The U.S. Air Force's B-52 Stratofortress fleet is receiving a major digital upgrade from Boeing, helping the airframe manufacturer to provide a foundation for continued modernization of the military's longest serving bomber airplanes.
(B-52 Bomber. Photo, courtesy of Boeing.)
The upgrades are part of a new $76 million Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) contract, covering low rate initial production of CONECT kits. CONECT is designed to give B-52 aircrews the ability to send and receive information via satellite communications, allowing them to modify mission plans while in flight.
Each B-52 crew station will receive new color displays, computers and keyboards to allow the exchange of CONECT data between aircrews, according to a spokesperson for Boeing's B-52 program. Although the B-52 fleet first entered service in 1954, these upgrades, along with previous updates to the avionics, data-link communications and electronic systems allow the aging fleet to remain effective.
Other improvements included in the upgrades are the digital interphone system being added to the work stations. This will allow crews to communicate between aircraft, to crews on the ground and air operations centers.
"These are the first permanent digital upgrades for the B-52 communication system, and lay an excellent foundation for future upgrades with new computing and a high speed network with capacity for growth," said Jennifer Hogan, a spokeswoman for Boeing's B-52 program.
Boeing is calling this one of the largest improvements to the B-52 fleet, as it allows mission information to be uploaded during a flight. To date, mission information had to be uploaded before taking flight.
The contract award allows Boeing to begin purchasing the CONECT kits that will be installed on the bombers. Thus far, one CONECT kit has been installed and fully operational on a test aircraft. In July, Boeing will provide engineering support for air force technicians to begin installing the first real production CONECT package at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. Other kits are currently being ordered and will begin installation in 2014, though Boeing does not have a targeted date for when the entire B-52 fleet will receive the upgrades.
Related: Military Avionics News