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Volume 46 | Issue 3 | April 2004


photo: B-52H

The B-52H heads for Barksdale Air Force Base, La., where it recently underwent a phase inspection before returning to Dryden April 5.
NASA Photo / Tony Landis

B52 returns following overhaul

Gray Creech
Dryden Public Affairs

Dryden's newest mothership aircraft, a former U.S. Air Force B-52H bomber modified into a flight research vehicle launch aircraft, just got a thorough inspection, called a phase inspection, compliments of the Air Force Reserve's 917th Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

The bomber-turned-mothership is one of two NASA B-52s in operation, along with the famous "NASA 008," which has been part of some of the most significant projects in aerospace history. The B-52H, though operated by NASA, is a cooperative launch platform that also can support the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards.

photo: B-52H prepares to taxi.

Pilot Gordon Fullerton prepares to taxi.
NASA Photo / Tom Tschida

This type of phase inspection is typically performed on B-52s every 100 flight hours, offering an in-depth look at the aircraft's systems. This ensures the aircraft's safety and operability.

"The B-52s are pretty hard aircraft to maintain, and our guys do a great job turning them out," said Lt. Col. Harry Chrisman, 917th Maintenance Group commander.

Dryden funded the inspection by the 917th Wing. Many were on hand on Feb. 6, 2004, when the white painted aircraft landed and taxied past the many gray B-52Hs parked on the Barksdale flightline.

First up for launch from the B-52H is NASA's X-37 Approach and Landing Test Vehicle (ALTV), slated to be dropped from altitudes of up to 40,000 feet. The X-37 ALTV drop tests are scheduled to begin this year.

photo: The crew chief going over aircraft maintenance records.

Co-pilot Frank Batteas, left, Fullerton, and crew chief Ken Wilson, right, go over aircraft maintenance records.
NASA Photo / Tom Tschida

With each new flight test project, such as that involving the X-37, a build-up approach is taken. First, a new aerospace vehicle is taken on captive-carry flights with the vehicle tucked under the B-52 wing. Following successful captive-carry flights unpowered drop flights begin, as will be the case with the X-37. If later plans call for a vehicle to be flown under its own power, this sequence would begin following the unpowered flights.

NASA and the Air Force have experience with modification of B-52s for the flight-research role. In the late 1950's, both organizations modified and used two early-model B-52B aircraft as air-launch motherships, including NASA 008.

The B-52H can carry a load of 25,000 lbs. on a newly constructed pylon. Further structural additions are possible, which would increase the aircraft's final payload weight capability to more than 70,000 lbs.

B-52H Photo Gallery

B-52H Movie Gallery