The US Air Force has shown that the venerable B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber is a long time from hitting the boneyard, recently completing testing of the latest upgrade for its Conventional Rotary Launcher (CRL). The February 11 flight tests at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana confirm that the upgrades will allow the B-52 to not only carry a larger weapons payload, but also bring more of them to bear at any one time.

When the first B-52 took to the air in 1952, life was a lot simpler for bomber designers. The role of strategic aircraft was to fly over their targets and to release their dumb or iron bombs from simple gravity-fed racks. 67 years later, the B-52 may be flying with crews whose parents weren't even born when the planes were built, but the role of the bomber has changed considerably.

The B-52 has undergone a bewildering number of upgrades and will undergo many more before the airframes become too old to remain in service. The bomber now carries laser-guided munitions, self-steering bombs, cruise missiles and other standoff and smart weapons. Far from flying over the target in the teeth of modern anti-aircraft defenses, the B-52 is much more likely to remain far off and launch weapons from well out of harm's way.

This has meant many changes to the Stratofortress's systems, not the least of which has been the bomb bay. Since 2015, the bomber has used the CRL to carry its munitions in a rotating launcher that carries a larger payload and allows the crew to select specific weapons for the job while in flight.

It's an advance, but the problem is that the CRL can only provide power to four munitions at any one time without blowing the circuit breakers. This means that the bomber must often make more than one pass in order to deliver a full load. The upgrade is designed to overcome this limitation. This, plus the 12 munitions carried under the wing and a larger payload in the CRL provides the B-52 with a much larger punch.

"Now, a B-52 going into a war zone has the ability to put 20 munitions on a target area very quickly," says Senior Master Sgt. Michael Pierce, 307th Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament superintendent. "Before, they would have to drop some of their munitions, power up the CRL again and then make another pass."

The Air force says that when the tests are completed, the upgrade will be extended to the rest of the bomber wing.

Source: US Air Force