B-52s Become Cargo Haulers


As the B-52 closes in on 70 years of service, the Air Force has found yet another use for the airframe. Four B-52Hs were outfitted with cargo pods that fit in the bomb bays to carry stuff for an exercise. According to an Air Force news release, the exercise involved keeping the bomber force mobile in dispersed bases so the ability to carry supplies and equipment lessened the need for support from cargo aircraft units. On the exercise, the cargo versions carried mainly spare parts and supplies that allowed mechanics, who caught rides on the bombers, to maintain the complex aircraft in austere locations.

It’s hard to be sneaky when deploying nuclear bombers but allowing them to carry their own gear lessens the obvious signs of preparation that precede such operations. “We have proven the ability to put significant firepower on target without the large footprint we are used to seeing, and the adversary is used to seeing well in advance of our operational movement,” said Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Gebara, Eighth Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center commander. Each aircraft carried two pods with a total payload of 10,000 pounds.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Walked around a BUFF for the first time a couple of weeks ago at an open house at the former Loring Air Force base in Limestone, Maine. It had flew in from Barksdale Air Force Base for the special event and the seeing the airplane up close as well as talking to the crew was a blast. Such an impressive airplane and to think it is still getting it done almost 70 years later is also amazing.

    • It’s even MORE impressive to watch a MITO (Minimum Interval Takeoff) of a bunch of ’em along with their support tankers at a SAC base. The early ones belched a lot of black smoke; by the time the last airplanes were taking off, the sky was nearly IFR. It’ll be interesting to see them with new higher thrust engines that don’t do that.

      • That said, I also served on the B-58 Hustler at Little Rock AFB. A night B-58 MITO with four J-79’s spewing fire is even MORE impressive !!

      • You should’ve been holding short of a runway when the old Water Wagons launched during MITO drills. That black smoke was brutal. The noise was also deafening, even with headphones.

  2. Late ‘72 or early ‘73 employed out of FTW area as a pipeline patrol pilot my wife and I were sitting on the shore of Lake Benbrook facing south with fishing poles on an early morning with our backs to a hill which blocked any views or sounds from the north. The early morning calm was shattered by B-52-D’s on a MITO roaring overhead only a few feet above us. Because of the hill behind us we had no warning until suddenly long black trails of black smoke and screaming water-pumps broke the silence overhead! The nose was PAIN-ful and a Buff passed directly over our heads every few seconds fanning out with slightly divergent headings until the normally-clear sunny morning became black with soot!
    Kinda ended any hopes of catching any fish. What a memory!

  3. On another occasion, while I was 500’ AGL flying westbound on a pipeline-patrol inspection-flight down near Cleburne, TX … (always looking down and left for any irregularities on the pipeline right of way)…. I was SUDDENLY startled to see on the right-of-way beneath me ….what I thought was the SHADOW of a B-52 passing Opposite-Direction eastbound… Until my heart STOPPED when I realized it was not a Shadow…but was an actual B-52…BELOW ME…. the wake of which subsequently gave me a BUMP…!! :>0
    He couldn’t have been more than 300’ AGL and about 200’ below me in my little Cessna 140 patrol plane!

  4. The Air Force is probably downgrading it to a cargo hauler to begin its retirement as they plan to replace it and the B-1B with the B-21 within the next 30 years. The B-52 has had the longest in-service record of any aircraft in history.

    • I seriously doubt that its mission is changing to that of a cargo hauler. Maybe I’m confused?? The article describes a retrofit to allow spare parts and tooling for the B-52 to be carried internally to allow for a more discrete deployment. Not sure how that turns into a down grade and cargo mission change. Oh well, I guess if a person can decide to be a man one day and a woman the next, a B-52 can decide one day to be a bomber and the next day to be a cargo aircraft.

      • He might be right. The ol’ BUFF was a Cold War asset, and the emphasis today is on Stealth and other technologies. We sure as Hell got our money’s worth out of those old bombers, though.

        • The B-52 cost $9.28M in 1962; $84M in today’s dollars. We sure did.! I think I remember hearing they cost less than $7M in the beginning in the 50’s.

  5. Nothing really new in this. we had a different version back in the late 70’s. Ours were locally produced by the unit.

  6. The Air Force already has Cargo Haulers: C-17s, C-135s, C-130s and now KC-10s, which have BIG cabins, and if they operate from Guam (I was stationed there during the Iran fracas) they’ll be loaded to the gunnels with EML pax, wicker furniture, shell lamps and San Miguel Beer. 8 engine fuel burns will not be cost effective per load for such operations.