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May 20, 2024
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It was tough thinking of a pithy title for this post.  Old Planes is not exactly attention grabbing, but there you are.  This post is about old planes – specifically some special old ones that serve in the USAF.

The USAF has a large numbers of old planes – Boeing KC-135s and B-52s.

The KC-135 is an asset that entered USAF service under President Eisenhower in 1956. According to the USAF they have 415 of these old birds around.  The fact they are still doing their original job can be ascribed to being very well made and maintained.  Of course readers know it is replacing these planes that has led to such a ruckus between EADS, Boeing and the Pentagon.  Actually throw in Congress to that mix, too.

Early in 1954 the USAF published an RFP for 800 jet tankers to Boeing, Douglas, Convair, Fairchild, Lockheed and Martin. By then Boeing was only two months away from flying its prototype KC-135.  Rather shockingly, just four months after issuing the tanker requirement, the USAF ordered its first 29 KC-135s from Boeing.  Douglas believed that they were in a race to bid and their protest went nowhere.  Boeing, as the SAC’s bomber vendor, had an advantage which they exploited.   The USAF tanker procurement history is not much unlike what it is today, is it?

The B-52 flies less than the KC-135 but is as ancient.  Its design started back in 1946 and it first flew in 1952 as something rather different from its original design.  In its half century of service it has seen lots of evolution. It went from the A model to the current H model.  “Current”needs qualification – these planes were delivered  new in 1963.

Even so, planes that were meant to replace the B-52 have come along and ended up serving with them, not replacing them.  In fact, the B-52 is quite possibly going to see its replacements retire first!  There is talk B-52Hs (94) now in service will be around until 2040,  about 80 years after production ended. The USAF is about to spend $11.9bn to keep the “H”s flying.  Apparently well maintained B-52s are sturdy and have, on average, only 16,000 flying hours. Here is a great site to learn more about this amazing plane.

Th B-52 has the highest mission capable rate among the USAF’s heavy bombers at 80% compared to 53% for the B-1B and an embarrassing 26% for the B-2.

The combination of Boeing’s KC-135 and B-52 have served the USAF remarkably well.  Looking at the cost of procurement today with astronomical prices, one marvels at the awesome value for money these old planes provided (and still do).  The performance is a testimony to their designers, makers and maintenance crews.

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