Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
long-range bomber has been in continuous service since 1954. Production of new aircraft
ran from 1952 through 1962. Now 59 years hence at version 'H,' it is still our nation's
primary long-range bomber. That is a great testimony to the aircraft's initial design
and construction, but a sad testimony to our ability to design and build a complete replacement.
The B-1 bomber was a dismal failure and the B-2 Stealth bomber is too expensive to build
and maintain in large quantities. This story from a 1957 edition of Radio & Television
News reports on the "K-System" computerized bombsight gear installed in early B-52s that
used radar for targeting. According to the writer, nearly 1,000,000 American defense
company workers at companies like Eastman Kodak, General Motors, General Mills (yes,
the breakfast cereal people), Motorola, and roughly 3,000 others were employed directly
or indirectly in the manufacturing effort. Today, the DoD would subcontract most of the
production to China and other countries that would love to see our demise.
B-52 Bomb Navigation System
B-52 bombardier (left) and navigator (right) operate this two-man
station at master control panel of a later version of fabulous "K-System" bombing-navigation
Bombardier has complete control of aircraft for the final moments
of target run.
First photos of system that pinpoints any spot on globe in any weather.
Far cry from the relatively simple "bombsight" of early World War II is this later
version of the "K-System" bombing-navigation controls in new USAF B-52 Stratofortress
bombers. These are first operational views of a master control panel, just released 10
years after the system was initially developed and produced by Sperry Gyroscope for the
still-formidable B-47 and B-36 squadrons of Strategic Air Command. First view here reveals,
by a selector switch above navigator's helmet (top right) , the transpolar range capability
of the bombers.
The K-System automatically measures distance and time to target, computes ballistics
of bomb's curve for existing altitude, temperature and crosswinds, permits final hairline
adjustment via radar or optical sight, triggers bomb away at proper instant, then helps
the navigator to guide the shortest way home.
Originally designed, developed, and produced by Sperry Gyroscope, manufacture of this
critical gear was rapidly dispersed through other plants of General Motors, National
Cash Register, and IBM. Eastman Kodak, Western Electric, General Mills, Motorola, and
Farrand were multiple prime or sub-system sources. Western Electric developed the radar.
In all, about one million factory workers and technicians in 36 states, at 3050 companies
large and small, have been directly engaged in this Air Force program to supply needed
More than 70,000 individual parts make up the various computers and other elements
of a single K-System for an individual aircraft - about as many parts as a modern automobile
with power steering and automatic transmission. Each system contains complex circuitry
for hundreds of pre-tested vacuum tubes, over 50 motors, and about 100 relays, with many
sealed amplifiers for quick unit replacement while in the air.
The original prototype cost of nearly a half-million dollars was reduced to less than
half by manufacturing improvements in volume production. Nearly 900 major improvements
for system efficiency through all production channels have been made in the last six
Sperry is now "phasing out" its K-System activity, and turning to more advanced gear.
Meantime, the Air Force has announced the later-model B-52's will replace the K-System
with an improved "Brane" bombing system to be produced by IBM.
Posted July 19, 2013