The B-52 Bomber’s 'Wrinkles' are a Feature, Not a Flaw

Kyle Mizokami
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan

From Popular Mechanics

  • Recently a B-52 was photographed with what looked like “wrinkles” in its skin.
  • The “wrinkles” are actually signs of the aircraft’s aluminum skin buckling.
  • Both military and commercial aircraft buckle in flight, without any danger to passengers or crew.

An article at The Aviationist addresses one of the least well known but apparently common facts about large airplanes—the skin does not always sit still and it isn't meant to. As the article explains the skin of large aircraft such as the B-52 Stratofortress buckles in flight, rippling with the high speed flow of air over the surface of the aircraft. Although slightly alarming, it’s perfectly safe.

Recently, the site shared a photo of the moment an engine on a B-52H Stratofortress sent a shower of sparks flying. The photo was a rare closeup of the forward fuselage, between the cockpit and the wing. The photo showed not only the aircraft’s markings but a definite pattern of vertical ripples across the skin of the airplane, giving it a papery or plastic-y appearance.

The ripples are a regular thing, but most people would never know it. The B-52 is 159 feet long, and many photographers prefer to take photos of the entire aircraft. What’s more, photos of the big bomber flying are usually taken from another aircraft, making smaller details harder to spot. The photographer responsible for The Aviationist’s shot was zoomed in on the front of the airplane as it departed Leoš Janáček Airport, in Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

All aircraft have relatively lightweight metal skins, a function of trying to keep an aircraft as light as possible. The thin metal skins are subject to compressive and pressure loads during flight. This causes the rippling effect in the metal. The rippling does not harm the aircraft nor apparently alter its performance in flight. The buckles are particularly visible on the B-52 bomber, which has a large, long, slab-sided fuselage.

Source: The Aviationist










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