The US Air Force is set to deliver a Boeing B-52H to NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, California by the end of November to supplement, and eventually replace, the agency's 45-year old B-52B launch aircraft "008".
Unlike the present aircraft, which was the eighth B-52 off the Boeing assembly line and is now the oldest still flying, the "new" B-52H will be owned by NASA. TheB-52B is still leased to NASA by the USAF, but is proving hard to maintain because of parts shortages and, according to NASA sources, "was leaking fuel so badly after the last mission, we thought it would never fly again."
Despite the problems, the B-52B has been readied for the next phase of drop tests of the X-38 space station crew return vehicle, due for around 6 November.
The B-52H will "take about one year to be modified for full-up flight tests, and to be fully ready for research missions", says NASA, which adds that a universal pylon adapter is being designed by Boeing to enable it to carry every conceivable underwing load up to 34,000kg (75,000lb). An initial pylon will be capable of carrying 11,300kg loads, it says.
The heaviest load carried by the B-52B "mothership" was the 24,000kg North American X-15 research aircraft equipped with extra fuel tanks. In all, 008was the launch aircraft for 106 X-15 flights, and flew 161 captive carry and launch missions for this programme.
Other missions have also included testing parachute recovery systems for the Space Shuttle solid rocket booster and a drag chute for the Shuttle itself.
Source: Flight International