Why does the USAF fly 4 planes that were designed in the 50s?

The B52, C130, KC135 and U2 were all designed prior to 1960 and they are still in active service. I realize they have all been upgraded quite a bit.

Was there no need to replace these planes with newer designs since they work well?

Pretty much. The C130 is a workhorse, and as a pilot friend of mine once said “They don’t seem to ever crash. Oh, they have been flown into the ground on occasion, but they don’t break on their own.” Reliability like that is rare. Ditto the others. Why replace, at tremendous costs, something that works quite well and is paid for?

That’s exactly it. They work very well.

The U2 for example was replaced by the SR-71, which was a better plane, but cost a fortune to keep flying. Most of what the SR-71 did ended up being replaced by satellites, combined with the fact that better missile technology rid the SR-71 of its high flying invulnerability. For the things that the SR-71 did but satellites couldn’t replace, they could fly the much cheaper U2, so they kept the old design flying and retired the new design.

You could argue that the B-2 Spirit now does the job that the B-52 was originally designed for, but the B-52 also still serves a very useful role. The B-52 lacks the Spirit’s stealth, but the B-52 is much more versatile and affordable, so you can actually do a lot more with it. The B-2 costs so much that you’re afraid to send it into combat for the type of stuff that the B-52 does.

It’s kinda funny that most of the pilots flying these planes are younger than the planes themselves.

Others will be able to expand on this point, but aircraft, particularly the airframes, have an incredible useful lifespan relative to cars (the durable vehicle good we’re all most familiar with).

So, to use some inaccurate but illustrative numbers, it might be possible to strap new engines onto a B-52 and have 90% of the plane you’d have if you engineered and built a new bomber from scratch for 20% of the cost.

The KC-135 would be largely retired already if USAF had managed the replacement contract honestly and competently. They’re starting over yet again.

The other aircraft really aren’t all that old, after so many parts replacements. Just keep on top of the maintenance and inspections and there’s no reason to buy new.

The B-52 fleet retirement has been pushed out so far that some airplanes will be 80 years old by then.

KC135 replacement was the contract where an Air Force person steered the new contract to Boeing as payback for a job that was promised to her. She ended up doing a short stint in prison. Also the CEO of Boeing was forced out too.

I would be curious to know, at that point, what parts (if any) would be original.

The basic design of airplanes is very mature. We pretty much know exactly how an airplane performs up to speeds of Mach 2, and what designs work best. Most of the innovation in aeronautics these days is in avionics and materials technology for things like engine turbines.

It could be worse, they could retire them and like the A-10 have no direct replacement.

Maybe just the wing spars. Those are absolutely critical to flight and are typically not cost-effective to replace. Everything else is fair game.

When that was cancelled, in the do-over contract USAF went so far to show they weren’t showing any favoritism toward Boeing that they wound up showing it to Airbus instead. GAO slapped them down hard in the protest investigation, and virtually all of the top USAF leadership was replaced as a result. DoD tried to fix it themselves, but decided to punt it to the next administration instead. That backfired on Sec. Gates when he found he was being kept on.

Contract No. 3 is expected to have the RFQ issued in October.

My dad was a jet mechanic in the USAF for 26 years. Let me tell you, nobody takes better care of their equipment than the USAF. From preventive maintenance to major repairs, as others have mentioned, those ancient planes you see flying are likely nearly new with refurbished or brand new parts.

Dad’s last assignment in the early 90s was working on RF-4Cs - some of which were newish when he was an airman basic at Shaw AFB in the early 1960s. They flew as well then as they did thirty years later.

When I was in service, I rode in several F-4 models that were older than I was at the time.

The Marines have a chopper repair place here in NC and they tear the choppers down to bare metal frames and rebuild them from there. Sounds like AF does the same type stuff.

while they may have all had design origins in the 50’s the aircraft flown today are different. The B52 and KC135 are probably the same flying platform but the c130 and U2 have changed structurally over the years. They are truly the new-and-improved versions of themselves from an airframe performance perspective.

The B52’s role has changed so the plane has morphed from a strategic bomber to a multi-role aircraft that is basically a large platform to hang stuff from. It can be used to launch stand-alone weapons such as tank busters that will separate and independently target entire battalions of tanks.

I agree with the concept of design maturity…there has been no big breakthroughs in aircraft design, since the early 1970’s. Also, most of these successful designs were designed without CAD-just guys with models and wind tunnels.

I was surprised the F-14 is retired but it was 30+ years old. The Navy uses F-18s now for carriers.

Say you wanted to replace the C-130. What would you replace it with?

Something bigger? It’s already the perfect size for takeoffs and landings on short runways. Anything bigger would be less versatile.

Something faster? The kind of missions it flies don’t really depend on speed, and in any case, you can just replace the engines - which is what they eventually did.

Something more reliable? There’s no such thing, especially as they’ve spent 45 years working the kinks out.

Something cheaper? A mutibillion dollar R&D and procurement program is not a way to save money.

The Hercules does its job. Until the nature of warfare changes or some radical new technology is invented, they’re here to stay.

A new one. They’re still in production, after 55 years.

Well, yeah. I meant the model.