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As the B-52 closes in on 70 years of service, the Air Force has found yet another use for the airframe. Four B-52Hs were outfitted with cargo pods that fit in the bomb bays to carry stuff for an exercise. According to an Air Force news release, the exercise involved keeping the bomber force mobile in dispersed bases so the ability to carry supplies and equipment lessened the need for support from cargo aircraft units. On the exercise, the cargo versions carried mainly spare parts and supplies that allowed mechanics, who caught rides on the bombers, to maintain the complex aircraft in austere locations.

It’s hard to be sneaky when deploying nuclear bombers but allowing them to carry their own gear lessens the obvious signs of preparation that precede such operations. “We have proven the ability to put significant firepower on target without the large footprint we are used to seeing, and the adversary is used to seeing well in advance of our operational movement,” said Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Gebara, Eighth Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center commander. Each aircraft carried two pods with a total payload of 10,000 pounds.

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