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Gas Efficiency and the B-52 Bomber

No question: the B-52, with its eight engines, its 185-ft wingspan, its longevity (first flew in 1952, scheduled to stay in service until 2040) is an impressive plane, if you can live with its ultimate aim—to flatten everything below its path with 10,000 pound of bombs and missiles. Based in Louisiana and Missouri, bombing crews have been known to have breakfast with their families at home, head for the hangars, fly a bombing mission to Iraq or Afghanistan, and be home for dinner a couple of days later (whatever the calculations may be). Now they just fly training or scaring runs, one of which claimed a plane near Guam Monday, claiming at least two, possibly six lives.

Here’s what the plane also costs: Its fuel capacity is 50,000 gallons for a range of about 4,500 miles, or 11.1 gallons to the mile. The distance from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where a good number of B-52s are based (more are based at Minot Air Force Base in North dakota), and Guam in the Pacific, where they go to warm up for bombing runs, is 7,200 miles—one way. Round trip, a single plane will burn 160,000 gallons of fuel. OK, make that 120,000 gallons, assuming an emptier payload. I commute 300 miles a week or so. I burn 15 gallons a week, because I, too, drive an antiquated, inefficient American car (when I’m sparing my antique Subaru). What all that comes out to is that it would take me 8,000 weeks, or 154 years, of commuting five days a week to burn through as much fuel as a B-52 burns through in a single round trip from Missouri to Guam.

The plane is suddenly much less impressive, and a lot more obscene, not just for its ultimate purpose. The Air Force had 94 of these things until this year. It wants to keep 56 and send the rest to the boneyard. No need to wonder why.

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