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B-52 Stratofortress ages like wine

Staff Sgt. Kory McLeod inspects the cowling of engines No. 3 and 4 under the wing of a B-52 Stratofortress at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Aug. 22. Sergeant McLeod, from Manchester, N.H., is a crew chief with the 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Staff Sgt. Kory McLeod inspects the cowling of engines No. 3 and 4 under the wing of a B-52 Stratofortress at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Aug. 22. Sergeant McLeod, from Manchester, N.H., is a crew chief with the 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Staff Sgt. Kory McLeod inspects the wing tip of a B-52 Stratofortress at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Aug. 22. The wings are more than 90 feet long and designed to bend with the weight of fuel and weapons. While on the ground, a wingtip wheel gear bears the weight. Sergeant McLeod, from Manchester, N.H., is a crew chief with the 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Staff Sgt. Kory McLeod inspects the wing tip of a B-52 Stratofortress at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Aug. 22. The wings are more than 90 feet long and designed to bend with the weight of fuel and weapons. While on the ground, a wingtip wheel gear bears the weight. Sergeant McLeod, from Manchester, N.H., is a crew chief with the 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Capt. Patrick Hook performs a walk-around inspection of a B-52 Stratofortress bomber Aug. 22 at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. Captain Hook, from Muskegon, Mich., is with the 23rd Bomb Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Capt. Patrick Hook performs a walk-around inspection of a B-52 Stratofortress bomber Aug. 22 at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. Captain Hook, from Muskegon, Mich., is with the 23rd Bomb Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

A B-52 Stratofortress is readied for take-off from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Aug. 21. The bomber is with the 5th Bomb Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

A B-52 Stratofortress is readied for take-off from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Aug. 21. The bomber is with the 5th Bomb Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFPN) -- First deployed in 1955, the B-52 Stratofortress is already twice the age of many Airmen who maintain it.

Despite its age, Airmen assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing here have an affinity for flying and maintaining this Air Force legacy aircraft and recognize its relevance today.

"She gets finer with age -- just like wine. She has a very specific role today, and she's going to be around for a while. There are upgrades in the works and good things yet to come," said Capt. Patrick Hook, a B-52 pilot with the 23rd Bomb Squadron here.

"Every aircraft has its own thing. Ours is old. I think that's the special thing about it. We're still flying long after other aircraft were put to the bone yard," said Staff Sgt. Kory McLeod, a B-52H crew chief who added the aircraft he works on is older than his mother.

"The B-52 is as capable as it (has) ever been and is relevant to the current conditions on the battle field," said Lt. Col. Bruce Way, the 5th Operations Group deputy commander. "The B-52 has a certain charisma about it."

Although the B-52 is beloved by many, Air Force officials see a need for a new bomber to stay ahead of adversaries. Earlier this year in a speech to the Armed Services Committee, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley said the current bomber fleet is adequate to meet America's needs today, despite its age -- but that is likely to change in the future without a new platform.

Air Force officials said capabilities provided to joint warfighters are in high demand, yet the Air Force has the oldest aircraft inventory in its history. The Air Force plans to continue to invest in advanced capabilities needed to defeat the emerging technological advances of our adversaries. By 2018, a new generation bomber capability is needed.

Until a new bomber is in place, those who are associated with the B-52 embrace the challenges associated with this aging aircraft.

"Some people think she handles a bit mushy and has some troubles. She's definitely not as sexy as some of the smaller, pointy aircraft, but she definitely can put some hurt on the bad guys when it's needed," said Captain Hook. "We know that guys on the ground love our aircraft, because it is big. And it's intimidating. In Afghanistan, guys on the ground would repeatedly call for the B-52 to circle overhead ... to scare the bad guys."

The 5th BW has proven the B-52's ability in fighting the war on terrorism. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the bomber has attacked strategic targets in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime, and flew approximately 17,500 combat missions there. The wing also deployed a dozen B-52s to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and flew more than 120 combat missions.

Relevant and capable today, this old bomber has its quirks.

"It's a very complicated airplane. It has a lot of systems and sub-systems (that) have not been changed since 1960, and some go back to the original B-52s built in the 1950s," said Colonel Way. "Some of the equipment is state of the art, and there is equipment that is a little more maintenance intensive."

"I didn't envision being in an aircraft that had a born on date in '61 -- a little older than I am. But she's a great jet to fly," said Captain Hook. "We try to treat her gently and make sure she's in good shape when we land, and the maintenance crews here are just outstanding. They take great care of us and the jet ... they spoil the jet to the maximum extent possible."

"When you're with an aircraft for a while, you have a bond. It's kind of like a person. You talk to it. You feel it. They all act different. They look the same, but they're not all the same. It doesn't matter how old she is. She's still flying good," said Sergeant McLeod.


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