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Boeing brings B-52 into digital age with major communications upgrade

Boeing is providing an upgraded communications system for U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers so aircrews can send and receive information via satellite links, allowing crews to change mission plans and retarget weapons in flight and better interact with aircraft and ground forces.

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress.

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress.

To date, mission information has been uploaded to a B-52 only before a flight, not during. The upgrade, one of the largest improvements to the venerable bomber fleet, will therefore significantly improve B-52 effectiveness and flexibility.

“We are bringing this amazing workhorse of a bomber into the digital age and giving our customer the infrastructure necessary for continued future improvements,” said Scot Oathout, Boeing B-52 program director.

The upgrade will be done through a new $76 million Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) contract that covers low rate initial production of the first CONECT kits, along with spare parts and maintenance and service at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. System installation will begin during the latter part of 2014.

Other improvements will include a state-of-the-art computing network with workstations at each crew position and an integrated digital interphone with increased capacity; it will enable crew members to talk to one another on headsets with noise-cancelling technology.

Developed in the late 1940s, the B-52 was designed as a long range, nuclear-capable bomber. First flight of a B-52 prototype was in 1952. Over 700 B-52s were produced before production ended in 1962. That means the “youngest” B-52 is 50 years old.

The B-52 has served in every major conflict involving the U.S. since the 1950s, from South East Asia to the Gulf Wars and on to Afghanistan. The aircraft has received several technology upgrades over the years, and is expected to serve the USAF until sometime in the 2040s.

The B-52 has several unique features, including its eight turbofan engines and a bicycle type undercarriage, as opposed to the tricycle type common on most other aircraft.

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