U.S. Air Force resurrects B-52 Stratofortress for return to service
The 53-year-old Stratofortress, retired in 2008, is nicknamed "Ghost Rider"
"After almost seven years...she cranked up just fine," pilot says
For the first time, the U.S. Air Force has resurrected a B-52 bomber that had been in long-term storage at the Boneyard, the portion of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona, where the military sends aircraft that have been retired from the fleet.
The 53-year-old Stratofortress, tail number 61-1007, nicknamed the “Ghost Rider” had been in storage at the desert in the care of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) since 2008. Thousands of aircraft are stored at the Boneyard, where the dry desert environment helps preserve them. Some are scavenged to supply parts to planes still in the fleet. Others are brought back into service. Ghost Rider, after upgrades, will become the first B-52 to return to duty from the Boneyard.
Though the dry desert air inhibits corrosion, the baking heat can have other adverse effects, including causing dry rot in the tires and fuel lines. The lines and fuel bladders in Ghost Rider were completely replaced, Tech. Sgt. Stephen Sorge, a fuels specialist from the 307th Maintenance Squadron, said in an Air Force report on the project.
Once that work was done, the plane’s engines were tested again in January. On February 13, Ghost Rider flew again, a three-hour flight from Davis-Monthan to its new home, Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. The resurrection process took 70 days, according to the Air Force report
“I’ve been flying the B-52s since the ’80s and it surprised me that after almost seven years … she cranked up just fine and we had no issues with the flight control systems,” Col. Keith Schultz said in the Air Force report after piloting the eight-engine jet on the 1,000-mile flight.
Schultz, who with more than 6,500 hours flying B-52s is the most experienced active pilot of that aircraft in the service, led a co-pilot and a navigator, the minimum three-person crew, on the flight to Louisiana. The B-52 would normally fly with a crew of five.
“Those were the only three seats we had activated for egress,” he told the Shreveport Times.
For safety reasons, Ghost Rider made the entire flight with its landing gear down, at a speed of only 288 mph and at a height of 23,000 feet, well below its top speed of 650 mph and ceiling of 50,000 feet, according to the Times report.
It also flew without some of the other things aviators have come to rely on.
“We were fortunate to have had good weather the entire trip as the inertial and navigational equipment had not been installed,” Schulz said in the Air Force release.
Ghost Rider will replace another bomber at Barksdale that was damaged by a fire during maintenance.
“We had an oxygen leak with a spark and it caused a cockpit fire. There was so much damage it was actually more economical to bring this one out of the desert,” Schultz told the Times.
For a time, Ghost Rider will sit beside the damaged B-52 for transfer of usable, updated equipment, the Times reported. It is expected to resume active service next year.
As of May 2014, the Air Force reported there were 76 Stratofortresses in its fleet, 58 in the active force and 18 in the Air Force Reserve. Besides Barksdale, B-52s are based at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.