Planes of existence

I received a comment on yesterday’s post about the plans to field a new heavy bomber, but not before about 2040. I also commented that perhaps modified commercial aircraft could be modified into “JDAM carriers” given the fact that our current enemies don’t have much in the way of air forces.

watched an interesting documentary last year in which the USAF was likely to fly the B-52 until 2050. Hey…if it works….

I began to reply in the comments, but then decided to do so with a new post so that it wouldn’t get buried.

I don’t know if I watched the same show or not, but I’ve also seen and heard that the current fleet of B-52s, B-1s, and B-2s is expected to last until the middle of the century. And if we weren’t going to use them in a war, I expect that they would be able to do so.

The B-52s, especially, are getting quite a workout. Most of these planes are already 40 years old, and to expect them to keep flying for another four decades is pretty silly. Some will make it, I’m sure, and by upgrading the electronics and the engines you can make an old aircraft perform similar to a new model. But I have to think that the plans to rely on our existing birds for another 40 or 50 years were made before the Fourth World War broke out.

For sure, the B-52 is plenty capable above today’s battlefields. The JDAM precision guided munition has given the old warbirds a new lease on life. Couple that with the fact that rocket propelled grenades and shoulder-fired missiles are the only threat likely to be encountered, and the B-52 can contribute like it’s 1955 again.

However, if the B-52s were rolling off the assembly line TODAY and were going to get the workout that we’ll give them, I think they’d probably have trouble making it to 2050. And these puppies are DECADES old.

(To be fair, the same can be said for the KC-135 tankers that are going to be replaced by 767-based models. And the F-15s that are going to be replaced by F-22 Raptors. I’m not opposed to 767 tankers, I’m opposed to leasing them when buying is cheaper, and I’m opposed to retiring KC-135s early if we don’t have to only to justify spending money on 767s. I am opposed to buying large quantities of F-22s simply because there’s nothing for those aircraft to fight. We need more tankers for our current operations. We don’t need more supersonic jet fighters.)

I believe that a commercial aircraft-based bomber could bridge the gap between our current pace of operations and the planned 2040 introduction of a new bomber. I believe that we’d be better off buying more A-10 ground-support aircraft instead of multi-mach jets. I believe that a smaller, cheaper prop-driven close air support attack aircraft would probably contribute greatly to our cause, and at a relatively low price. Think A-1 Skyraider. Or any of these. A twin-engine prop plane would fit in very nicely over Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Iran, Syria, Lebanon, etc. Especially if you put a couple of 30mm cannon in the nose (and maybe a gun in the rear ventral position to hit them after you pass by when they want to pop up and take a potshot at you).

I’m partial to the B-25 myself. I would think that if you took the basic WW2 designs, updated them with new materials and engines, and added some modern electronics and a bit of armor, you could probably have a very capable ground-support platform for very little cost that could be built quickly and would perform reliably.

I’m all for stretching our military dollar when we can. But to hope that pre-9/11 plans for our planes to last another four decades (or more) are realistic is, well, unrealistic.


  1. Re. the use of small piston-driven aircraft in Iraq. It seems likely that something akin to the L-19 Birddog or some other single-engine Cessna could be useful in patrolling the lawless highways of Iraq. Do you know if anybody has written about this? Has the Army any program?

  2. I think something along those lines might be a good idea. Probably have to go to the Iraqi Army, though. The US Army cannot operate fixed-wing aircraft.