B-52 Engine Replacement Could Keep the Bomber Flying Past its 100th Birthday

The new engines should enable the B-52 to serve alongside the future B-21 Raider.

The B-52’s prototype, the YB-52, first flew in 1952.Boeing

Boeing’s oldest jet-powered bomber, the B-52 Stratofortress is, at age 75, older than most Flying readers. According to a story in DefenseOne.com, reengining work scheduled for later this year on the 76 aircraft remaining in the US Air Force inventory could keep the historic machines flying until they’re more than 100 years old. Boeing’s YB-52 prototype first flew in April 1952. “The new engines are intended to enable the B-52 to serve alongside the future B-21 Raider as the airborne leg of the nuclear triad into the 2050s,” the story reported.

While the B-52 is built as tough as a tank, Maj. Gen. Andrew Gebara, director of strategic plans, programs, and requirements at Air Force Global Strike Command spoke to the airplane’s versatility as a major factor in its longevity in the DefenseOne.com story. “When we built the B-52, it was supposed to be a high-altitude nuclear bomber, right? Going to the adversary,” said Gebara. “Then it became a low-altitude nuclear bomber. And then it became a high-altitude carpet bomber in Vietnam. And then it became a standoff cruise missile shooter in Desert Storm. And then it became a precision strike close air support platform in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now we’re going to make it the first hypersonic shooter in the American inventory,” Gebara concluded, referring to the integration testing underway to fit the B-52 with the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon.

Powered by 8 Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3/103 turbofan engines, the Stratofortress can lift up to 70,000 lbs. of payload and cruise at speeds of up to Mach 0.86. To feed those engines, the B-52 carries up to 312,197 lbs. of fuel—and max takeoff weight is 488,000 lbs., a truly heavy bomber.