Costly Flight Hours

I’m not sure exactly how the per hour cost was calculated for these, but the numbers are quite interesting.  For example, a person making the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and working full-time earns $15,080 a year based on my calculations.  Looking at those numbers, only the C-130 and two training aircraft cost less to operate PER HOUR.  I know military equipment is costly to own, operate, and upkeep though, so I’m not at all surprised at the numbers presented.

This is something people should think about every time they want the US to go and get involved in the affairs of other countries.  For a country that supposedly has serious fiscal issues to the point where politicians want to cut aid to Americans who need it to survive day-to-day, why should we spend exorbitant amounts of money to protect non-Americans?  I’m not suggesting that the humanitarian mission isn’t there.  I’m simply wondering how one can contort the mind to cut off aid to fellow citizens while jumping off at the drop of a hat to aid complete strangers.

The reason I question this is because, throughout the entire Russia-Ukraine issue, I have not one time heard any US politician address the fiscal cost of the US getting involved in this.  Any other issue, and fiscal policy takes front and center.  I guess some people get easily distracted at the thought of blowing sh*t up.

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Last week, Battlelandbemoaned the increasing difficulty finding cost-per-flight-hour data for U.S. military aircraft.

In a flash, longtime defense watcher – from a perch on Capitol Hill, as well as a stint at the Government Accountability Office – Winslow Wheeler piped up to say he recently sought, and got, such data from the Air Force comptroller’s office.

He adds that he has tried to get similar data from the Navy, without luck. What’s up with that, Admiral Kirby?

The Air Force provided Wheeler with cost-per-flight-hour for dozens of aircraft.

Here’s a sample of what it costs to keep these Air Force aircraft airborne for one hour last year (the so-called “ownership” cost-per-flight-hour, which includes modifications):

A-10C Warthog Attack Plane — $17,716



AC-130U Spooky Gunship — $45,986



B-1B Lancer Bomber — $57,807

B-2 Aircraft.  USAF Photo by SSgt Mark A. Borosch


B-2A Spirit Stealth Bomber — $169,313



B-52H Stratofortress Bomber — $69,708



C-130J Hercules

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4 thoughts on “Costly Flight Hours

  1. Did I just miss something that tells whether these per-hour costs include crew costs?

    If these figures are just the cost of buying, maintaining and fueling the aircraft, then they’re not true cost figures. You’d also need to add the personnel costs of pilots, weapons specialists, communications specialists, loadmasters, etc.


    • I’m not sure exactly how they calculated it or what information is included in that calculation. The XL spreadsheet that’s imbedded in the article doesn’t specify where those numbers came from. One of the interesting things in that spreadsheet though, is you can see how different models of the same plane are phased in and out based on operating costs.


  2. AF cost models are quite detailed and extensive. Primary purpose of generating costs is to use in budget planning purposes. There are different cost per flying hours depending upon what the use is. The models depicted here are to depict overall costs of the weapons system and will include everything from airframe acquisition costs, upgrade costs, direct hourly flying costs, all sorts of indirect and other costs (initial training and ongoing training of aircrews, base operations and support costs, medical costs, etc,). Some are costs that are directly attributed, others are indirect that are allocated on an auditable basis. Individual units are funded based upon the number of hours they’re programmed to fly. These costs, though, are for fuel and direct maintenance costs – costs incurred by the AF wing that they have to pay for from their budget.
    AF has good cost tracking systems. Navy’s are good but they’re real political with the info.


    • Thanks for that information. If all four branches operated like this, I think there would be less mistrust of the Pentagon. Somehow, politics and politicians have a way of screwing things up.


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