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Blast from the past: 20th EBS drops last M117 bomb in PACAF

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Airmen from the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, with the help of 36th Munitions Squadron Airmen, dropped the final M117 bomb in the Pacific Air Force's inventory June 26 on an uninhabited island off the coast of Guam.

The M117 bomb dates back to the mid-1950s when it was first used during the Vietnam War.

"I think it's fitting that the last M117 bomb was dropped from a B-52 deployed to Andersen AFB," said Jeffrey Meyer, 36th Wing historian.  "Loading and dropping the last M117 from a deployed B-52 here is like remembering and honoring the hard work of Strategic Air Command's Airmen from long ago one last time."

The M117 is a 750 pound general purpose bomb that can be employed in two different configurations: retarded - uses a special fin assembly providing either high-drag or low-drag release options; or destructor - looks similar to the M117R, but uses a magnetic influence fuze, which enables the bomb to function as a mine.

Both the B-52 and M117 were developed and added to the Air Force's inventory in the 1950s and used together extensively during Operation Arc Light from 1965 to 1973 as part of the Vietnam War. The missions supporting Operation Arc Light launched from Andersen AFB, U-Tapao Air Base, Thailand, and Kadena AB, Japan. In addition, B-52 aircrew dropped M117s during Operation Linebacker II from December 18-29, 1972, and Operation Desert Storm from January 16 to February 28, 1991.

Although Andersen AFB has had thousands of pounds of M117 bombs in its stockpile since the bomb was used operationally, many munitions Airmen don't get the chance to see these bombs during their career.

"It's an amazing feeling to be a part of the 20th EBS and work alongside such dedicated Airmen who comes to work every day ready to complete the mission; it's only fitting that these Airmen get to  witness this rare occasion of dropping the last M117 Bomb in PACAF," said Lt. Col. Wade Karren, 20th EBS director of operations."

Dropping the final M117 in PACAF is a small part of U.S. Pacific Command's CBP which was established at Andersen in 2004. PACOM's CBP demonstrates the United States' commitment to the security and stability of the Indo-Asia Pacific region. Bomb squadrons, such as the 20th EBS, deploy here on a rotational basis, providing a flexible response capability.

"CBP is important because it assures and deters our allies in the Pacific and it helps out with the Navy's operations to project power in the region," said Capt. Patrick Walsh, 20th EBS Department of Weapons and Tactics assistant flight commander.

Dropping live weapons gives pilots the chance to get real-world experience at applying their job skills.

"The abundance of M117 bombs allowed crews to train with live weapons for more than a decade, increasing crew confidence and combat readiness," Walsh said.

Now that the last M117 bomb in PACAF has been dropped, B-52 aircrews and MUNS Airmen can focus all of their time on training with newer bombs rather than switching from modern and Vietnam-era bombs.

In addition to dropping the final bomb, the 20th EBS also celebrated their 98th birthday on this day.

On June 26, 1917, the 20th EBS was formed as the 20th Aero Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas. Since the squadron's inception, the squadron transferred to numerous bases and supported various missions. In 1993, the bomb squadron moved to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, where is resides today. The squadron started out assisting in World War I and has been involved in about every war and conflict since then.

"I think it's awesome to be able to drop live weapons on the range out here especially on our birthday," said 1st Lt. Bryant Curdy, 20th EBS weapons system officer. "So many B-52 crews have come through Guam and dropped M117s starting in Vietnam, and actually being able to be part of the crew who gets to drop the last weapon out here is not only great training but it's a part of a cool legacy that we get to share."