Built in 1961 at the height of the Cold War, the B-52H Stratofortress nicknamed “Damage Inc. II” reverently served in multiple commands until it was retired in 2008 at an Arizona boneyard. Now, after another trip, this time about 1,407 miles from blacktop, the plane is back in service for one final mission.
The Flight Days of Damage Inc. will remain over, according to the Air Force, but it still has a crucial role to play. The aircraft will serve as a mock-up at a Boeing facility near Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, as the Air Force modernizes its B-52 fleet to meet the needs of the current battlefield.
“This effort will bring great benefits to the B-52 fleet,” Brig said. Gene. John Newberry, bomber program director and director of the bomber directorate of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, said in a May press release.
On January 24, Tinker officials announced that the plane had finally arrived in Oklahoma City after a 19-day 1,407-mile journey from The Boneyard in Arizona. According to Boneyard Safari, an organization committed to the preservation of historic aircraft, the trip is the longest overland movement of a B-52 in history.
According to the Air Force, this movement was laborious and complex. En route, the plane needed two lanes of traffic, causing the convoy that Damage Inc. II escorted off the road every few miles to let through the traffic accumulating behind it. In addition, the length and weight of the aircraft required extensive planning for obstacles such as flyovers and bridges. And dragging the huge strategic bomber through intersections required precision, as the margin of error when turning was only inches.
The Path of Damage Inc. II to Oklahoma and new life in the Air Force began last May when it was towed from storage and sent to the Pima Air and Space Museum. There the wings, fuselage and horizontal stabilizer of the aircraft were removed. The right wing and stabilizer were sent to McFarland Research and Development in Wichita, Kansas to investigate how long the aging B-52 fleet can remain in service and what structural limitations the airframe has.
Eventually, the left wing of Damage Inc. II to be reattached to the fuselage, creating a non-flyable mock-up. It will then be used, albeit on the ground, to test how well new technologies and modifications will integrate with B-52 aircraft.
“As new technologies develop, we can use this mock-up to accelerate integration and get capacity to the field faster,” said Colonel Louis Ruscetta, the B-52 senior equipment chief in the Air Force Life Cycle Bomber Directorate. Management Center, said in a press release.
One of the priorities for the modernization of the B-52 is to replace the aging Pratt & Whitney TF33 engines with modern commercial engines. Recently, the Air Force selected the Rolls-Royce F-130 engine as a replacement for the TF33 through the Commercial Engine Replacement Program.
The Air Force will also upgrade the 1960s core radar to a newer Active Electronically Scanned Array, similar to those found in modern fighters, along with a Tactical Data Link capability.
According to the Air Force, it is invaluable to have a mock-up like Damage Inc. II on hand to test both these systems and future advancements in both weapons and technology as the agency strives to launch the venerable B-52 fleet. 2050s.
“There are so many things these [integration model] can be used for,” said Ruscetta. “If new weapons are developed and available, we can use them [the integration model] to see how the weapons attach, what needs to change, and whether they will fit in the plane. This is an asset that allows us to integrate different items into the plane more quickly. An additional advantage is that the costs to maintain a mock-up are quite low.”
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. He has also worked as a legislative assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.