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NASA's B-52H Gets an Air Force Check-up
NASA's B-52H at Barksdale AFB
   NASA's B-52H taxis in past U.S. Air Force B-52Hs at
   Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Feb. 6, 2004.
   (USAF photo by SSgt. Sherri Savant)
NASA's newest mother ship aircraft recently received a thorough check-up, compliments of the U.S. Air Force Reserve 917th Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

The flight research vehicle launch aircraft, a former U.S. Air Force B-52H bomber with modifications, was given a thorough "phase inspection."

This type of in-depth inspection is typically performed on B-52s every 300 flight hours to examine the aircraft's structure and systems more thoroughly than in normal preflight and post-flight inspections. This ensures the safety and operability of the aircraft.

The flight vehicle is one of two NASA B-52s in operation, along with the "NASA 008," which is famous for its participation in some of the most significant projects in aerospace history. Though operated by NASA, the B-52H is a cooperative launch platform that can support the USAF's Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

"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.

NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, which operates the B-52H, paid for the 917th Wing to accomplish the inspection.

B-52H receives maintenance
   SSgt. Lloyd Sewell of the 917th Maintenance
   Squadron drains engine oil from NASA's B-52H
   during the aircraft's phase maintenance. (USAF
   photo by SSgt. Sherri Savant)
Set for the first launch from the B-52H is NASA's X-37 Approach and Landing Test Vehicle, slated to be dropped from altitudes of up to 40,000 feet this year.

With each new flight test project, a build-up approach is used. First, a new aerospace vehicle is taken on captive-carry flights with the vehicle remaining tucked under the wing of the B-52. Drop flights without power begin following these successful flights. If later plans call for a vehicle to be flown under its own power, this sequence would start following the powerless flights.

NASA and the USAF have experience with modification of B-52s for this role. In the late 1950s, both organizations modified and used two early-model B-52 aircraft as air-launch mother ships, including NASA 008.

The B-52H can carry a load of 25,000 pounds on a newly constructed pylon, with the possibility of further structural additions to increase the aircraft's final payload weight capability to more than 70,000 pounds.

More B-52H information and photos are available at

NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center and John F. Kennedy Space Center