Heavy Traffic: A B-52 Bomber Is Being Trucked Across The Central United States (Updated)
Don't be alarmed if a strategic bomber fuselage goes whizzing by you on the highway.
A retired U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress nicknamed 'Damage Inc. II' was recently taken out of storage at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group's 'boneyard' at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and disassembled before beginning its journey eastward across the country to be partially reassembled for research and development purposes. Now the stripped-down 'BUFF' is on the road and drawing huge amounts of attention.
'Damage Inc. II's incredible journey is being officially documented by Boneyard Safari. The group's Ramón C Purcell, who is on the road with the bomber's caravan, was kind enough to share his fantastic images of the journey so far and some details about the operation with us.
B-52H 61-0009 was constructed in 1961. After serving for decades with various bomber units, on Sep 25, 2008, she made her final flight to the Aircraft Maintenance And Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan. There 61-0009 sat for fourteen years until the Air Force decided on a new use for the decommissioned, aging aircraft.
A contracting notice regarding the disassembly, transport, and reassembly of the aircraft was posted online in February 2021, giving the work a potential total value of $2.8 million. Maryland-based aerospace engineering firm J.F. Taylor was awarded the contract. The bomber was pulled from the boneyard last July and moved to the nearby Pima Air and Space Museum. The disassembly for its journey from Tucson, Arizona, to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, took nearly four months, after which it was prepared for its overland trip.
World Wide Aircraft Recovery is overseeing the project and Ball and Son are actually moving the bomber, which is something of a herculean task. The Fuselage is so long and tall that things like traversing overpasses or turning through intersections have margins measured in mere inches.
The entire convoy finally hit the road early Monday morning, pulling out of the Pima Air and Space Museum to start what will be a long and challenging journey. Purcell tells The War Zone that the B-52 and its escorts take up two lanes of traffic so they have to pull over every five miles or so to let traffic pass, which makes for slow going. Just going 50 miles from Pima took over six hours.
Even with the inconvenience, people don't seem too put out by the operation. According to Purcell, they just seem excited if not stunned to see the iconic bomber on the road. At some stops, crowds of onlookers have come to check out the B-52 and even some veteran aircrew have had a chance to interact with their old mount, including one of the last tail gunners to crew B-52s.
In all, the B-52's trip to its new home could take up to four weeks, depending on many factors including weather, which the team hopes to avoid. Some are sure to ask why not just fly 61-0009 out to Oklahoma City instead of executing such an arduous road-transport operation. Regenerating the bomber would have taken a massive amount of work and cost a huge sum of money just so that it could take one flight. There is also competing demand for resources and capacity for such a task. Seeing as it will never fly again anyway, just moving it over land was a far more logical option, although it's not without its own challenges, to say the least.
Along with the 61-0009's fuselage, its left wing will be transported to a Boeing facility in Oklahoma City where they will be reattached to form what is known as an integration model. It will be used to test how new systems can be integrated into the B-52's 70-year-old design.
With the B-52H slated to serve alongside the new B-21 Raider for decades to come, a rash of upgrades is planned to keep the aircraft relevant. These range from new sensors, communications systems, defensive countermeasures, avionics, and especially new engines. Rolls-Royce has been tapped to finally give the Air Force's remaining B-52 fleet, which is made up of 76 aircraft, modern engines that will greatly enhance the aircraft's capabilities, efficiency, reliability, and overall sustainability. Initial fitment and integration work for the new engines will be extensive and using 61-0009 for much of it will drastically reduce cost and risk as opposed to a flying example.
New weapons integration is another major mission for 61-0009's future mission. The B-52H will be the USAF's outsized weapons truck of choice for the foreseeable future and will continue to lead the air-launched hypersonic weapons initiative. Currently, the USAF first hypersonic weapon slated to enter service, the AGM-183 ARRW, is exclusive to the B-52. The aircraft is getting new pylons to accept large and heavy weapons in the future, as well.
“There are so many things this [integration model] can be used for,” Col. Louis Ruscetta, B-52 Senior Materiel Leader with the Bombers Directorate, said in a USAF press release. “As new weapons are developed and come on hand, we can use it [integration model] to see how the weapons attach, what needs to change, and if they fit on the aircraft. This is an asset that will help us integrate different items onto the aircraft quicker. An additional benefit is the cost to maintain a mock-up is fairly low.”
The aircraft's now detached right wing and horizontal stabilizer, meanwhile, will be shipped to McFarland Research and Development in Kansas where they will be used in research supporting the B-52H Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP). ASIP is a USAF program that began in the late 1950s after a series of catastrophic accidents caused by structural fatigue. Since then, ASIP has been responsible for designing, analyzing, and testing aircraft and their components for structural integrity. Now that the B-52 is approaching 70 years old, it’s vital for the service to understand how long they can expect its components to remain in working condition.
Brig. Gen. John Newberry, Director of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Bombers Directorate, said turning 61-009 into an integration model is a “wonderful initiative to repurpose a retired B-52 into a tool to advance the fleet’s modernization and sustainment efforts for decades to come.”
Thanks to our talented friends at Boneyard Safari we are getting a great look at the start of what will likely be an absolutely critical endeavor to the future viability of the B-52 fleet.
61-0009 has entered New Mexico! Here are the latest shots from Ramón Purcell:
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com and Brett@thedrive.com