Apparently, the Air Force gets B-52 bomber engines running using explosives.

The B-52 Stratofortress is a 93-ton strategic bomber, so you may need something more explosive to get you going in the morning. In order to maintain the aircraft running, Air Force maintenance crews practice using a small controlled explosive cartridge that can substantially reduce launch time.

According to a 2008 press release, Senior Airman Andrew Poole, a crew chief with the 36th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, stated that eliminating the need to bring out the ground equipment needed for normal takeoffs would speed up aircraft startup time.

“The charges basically jumpstart the engines, removing the need to bring out the aerospace ground equipment used on normal launches,” said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Poole, 36th EAMXS crew chief. “By removing these steps we increase the aircrafts startup time from more than an hour to less than 10 minutes.”

Gearheads have been using shotgun-like shells to get tank and aircraft engines going for generations, and it sounds crazy to start an engine by blowing it up. However, the technique was first introduced in the 1930s. According to Hemmings Motor News, it became a helpful alternative to electric starters in remote areas where electricity or backup battery power was unavailable.

Even before its engines are started, the B-52 requires an external generator and air cart to get moving. According to John Brehman, a former B-52 crew chief who served in the Global War on Terror, the B-52 does not have an auxiliary power unit, so the launch procedure begins by connecting a generator and air cart to two of the bomber’s eight engines. Next, the ground crew starts the engines, then the remainder follows, ensuring no fires or other abnormalities occur.

B-52 Takeoff
(Source: Balon Greyjoy/Wikimedia)

Brehman and his fellow airmen occasionally practiced cartridge starts, also known as cart starts. He said the cartridges were about 10 inches in diameter, weighed about eight pounds, and were always described as large shotgun shells.

A circuit activated the carts from the aircraft’s battery, and as such, had to be protected from static electricity as much as possible, lest they inadvertently fire,” he said.