The US Air Force has shown off the rapid response capability of its nuclear bomber fleet with eight B-52s lined up together for an explosive “cart start.”
For a standard take-off, the venerable B52 heavy bomber requirers almost an hour of warm-up.
But for a cartridge start takeoff, ground crews place a small explosive charge inside the turbofan engine to get it moving – taking warmup time down under 10 minutes
That could prove essential in the early stages of a nuclear exchange.
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress (affectionally known by airmen as the BUFF or Big Ugly Fat F***er) first flew in 1952.
The 160ft long monster entered front-line service in 1955 but it remains, 65 years later, the backbone of the USAF’s bomber fleet.
These days the “BUFF’s” main armament is the AGM-86 ALCM air-launched cruise missile.
Up to 20 of the 550mph missiles, each carrying a W80 variable yield nuclear warhead with a destructive power up to 150 kilotons, can be loaded onto a single B52.
The USAF have only released sketchy details about Wednesday’s high-profile show of force.
The rapid-reaction force lined up for a so-called “elephant walk” on the runway at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and flown 1150 miles to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota where a sister unit is based.
Those two bases were involved in the notorious 2007 incident where live nuclear warheads were loaded on B52s operating in a similar test flight.
The current model of the long-range bomber, the B52-H, has a combat range of over 8,000 miles and can cruise at 650 mph.
While it’s ancient in terms of military aviation – the original design dates back to the 1940s – the BUFF’s reliable high speed performance and relatively low operating costs has kept it operational even in the age of the B1 Lancer and futuristic B2 Spirit stealth bomber.
The USAF tweeted that the aircraft was still ‘the most flexible part of the military’s nuclear triad’ – the combination of land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles and crewed bombers that combine to deliver America’ nuclear deterrent.
The B52 is expected to remain in service until the 2050s.