Wednesday, October 24, 2007

5 Ancient Aircraft in Frontline Service

Earlier I posted to a story titled "A fighter conceived in the 1960s is still on the job". You may be surprised to learn that there are several types of aircraft still in service today from the 1950's and 60's, which are not only still in active service, but are the backbone of our Flying Forces, including:

1). B-52 Stratofortress: The concept for this granddaddy of bombers was first conceived in 1945, under the old Army Air Force! Originally designed as a straight wing, propeller driven aircraft, Boeing took it on its own to create the more revolutionary swept wing jet bomber we know today. First flown in 1952, the USAF received its first operational version in 1955. The B-52H version which our pilots fly today, was accepted in 1962, the last in October of that year when John F. Kennedy was President! An astounding total of 744 planes were bought, with 94 still flying.

2). KC-135 Stratotanker: Probably the most essential of our ancient aircraft, without which our forces would lack the global reach it possesses today.The first of a total of 732 were bought by the Air Force in 1954, with 550 remaining in service. A replacement for this venerable and essential warhorse remains elusive.

3) C-130 Hercules: Another essential senior citizen for all services, including the Coast Guard, the mighty Herk was first conceived at the height of the Korean War in 1951! Worldwide, some 2100 have been built, with the USAF alone still flying over 500. First flight was in 1954, and production continues today with the "J" version, over 50 years later!

4) U-2 Dragon Lady: What better plane to replace our Mach 3 capable super spyplane SR-71 Blackbird (retired in 1998), than the same sub-Mach aircraft it was supposed to supersede! Designed by the famed "Kelly" Johnson at Lockheed's "Skunk Works", the U-2 first entered service in 1956. It came into public view after being shot down in 1960 while flying over the Soviet Union. Likely to be supplanted by unmanned aerial vehicles, this must be the only aircraft on record to have outlasted its replacement.

5). CH-46 Sea Knight: This twin roter Navy and Marine helicopter first entered service in 1960, with the last rolling off the assembly line in 1971. These giants have served faithfully from Vietnam to today's wars in the Gulf. Of 625 built, 239 still remain in service, mainly with the Marines. Its successor will be the V-22 Osprey tiltroter plane, itself a concept from the 1970's!

Most of these well-used planes have been extensively updated over the decades, as is the case with the B-52, with modern weapons and electronics, until there are basically new aircraft. Makes you rethink the need for the expensive R & D costs and long development periods of modern planes, when you can just keep the production line going on still-useful airframes year after year!