The B-52 Stratofortress is one of the most potent examples of American military engineering of the 1950s, as demonstrated by its continued use as a heavy payload bomber and, perhaps most importantly, an integral part of America’s nuclear triad to this very day. Over the years, the B-52 has seen a number of upgrades, updates, and improvements, but the air frame itself has been in service to the United States over combat zones for more than 60 years, and in that time, the airmen tasked with running this aircraft have developed a few tricks.
One such trick involves the B-52’s eight mighty Pratt and Whitney TF33 turbofan engines. Under normal circumstances, safety checks and warm-ups require about one full hour to get the B-52 started and ready to fly. However, as an integral part of America’s airborne nuclear delivery strategy, the Air Force needs to be able to scramble B-52s at a moment’s notice – either to launch a retaliatory strike or to vacate an air base under impending threat. Because the B-52 traditionally relies on an alternate source of energy to get the engines rolling, this method can also be used to get bombers running when equipment issues would otherwise leave the planes grounded.
So what does one do when you need to kick-start eight engines that are massive enough to carry the 488,000 pounds of aircraft and payload? Simple: you strap explosives to them.
In this video, recently released by the U.S. Air Force, you can see what it looks like when air crews insert small explosive charges (they refer to as cartridges) into two of the aircraft’s eight engines. They then detonate those charges, kick-starting the engines and getting the hulking bomber ready to fly in minutes rather than waiting for over an hour.
“The charges basically jump start 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 aircraft’s startup time from more than an hour to less than 10 minutes.”
With the two explosive-aided engines running and powering their on-board generators, the rest of the engines start up as the aircraft taxis and prepares for takeoff. Think of it sort of like pop-starting your old beater car, except that you’re doing it with a 285-foot wingspan bomber that’s potentially full of nuclear weapons.