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Andersen bombers participate in Koa Lightning

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Don Perrien
  • 36th Operations Group
The low rumble of B-52s shook the normally quiet evening skies of Andersen Air Force Base as the Stratofortresses of the 36th Operations Group participated in Pacific Command's Koa Lightning exercise over the islands of Hawaii. 

For the men and women of the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, the exercise tested their endurance as well as their airmanship. The trip from Guam to the exercise area and back often exceeded 18 hours of continuous flight and required two air refuelings for the 6,880-nautical mile journey. After an eight-hour flight to the exercise area, the aircrews tested their offensive and defensive skills with other military units from across the Pacific. 

"These exercise missions were as close to a combat sortie as you could get," said Capt. Matthew Quy, a co-pilot with the 96th EBS. "They were probably the most exciting and demanding missions I've ever flown in a B-52. We did everything a BUFF (B-52) can do. We engaged targets, refueled the aircraft and were intercepted by air defense fighters - it was a full day of flying." 

For the Barksdale-based B-52s, the Koa Lightning exercise gave aircrews an opportunity to work with a wide variety of units and aircraft from the other branches of the United States military. 

"This was awesome joint training to practice the tactics and skills we would actually use in combat," said Capt. Elmo Cain, 96th EBS electronic warfare officer. "Normally we only get to work with other Air Force units, but for this exercise, it was a chance for us to fly and work with the Navy and Marines as well." 

Flying the extended missions allowed the aircrews to hone skills in close air support and dissimilar aircraft combat training. During some of the missions, a single group of fighter aircraft would practice escorting the B-52s while another group of aircraft would practice intercepting the incoming bombers. 

"These were the longest missions I've ever flown in the B-52," said 1st Lt. Brad Haynes, a navigator assigned to the 96th EBS. "We practiced how we would drop bombs and employ ordnance in a real mission. 

"Being the navigator on a long flight like this, it's important to make sure your timing is set for the whole mission," Lieutenant Haynes said. "You're coordinating air refueling, weapon employment, and target timing over very long distances. It's a challenge to constantly ensure that you're on time and where you're supposed to be at for the entire 18-hours." 

According to the 96th EBS commander, Lt. Col. Steve Matson, participating in exercises like Koa Lightning not only reinforces the flying skills of the B-52 aircrews, it also demonstrates the U.S. commitment to the Western Pacific. 

"Flying 18-hour round trip missions form Guam to the Hawaiian Island ranges highlight the flexibility and endurance of our B-52s - and the Airmen who fly and maintain them," Colonel Matson said. "In addition, these extended missions provide a unique training opportunity to thoroughly integrate bombers into Pacific Command's joint and coalition exercises. Exercises like Koa Lightning ensure we maintain the capabilities necessary to maintain peace and security in the region."