B-52H heralds 47-year legacy
By Master Sgt. Art Webb, 36th Operations Group Public Affairs
/ Published June 14, 2007
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Five aircrew members of the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron gather in a room to receive a mission briefing to put bombs on time, on target against the enemy. To top it off, they will accomplish this in a relatively young aircraft.
The B-52s are some of the oldest planes in the Air Force's inventory. The "H" model has been in existence since 1960 and has continued to evolve and in fact is the weapon of choice during many different contingencies, and campaigns. Even though they've been around the block, they still get the job done-with precision.
One notable fact regarding the actions of the "BUFF," as it is most commonly referred to by aircrew and maintainers, was the targets two B-52s struck in Iraq with conventional air-launched cruise missiles as part of Operation Desert Strike. The aircrews made the 34-hour, 16,000-mile round-trip mission from Andersen. The flight was, at the time, the longest combat mission ever flown. Only two days prior, the crews had completed a 17-hour flight from Louisiana to Guam.
Most of the pilots who fly the B-52 are much younger than the aircraft itself. But the age differences between the two have nothing to do with the speed, range and flexibility of the bomber and its crew.
"It is a great feeling to fly a piece of our nation's history," said Instructor Pilot Maj. Nicholas Russo. "When you read stories from Vietnam and the awesome capability the B-52 brought to that conflict, and then watch the role it played in every major effort since then, it gives you a sense of how much the nation relies on us for the heavy lifting."
The B-52 has contributed to the success of numerous operations by providing the ability to fly high above the battlefield and provide close air support using near precision guided munitions.
"I decided to get into the B-52 because my granddad built them when he worked for Boeing back in the 1950s and 1960s," said Capt. Daniel Willis, radar navigator. "This plane has a long loiter time for CAS, it has standoff capability, first strike capability and sea mine capability, as well as the ability to employ many other weapons. Just knowing that a deadly accurate plane with eight engines is coming after you should be enough to make many of our enemies stand down."
With its engines pushing out more than 135,000 pounds of thrust, the heavy bomber, complete with a five-person crew, can take off with up to 488,000 pounds of fuel and weapons. It can pack around 70,000 pounds of bombs, mines and missiles and it can fly 8,800 miles without refueling. It's also been modified to carry nuclear and conventional air-launched cruise missiles.
"Being part of a combat platform, for me, is what being a military pilot is all about," said Capt. David Sproehnle, B-52 pilot. "Being a bomber pilot is awesome. Knowing we carry more weapons than just about anyone out there can really bring the spirits of the enemy down, and we can save a lot of American troops in just one pass."
Being an aviator is not an easy task. Ask any aircrew member and you'll hear about the many hours spent planning and debriefing each mission. Aircrew members also have other roles to play within the squadron. "Many military aviators work 12-hour days every day because in addition to flying they have other jobs in the squadron which require countless hours of work," Captain Sproehnle said.
The life of a B-52 bomber pilot requires them to be focused, dedicated and most importantly, mission oriented.
"You have to be able to multi-task and be flexible. The mission planning process is extensive. We don't simply hop into a jet, take-off, and bomb," said navigator Capt. Kenneth Hills. "Many hours are dedicated to the integration of intelligence information, weaponeering, route planning, and crew coordination. It takes an aircrew, intelligence troops, a maintenance team and mission support to accomplish our mission."
But many admit it's a great job to have. The camaraderie shared among the crews closes the gap between the military rank structures and strengthens the bond within the squadron. One of many ways they build on their relationships is the call signs they give to each other.
A call sign is a nickname given to a pilot or other flight officer. This call sign is a substitute for the officer's name, and is used on name tags and radio conversations.
"Call signs are a way to level the playing field," Major Russo explained. "Typical squadrons have many different ranks that work and fly together. Call signs enable us to interact on an aircrew to aircrew basis to enhance the learning environment."
"It's a symbol of the camaraderie that members of the 20 EBS share," Captain Willis added.
For more than 40 years, the B-52 Stratofortress has been the backbone of the strategic bomber force for the United States. And according to the aviators, its role may continue for years
The U.S. Air Force continues to employ the B-52 because it remains an effective economical heavy bomber, particularly for the type of conflicts conducted since the end of the Cold War. According to DoD officials, the B-52 is projected to remain in service until at least 2040.