On Feb. 13, the B-52H—with the serial number 61–0007—left the desert. This is the first time the Air Force has “regenerated” one of these bombers from the Boneyard back to active duty.
The “61” in the refurbished bomber’s serial number is short for … 1961. The bomber can—amazingly—still fly decades later, after some necessary maintenance work.
Reactivating Ghost Rider was not easy. Personnel from the 2nd, 5th and 307th Bomb Wings, repairmen from the Air Force Material Command and the Defense Logistics Agency were all called in just to get the bomber back in the air.
The Air Force will likely want to replace the B-52’s older twin-engine pods with four larger, more efficient motors.
Engine-maker Pratt and Whitney developed the TF-33 turbofan in the 1950s. Compared to more modern jets, the design is horribly inefficient and increasingly expensive to keep running. Replacing any one of a B-52’s eight engines costs $1.5 million, and every 6,000 flight hours, the engine is shipped to Tinker [Air Force Base in Oklahoma] for an overhaul, which replaces most components with new ones,
The flying branch could save additional costs by using an engine already in service on other aircraft, such as the C-17 transport. New powerplants would make it both cheaper and safer for the Air Force to fly the massive bombers. However, at least one of the service’s senior officials has already admitted that there isn’t any money for this kind of improvement program.