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US military decides against grounding B-52 bombers despite major incident

January 07, 2017, 7:49 UTC+3 WASHINGTON

As US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said earlier it appeared to be a one-off situation, and not evidence the engine incident was a widespread problem within the B-52 fleet

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WASHINGTON, January 7. /TASS/. The US military has decided against suspending flights by its strategic bombers B-52 despite a recent major incident involving a plane of this type, which lost one of its engines in flight, the deputy chief of media operations at the Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs, Linda Frost, confirmed to TASS on Friday.

"Currently, the B-52 remains flying today and initial assessment does not point to a fleet-wide issue. More information will be shared as it comes available," Frost said.

The Air Force Global Strike Command is in charge of two components of the US nuclear triad - inter-continental ballistic missiles and strategic bombers. It is headquartered at the Barksdale airbase, Louisiana.

One-off situation

As US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said earlier it appeared to be a one-off situation, and not evidence the engine incident was a widespread problem within the B-52 fleet. The B-52 is a nuclear-capable aircraft.

James said there was "zero indication" of a large-scale problem.

"There’s no evidence of that. It appears this was a one-off situation," she stated.

"Catastrophic engine failure"

As follows from what James explained, US Air Force specialists "believe at this point that it was really a catastrophic failure of that one engine." The engine "disintegrated" and then "fell off the aircraft upon disintegration," said James, who is not a member of the presidential cabinet. The search team believes that the engine’s debris may be found at the bottom of a river, so their recovery might take several months, James told the media while answering questions during a visit to Minot Air Force Base.

US Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told TASS on Thursday the incident occurred on Wednesday during a training mission near Minot base.

According to Stefanek, on January 4 a B-52 declared an in-flight emergency when the pilot discovered that an engine dropped from the aircraft. There were no weapons on board and it was a local training mission. The aircraft landed safely with no injuries to the five personnel on board. Upon landing it was confirmed that the engine departed the aircraft. The incident happened over an unpopulated area approximately 46 kilometers North-East of the Minot base.

The plane carried no weapons. Search helicopters spotted the area where the engine’s debris are likely to be found, Stefanek added.

Another US Air Force press service official, Captain Michael Herzog, told TASS that there was no special budget entry for replacing B-52 engines at the moment. The Global Strike Command is considering the possibility of keeping these planes in operation for decades, throughout the 2050s.

In service since 1955

B-52 is the United States’ oldest heavy long-range bomber. The Air Force has used it since 1955 (the maiden flight was back in 1952). At the moment the Air Force has a fleet of 76 such planes (including 18 in reserve). Each is capable of carrying 31.5 tonnes of cruise missiles and bombs, including smart ones.

One B-52 bomber is estimated at $84,000 million. Its production was stopped in 1962. A total of 744 such planes were made.

B-52 bombers were used practically in all recent armed conflicts in which the United States was involved, first and foremost, those in Afghanistan and Iraq, for dealing strikes with high accuracy weapons. They are deployed at two bases - Minot and Barksdale.

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