Today, the B-52 still flies as America's oldest operational bomber. In the final testimony to the strength of the design, the venerable BUFF is usually crewed by men younger than the airplane.
The B-52H flies operationally out of just two bases, Minot AFB, North Dakota, and Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, a shadow of the once great fleet of SAC bombers that stood ready to fly the nuclear mission that never came. Just 66 bombers are slated to remain in operational readiness.
In 1994, yet another B-52H modification program began, the Conventional Enhancement Modification (CEM) program. The goals of the program are to further extend the conventional warfare capabilities of the B-52H. The program was born of necessity as the B-52G, SAC's conventional workhorse, was retired due to budget cuts and force drawdowns.
The first goals of the program gave the H model an anti-ship capability with air launched Harpoon missiles. Up to twelve of these highly effective ship killers can be carried on a single B-52H. In addition, program called for modifications to carry the new and highly sophisticated AGM-142A Raptor, an inertial/TV guided missile that is remotely flown into the target by the weapons officer by joystick. In addition, the modifications allowed the plane to carry the AGM-84E SLAM, the BGU-10, the Mk. 84 and Mk. 60 CapTor mine, GBU-12s, the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), the Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW), and the whole family of 1,000 and 2,000 lb bombs.
A new Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system was installed, along with the AN/ARC-210 VHF/UHF radio with secure voice encryption. In addition, a new suite of counter-measures was added, including the classified Have Quick II, SINCGARS anti-jam, and more. Enhanced electrical systems have been added to address the requirements of the JDAM, JSOW and the Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD).
Finally, all of the B-52Hs in service have been upgraded to carry either 12 AGM-86B/C ALCMs or 12 AGM-129A ACMs on wing-mounted pylons. This gives the bomber the ability to persevere in its mission for the time being and probably for years to come.
Just to prove that the old workhorse is still up the task, the new Air Combat Command (which encompasses the former SAC units) ordered the plane to attempt yet another record-setting flight. On August 25, 1995, A B-52H from the 2nd BW set a new speed record in its class. Flying 10,000 kilometers, unrefuelled, with a payload of 5,000 KG. Incredibly, the airplane averaged a speed of 556 mph.
In its more than 44 years of service, the plane has demonstrated itself to be a proven workhorse. Those who flew (fly) it can proudly look upon their role and its place as the Strategic Air Command's "Long Rifle." The BUFF has survived in the Air Force's inventory because of its reputation as a solid, reliable airplane, flexible enough to change with the times and powerful enough to serve as a deterrent against even the most deadly, sophisticated enemy.
Current plans are for the last B-52 will probably fly its final mission sometime around the year 2045, capping 90 years of service to the Air Force -- not bad for a plane whose early development was almost cancelled several times back in the 1940s and testimony to the talents of the "other" Boeing that most passengers on today's airlines rarely think about.