a decision on procuring new B-52 engines.

The service has been pushing for a major engine overhaul for the bomber fleet for years. In 2017, an engine fell off a B-52 while the aircraft was flying over North Dakota. Each aircraft currently has eight Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3/103 turbofan engines.

Three companies are in the running to replace the engines: Pratt & Whitney, which is a Raytheon Technologies’ company; General Electric; and Rolls-Royce. But while the Air Force issued a request for proposal, or RFP, last May, it has delayed issuing a contract award.

In 2019, lawmakers insisted that service officials nail down contract specifics before they would provide funding. That year, the Air Force estimated it would spend around $1.3 billion through 2024 on work related to the re-engining.

The RFP stipulated a total of 608 engines for its 76-aircraft fleet.

While officials have said there has been no delay, the service has still not committed to an official award date.

Gen. Tim Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, said in February that it’s “too early” to determine whether the award will be announced in June – the original projected contract announcement time frame.

Air Force B-52 Anderson Guam
A B-52H at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam for a Bomber Task Force deployment, February 8, 2021.

“We should have this summer the answers back from the competitors to be considered,” Ray said during the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium. “And so then, from that process, we’ll go from there.

“This is not being [dragged] out,” he said, as reported by Defense News. “It is on time. In fact, it is several years early.”

He said that digital prototyping, or simulating parts via computer models, has begun on the companies’ side, which could shorten the engine production time.

The planes are among the oldest in the Air Force. Three generations of airmen have flown the B-52 in combat, from Vietnam to Afghanistan; the final bomber rolled off the production line in 1962.

The B-52 has been prominent in missions such as Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, as well as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Affectionately known as Big Ugly Fat Fellow, or BUFF, B-52s have been on rotation for the service’s Bomber Task Force, or BTF, missions over the past year, part of the Pentagon’s larger “dynamic force employment” strategy.

As part of the BTFs, the service sends out two to four bombers for units to test how nimbly they can move from place to place.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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The Air Force released more photos of the only 2 B-52s ever resurrected from its ‘boneyard’

Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber
B-52H bombers “Wise Guy,” left, and “Ghost Rider,” right, sit nose-to-nose with Tinker Air Force Base and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in the background, February 26, 2021.

  • Take a look at these interesting images of two B-52 bombers undergoing maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
  • “Wise Guy” and “Ghost Rider,” as they’re called, are the only B-52s to be resurrected from the Air Force’s “boneyard.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As reported in detail in the last few months, only two US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers have been restored out of the “Boneyard,” at the 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group) at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, to be returned to front-line service: “Ghost Rider,” tail number 61-0007, and “Wise Guy,”┬átail number 60-0034.

Both aircraft had been retired and put on long term storage, where they were supposed to remain to be cannibalized for parts needed by other B-52Hs.

However, the plans changed and both BUFFs have been resurrected. After being mothballed for seven years in the desert “Ghost Rider” returned to service in 2015 with the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota. The second, “Wise Guy,” spent 10 years in the desert before being resurrected late last year.

Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber
“Wise Guy,” left, and “Ghost Rider,” right, undergoing programmed depot maintenance at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex at Tinker Air Force Base, February 26, 2021.

The two “Lazarus” aircraft were regenerated at the Tinker Air Force Base’s Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, and it’s there that they are currently undergoing PDM (Programmed Depot Maintenance).

PDM is a complex process, that each Stratofortress bomber undergoes every four years. The airframe is stripped of its paint, so maintainers can assess if there are leaks or repairs are needed on the outer skin of the aircraft.

Then, the aircraft is almost completely disassembled and each part is inspected and all defects are fixed before they are rebuilt, repainted, carry out several Functional Check Flights before they are sent back to their home stations.

The aircraft return to active service as if they were almost brand new.

Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber
“Wise Guy,” left, and “Ghost Rider,” right, with Tinker Air Force Base and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in the background, February 26, 2021.

While “Ghost Rider” is currently undergoing routine PDM, “Wise Guy” is undergoing the heavy maintenance as the final part of a three-phase process to resurrect the aircraft and return it to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, so that the number of B-52 bombers mandated by Congress is brought back to full strength at 76 aircraft.

The two B-52H Stratofortress bombers were parked nose-to-nose at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, on February 26, 2021, and this provided the opportunity to shoot some interesting photos that you can find in this article.

Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber
“Wise Guy,” left, and “Ghost Rider,” right, nose-to-nose at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, February 26, 2021.

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