News | June 15, 2016

DLA Aviation helps sustain America’s first long-range bomber for another 30 plus years

By Leon Moore DLA Aviation Public Affairs

If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to see an Air Force B-52 bomber up close on the ground or in the air, you fully understand its sheer magnitude. Built by Boeing, the B-52 Stratofortress is more than 40 feet high, has a wingspan of 185 feet, and is 160 feet long. To put that into perspective, that’s 25 feet wider and a little less than half the length of a regulation football field.

Boeing built 744 B-52s, in eight different models, from 1952 to 1962. The bomber is now in its sixth decade of operational service. Seventy-six B-52H models remain in the Air Force inventory. The bomber provides today’s warfighter with immediate nuclear and conventional global strike capability.

Defense Logistics Agency Aviation manages 60,439 national stock numbers in the B-52 supply chain, of which 15,807 are unique to the weapon system. An example of a unique NSN is trunnion mounts, a major structural part of the landing gear used on the B-52.

DLA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Andy Busch established the DLA Nuclear Enterprise Support Office under DLA Logistics Operations to position the agency to be fully responsive to the needs of the Air Force and Navy nuclear communities. This includes intercontinental ballistic missile assets, as well as bombers, and submarine resources.

Alonzo Miller, B-52 weapon system program manager for DLA Aviation’s Customer Operations Directorate, said the B-52 fell under this initiative.

“When the general said NESO weapon systems were going to be a priority, it re-invigorated a sense of urgency across the DLA enterprise in trying to significantly improve the B-52 supply chain to help ensure the B-52’s support of the U.S. Nuclear Triad, the system of delivery vehicles comprised of a sea, land, and air deterrent based on submarine -launched ballistic missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers.

To drive this point home, the B-52 DLA supply chain material availability metric was increased from a goal of 90 percent to 95 percent for nuclear capable weapon systems.

Miller also said the B-52 presents constant challenges for parts and material availability because it is an older weapon system facing significant challenges driven by diminishing manufacturing sources. DLA Aviation collaborates with the B-52 System Program Office and engineering activities at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, as well as industrial partners (i.e. Boeing) to mitigate sustainment challenges.

Boeing, the bomber’s original equipment manufacturer, still has much of the data rights and original drawings, but because there is a lower rate of demand for B-52 unique NSNs, there is an additional DMS challenge; meaning, it is a task to find vendors or sub-vendors willing to make so few numbers of a specific part or the low volume cost is significantly higher to procure.

Miller said in the face of DMS issues, needed parts can sometimes be acquired from decommissioned B-52s sitting in mothballs at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. Hundreds of surplus B-52 Stratofortress bombers were dismantled at the facility in the 1990s. Miller said if needed parts are unavailable via DLA sourcing and serviceable at AMARG, they are used.

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as industrial three dimensional printing, is also being explored as an additional solution to DMS issues.

In addition, to help maintain valuable B-52 parts, Miller said Busch also put a moratorium in place that NSNs coded to nuclear capable weapons systems will not be disposed. The B-52 will remain a bedrock for the U.S. Nuclear Triad and DLA Aviation is using all available resources and options to ensure its leg of the B-52 supply chain keeps her flying.

Pondus Wade, supervisory quality assurance specialist for DLA Aviation’s Supplier Operations Directorate is passionate about helping keep the B-52. He said he use to maintain the bomber while on active duty during his Air Force days.

“The thing that got me was working on the flightline and getting those parts that were bad and wondering who made this junk. Now I’m sitting in the seat where I control that. If it’s not good, I say it’s not good. We are making sure all parts that make it out to the flightline are good,” said Wade.

Air Force engineering studies suggest that extensive system and structural upgrades already done and planed for the B-52 will extend its lifespan beyond 2040.

A daunting task, but one Frank Banks, lead quality assurance specialist within the same directorate said DLA Aviation is more than capable of meeting this timeline.  

“We have to make sure we have quality. Quality has to be at the forefront if you want that plane to stay up in the air,” said Banks.