How much does it cost the US Air Force to operate the manned combat fleet?
Winslow Wheeler, of the Center for Defense Information, has obtained actual operational cost per flight hour data over the past 10 years from his sources, and he graciously shared the database with The DEW Line. It is not classified information, but the data is not normally released by the USAF.
Writing about “costs” is always tricky. Numbers can vary dramatically depending on what gets included. In this case, we’re talking about operational costs. This includes operations costs, including fuel, parts and maintenance, as well as interim contractor support and manpower. It excludes modifications funded by procurement accounts. The total cost number is divided by the total number of flight hours flown by the fleet, and that is the operational cost per flight hour.
According to Wheeler’s sources, operational cost data is not an accurate measure of unmanned air vehicle (UAV) costs or fifth-generation fighter costs, so those are excluded from these tables.
We fed this data into the Google documents tool, and, with some assistance from Flightglobal data journalism consultant Kevin Anderson, produced a series of interactive graphics that you can browse below. The y-axis represents US dollars in constant 2010 values.
Among the surprises, B-2 costs appeared to rise dramatically to over $130,000 per hour after one of the bombers crashed on Guam in March 2008, the C-17A costs less to operate than a C-130H, the B-52H costs more than the B-1B, and the C-5B is more expensive to operate than the C-5A.