Don Koranda is the president and CEO of the National Aeronautic Association, an organization whose mission is "the advancement of the art, sport, and science of aviation in the United States." Koranda spoke to CNN at the 50th Anniversary event for the B-52 at the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kansas.
On the B-52's longevity
If you look back in history at all the different aircraft -- the ones that have become very notable -- it seems to be a confluence of time and events and circumstances that all happen. In this case with the B-52, certainly the technology in that early time was important. Things were moving and advancing very rapidly. And it became the long-range strategic bombing capability of the United States at a critical time. And that's the other thing, the timing of it. When we needed that kind of capability. And now if you fast-forward 50 years and you think about the career of this aircraft, you have to say technology and timing again play an extremely important role, the technology where the aircraft has been updated. And we're not talking about just the 50-year-old airframe that's flying around, we're talking about an aircraft that has been constantly updated and modernized in order to meet its current mission requirements. And then the mission itself, the change and nature of the mission, and all those things come together. I think if you look at the history of aircraft, the really famous aircraft, you'll see those elements in there at all those times.
On the innovation the swept back wing on the B-47 and B-52
In essence it allowed our aircraft to fly at a faster speed. And that was the very important discovery that they found from the German aeronautical establishments that they brought back (after WWII). They were running into problems with the straight wings and the faster they went, there would be a problem with being able to get that speed right. And there was buffeting and things of that nature that were going on. They found by sweeping the wings they delayed the onset of that buffet which allowed them to fly at a faster speed. So it was really a very important landmark in high-speed flight for these bombers.
On the use of jet engines on the B-47 and B-52
(It was a) new power plant, instead of having a piston engine that had a tremendous number of parts that were all going in different directions - and you were trying to harmonize those. So they were working to develop the horsepower. You now had a very simple device for thrust which rotated. That was all it did. It just rotated and it sent hot air back out. So when you when you took that and the reliability that was built into a system that had very few moving parts, you had a prescription here for a great engine. And that's what they took advantage of.
On the history of the B-52
The remarkable thing -- I think it's inherent in almost any aircraft -- is its adaptability. This clearly is an airframe that has been very capable from the get go. They designed into it, by luck or whatever circumstances occurred, the ability to either accommodate the different bomb loads or the different mission capabilities. And you can't overlook the fact that when we're talking here about 50 years we're not talking about just a 50-year-old airframe. We're really talking about an aircraft that has been continually updated with improved avionics, with improved electronics capability to defend itself, and then again technology comes into play when you talk about the range of smart bombs that we now have. Who would have ever imagined?
On Close Air Support
The traditional notion of close air support was: We have the ground troops that would be going after something and they would need support from the air to either bomb a position or whatever. So, in that particular case (Afghanistan), there were a number of fighters and bombers I believe, that would come in at a low altitude, a very low altitude, pick out the target and bomb that. And then, of course, the troops could continue to take over after they've softened up. The high-altitude bomber of course is up at 35,000 to 45,000 feet, perhaps higher. And is dropping those munitions from a very high altitude. So in previous times this was a it was as precise as it could be but it was never quite as precise as "close ground air support." The ground air support was able to pinpoint and put munitions exactly where they needed to be. Now with the smart bombs, these things can be targeted such that they can come right in, and you can do that all from the safety of a high altitude bomber.
And certainly most everybody I know would never have thought that the B-52, a high-altitude strategic bomber would be used for close air support. And in this day and age we have it being used for that exact purpose. And now it becomes one of the premiere systems because it has that loitering capability, the ability to have a wide range of bomb loads and missions. And then to be able to be there on station to deliver the weapons whenever they need it. The interesting thing is you have a smaller aircraft, a fighter which may have some of the same armament capabilities, but certainly not in the same quantity. They may drop a couple of bombs or shoot a missile or whatever. And goodbye, we're going back to reload. The bomber has got all those things in the weapons bay ready to deliver. The first one doesn't work they can call up another strike. So again, that's the capability that is tremendously valuable when you're talking about the real needs of the people.
On the record-setting B-52
Well the B-52, when it first came out, it set a slew of records. As the keeper of the records, the National Aeronautic Association was responsible for verifying the accuracy of the records. So we watched very closely when they set the records that they were doing so in an appropriate manner. Then, through our international organization, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, we can certify them not only as a national record, but as a world record. The B-52, when it first came out obviously as a new aircraft set many, many records. But interesting enough it still currently holds some 10 records on the records book even as, let's say, a 50-year-old aircraft. One of those is a distance record. And that distance record is over 12,500 statute miles un-refueled. And that is a current record that is still standing today. It then has several city-to-city records which are speed records set between given places. And so, even as an older aircraft, this one is a record setter. So it's got a very distinguished history which all adds to this mystique of the 50-year point for the B-52.
I think when we look at an aircraft of this type, most people would never have thought that we would see bomber, a front line piece of equipment survive 50 years and still be planning for another 40 years of life. So we're faced with the prospect of an aircraft that was designed, actually designed back in the mid to late 1940s being a piece of equipment that's going to remain in the inventory for virtually perhaps even as long as ninety years. It boggles my mind.
It's a tribute to the men and the women who have not only built this aircraft but also the men and women who fly it, who maintain it. Is a record, if you will, that at this point in time looks like it's going to be unsurpassed.
National Aeronautic Association