The Resolute BUFF

The BUFF still carries the water.

In 2002, the B-52 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the XB-52 first flight. The models flying today are much newer. The H-models were built in 1960 and 1961, making them 47 to 48 years young. Imagine that.

Combat aircraft lasting longer than a general’s career. Projected to remain in service for another 30 to 40 years, those airplanes will last longer than the average life span of a typical American. Time will tell whether that is an accounting trick or a new standard in combat aviation. The B-52 is without equal–the undisputed heavy-weight champion.

Ironically designed as an “interim bomber,” it proved superior to airframes designed to replace it. From the Mach 3+ B-70 to the current collection of bombers with names that sound more like bingo squares, the B-52 has remained the resolute American bomber. However, time and politics has taken a toll on its numbers. Of the 744 bombers built, only 94 remain in service–and that took an act of congress.

Following the demise of SAC, the fighter-minded Air Combat Command took administrative control of the aircraft. In 1993, they took action to reduce the aircraft down to as few as 43 airframes and to cut the crews down to a number to match. The Air Force used personnel tools like a Reduction in Force (RIF) and the selective early retirement board (SERB) to deplete the ranks of the “excess” B-52 crew members.

One bomber pilot, who was serving as an instructor at the Air Command and Staff College, was actually told that his career was over because the BUFF’s utility was obsolete. Looking at the thousands of combat hours flown in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), it is easy to see that his non-rated boss was wrong about the BUFF. Unfortunately, perspectives are easier to correct than terminated careers are to resurrect.

March 24, 1993 was another dark day when many soon-to-be-missed B-52 Lt Colonels were told to pack their bags. Eventually, a respected bomber general testified before congress, and the Air Force was over-ruled with its plans to gut the bomber force.

Memory of that general has mostly faded away in the 15 years since his career was flat-lined by his noble actions, but the B-52’s flexibility and versatility has continued to serve the nation well. Those who were fated to fly the B-52 have developed a band-of-brothers mentality as they’ve become part of the legend of the mighty BUFF.

Even after its long history, today the B-52 has the highest mission capable rate when compared to the bingo bombers: B-1 and B-2. In contrast the utility of the B-1 remained in question until the JDAM became operational. That GPS-guided weapon, which was initially developed on the B-52, provided the B-1 with a real-world capability to replace it’s public-relations rhetoric of being called the “primary bomber” of the Air Force. The B-2 is in it’s sixth week of what is being called a “temporary pause,” the politically correct term for the grounding of a billion dollar plus aircraft. The pause followed the baffling loss of a B-2 in Guam where the aircraft became uncontrollable immediately after take-off.

Air Force officials assure us that the diminutive B-2 fleet could resume flying should national necessity dictate. Until that necessity presents itself, I agree that it is prudent to isolate the problem that caused the early rotation and subsequent stall of the high-tech heavy bomber.

Technology is a wonderful thing when it works.

We can enjoy the luxury of a temporary-pause option because we bask in the glow of a decision made by Congress to keep a sufficient number of the smoky, noisy, cabled-driven, hydraulic pump actuated, big, not-so-ugly, flying fellows that strike fear into the hearts of our enemies, pride in the hearts of those that fly them, and envy in the libido of those who can’t.

However you stack the numbers, the BUFF is the greatest heavy-weight champion of heavy-bombers that has ever flown. I agree that other airplanes are prettier than the B-52, and in a Hollywood society, that is an important attribute. But when the world gets ugly, we need combat aircraft that can fly, fight, and win.

It just makes sense.

12 Responses to “The Resolute BUFF”

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