flying the b-52

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Flying the B-52

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  • FlyingtheB52Part1MajorKong

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    B52GEarly1990s

    OKthisisthebigone.Mybigchancetosharemyexperiencesboreeveryonewithwarstories.

    Itwasmyprivilegetoflyoneofthegreatclassicsofaviation.OnethatisstillaroundtodayandmaystillbearoundevenafterI'mgone.

    IservedasanaircraftcommanderonB52Gsfrom19891992.Thiswasaninterestingtime.TheColdWarwasnearingitsend,buttheSovietUnionwasstillaroundandStrategicAirCommandbombersstillsatnuclearalert.ThentherewasthatlittlespatintheMiddleEast.

    NewairdefensesweremakingourlivestougherbutB1swerejustbecomingoperationalandtheB2wasstilladream.Wewerestillthebackboneofthebomberforceinthosedays.Wehadtobegood,damngood,becauseourplaneswereolderthanmostofusflyingthem.Wemayhavebeenbesttrainedbomberforceever.

    Thisisaprettybigtopic,soI'lltalkmoreaboutthemissionlater.InthisdiaryIjustwanttointroduceyoutotheairplane.

    Firstoff,it'snota"Stratofortress".NobodycalleditaStratofortress.Itwas,andwillalwaysbe"TheBUFF".Ifyoudon'tknowwhatthatacronymmeans,I'llletyoulookitup.It'snotapoliteterm.

    IflewtheB52G,orthe"Gmodel".They'renotaroundanymore.Theywereallretiredaround1993.BytreatywiththeRussianstheywereallchoppedintopiecessothattheycouldneverbeputbackintoservice.WhenIsawthembeingcutupontelevisionIcried.

    TheGwasbuiltbetween1957and1959.Itwasaninterimmodelbetweentheearlier"talltail"modelsandtheHmodel,whicharetheonlyonesstillflying.The"new"oneswerebuiltin1960by

  • theway.

    Solet'stakealookatthisthing.

    B52GConfigured

    Firstoff,it'ssinisterlooking.Itlookslikeitwasbuilttokillthings.....itwas.They'vehadmanypaintschemesovertheyears.Ourswerepaintedeitheraverydarkgreenoraflatblack.IfDarthVaderhadaplane,thiswouldprobablybeit.

    Bythenthesleeklinesofthelate1950shavegivenwaytoallkindsofbumpsandbulgesfromcamerapodsandjammingantennas.Acloselookwouldrevealaveritable"antennafarm"alongthebellyoftheplane.

    Damnit'sbig.Thatwingismassive189feettiptotip.It'sgoteightengines.Nothingelsehaseightengines.Sure,they'recrappylate50sturbojetsbutthere'seightofthem.That'scool.Eightnoisy,smokebelching,gasguzzling,waterinjectedturbojets.Nobodyusesturbojetsanymore.Evenfightershaveturbofansin1989.

    Suretherearebiggerplanesbutthisthingjustseemsimpressive.Ahulkingbruteofanairplane.Itcanweighinat500,000pounds.Mostofthatisfuel.Atypicalfuelloadwas280,000pounds.Toputthatinperspective,myentire757onlyweighs200,000poundsfullyloaded.IttakesalotoffueltoflytoRussia.Another50,000poundsofthatcouldbeweapons,conventionalorotherwise.Moreonthatlater.

    It'salsodifferent.There'snothingnormalaboutit.AllBoeingshavealotincommon,exceptforthisone.I'veflownthe707(KC135),727and757now.TheB52isnothinglikethem.It'sliketheoddfamilymemberthateveryonewondersiftheywereadopted.

    Airplaneslookthewaytheydoforareason.Inthiscasethemassivebombbay,thepurposeforthisplane'sexistence,isthatreason.Tomakeroomforittheyhadtoputasetofmain"trucks"infrontofitandanotherbehindit.Thefrontwheelsarethesamesizeasthebacks.Thenarrowstanceofthemaingearrequiredthemtoputsmallwheelsoutatthewingtipstokeepthewingsfromtouchingtheground.

    Theythenhadtoattachthewingatanupwardsanglejustsothethingcouldtakeoffandlandwiththatfunkylandinggear.Ifyoueverseeonetakeoff,thewingstartsto"fly"beforetherestoftheplane.That'salsowhytheysometimesappeartobeflyingnosedowntheyare.It'sjustdifferent.

    Technologywiseitrunsthegamutfromlate1940stostateoftheartforthetime.ThebombracksandreleasemechanismarerightoutofaB17.Theradar,howeveristhesameunitastheB1.It

  • evenhadGPSandsatellitecommunicationswhenthosewerenewtechnologies.

    Andithasguns!Howcoolisthat?Thereare4fiftycalibermachinegunsinthetail.Justlikeinallthoseoldmovies,exceptthegunnersitsinthecockpitandcontrolsthemremotely.MostlyIjustliketheideaofhavingsomethingtoshootbackwith.

    Let'stakealookinside.It'shardtogetinto.Youclimbupasmallladderunderthebellyoftheplane.It'scrampedinthere.Asbigasitistheydidn'tleavemuchroomforpeople.Whatspaceisn'ttakenupbyfuelorweaponsistakenupbyelectronics.

    Thecockpithasanupperandlowercompartmentwithanotherladderthatgoesbetweenthem.Thatladderistheonlyplaceyouhaveroomtostandupright.

    Thetwonavigatorssitdownstairs,inthedark.Nowindows.Theyhaveejectionseatsbuttheseatsfiredownwards.Notsogoodforlowlevelmissions.

    Nowindowsdownhere.

    Behindthemarethe"facilities"consistingofacanwithalidonit,whichsometimesleaks.EveryB52Iflewinsmelledlikestalesweat,pissandengineoil.

    UpstairstheGunnerandElectronicWarfareOfficer"EDub"sitfacingbackwards,inthedark.Theydon'thavewindowseither.Theyatleasthaveproperejectionseatsthatgoup.

    MyselfandtheCopilotsitupfrontofcourse.Thereisnoflightengineer.Oddforsomethingbuiltinthe1950s.TheplanewassetupfortheAircraftCommandertoflyandtheCopilottomostlyactastheflightengineer.

    ClimbingintotheAircraftCommander'sseat,it'sreasonablycomfortableforanejectionseat.After12hoursnotsomuch.

  • Notmuchroominhere.

    Onceagainit'samixofveryoldandverynew.Italmostlookssteampunk,orlikea1950smadscientistmovie.Alotofitlookslikeitwas"tackedon"overtheyearsbecauseitwas.

    Humanfactorsweren'tabigdealinthelate50'sanditshowsinthecockpit.Theyprettymuchstuckswitchesandgaugeswherevertheyhadroomforthem.OnlyIcanreachthehydraulicsystems,onlytheCopilotcanreachtheelectricalsystems.Flyingthisthingwillbeaseriousteamefforttheairlinescallit"CRM",SACcalledit"CrewConcept".

    Still,itfeelsgoodsittinghere.Feelstough.Feelspowerful.Lookbackatthosemassivewingsandthoseenginepods.Grabholdofthoseeightthrottles.Itmaynotbeasleek,pointynosedfighterbutit'sawarplane.

    That'sallfornow.We'llgoflyinginthenextdiary.

  • FlyingtheB52Part2MajorKong

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    InthelastdiaryIintroducedyoutotheB52,atleastasIrememberthemfromthelate80sandearly90s.

    FlyingtheB52Part1

    Todaywe'regoingtotakeitoutonatrainingmission.Betterpackalunch,trainingmissionstypicallylasted12hours.Wenormallydidoneortwoaweek.

    AsSACusedtosay"You'vegottobetoughtoflytheheavies".

    Atrainingmissionactuallystartsthedaypriortotheflight.You'dspendthebetterpartofadaymissionplanning.Thecrewwouldstudytherouteofflight,especiallythelowleveltrainingroute(s),airrefuelingprocedures,formationproceduresandthentheAircraftCommander(me)wouldconductaformalcrewbriefing.

    Onanormalmissionyoumightbedonemissionplanningby2:00PM.Ifyouwereplayinginabigexerciseitmighttakeacouplemorehourstocovereverything.

    Mymemoryishazyonthis,butIthinkweshoweduponthedayoftheflight21/2hoursormorebeforetakeofftime.Daysortiestookoffaround6:30AMandnightsortiestookoffaround6:30PM.Thismeanteithergettingupatridiculousoclockorgettingtobedatludicrousoclock.Itwasprettycommontohaveadayandanightsortieinthesameweek,whichreallythrewoffyoursleepschedule."Fatigue"wasnotawordinSAC'svocabulary."Yougottabetough....."

    AbuswouldtakeustoLifeSupporttocollectourflightgear,theFlightKitchenforourboxlunches,CommandPostfortheflightplan(thesewerestoredonportablecomputertapedrives).Finallywe'dheadtoBaseOperationsforourweatherbriefingandtoconductafinalcrewbrief(andalastbathroomstop!)beforeheadingouttotheairplane.

    Attheplanewe'dcheckthemaintenancelogs,andthenmyselfandthecopilotwoulddotheexteriorinspection(we'deachtakeaside)whiletherestofthecrewsettledin.

    Normallyyoudon'tjustjumpintoabomberfireitupandgofly.Ittakestimetoaligntheplane'snavigationalsystemsandtorunthelengthyinteriorinspectionchecklist.There'salsoagoodchanceofsomethingrequiringmaintenanceattention.Theseareoldplanesandthere'salotofthingsthatcanbreak.I'veactuallytaxiiedtotherunwaywithelectronicstechsworkingonsomepieceofequipmentintheplaneandkickedthemoutjustbeforetakeoff.

    Everythinginabomberisbasedontiming.Weneedtotakeoffontimetomeetupwithourtankerontimeandtomakeourlowlevelrouteontime.There'ssomeslopbuiltintotheflightplan,butasignificantdelaywillrequiretheschedulerstostartcoordinatingnewtimesforeverything.

  • Onceeverythingwasreadyenginestartwasnormallybygroundaircart.We'dstartengines4and5(themostinboardoneachwing)withtheaircartandthenusethoseenginestostarttheothersix.

    Withtheenginesrunningit'sanextremelynoisyairplane,bothoutsideandinside.Wealwaysworehelmetsorfullheadsetstocancelsomeofthenoise.Unlikeanairlinercockpit,theonlywaytotalkbetweencrewmemberswasbyusingtheintercom.Mycopilotsittingthreefeetawaywouldnothavebeenabletohearmetalk.Theairconditioningsystemseemedtogeneratemorenoisethancoldair.

    Oncetheenginesarerunningwebringtherestofoursystemsonlineandgetreadytotaxi.Evenwiththeairconditioningonit'slikeasaunaintheairplane.MostoftheACisbeingsenttokeeptheelectronicscool.Wesweatinthecockpituntilwereachaltitude."Hey,yougottabetough....."

    Thehardestpartofflyinganylargeairplaneistaxiingitontheground.TheB52especiallysobecausetherearewheelsoutonthewingtipsandyoualwayshavetokeepinmindwherethoseare.FortunatelySACbaseshadnicewidetaxiwaysandrunways.Thenosetrucksarequiteawaysbehindthecockpit,soyouhadtomakebigsquareturnslikeacitybus.Therewasnotillerforthenosewheelsteeringlikeanairlinerwouldhave.Itwasalldonethroughtherudderpedals.Therewasasettingfortaxiandalowrangefortakeoffandlandingthatlimitedhowmuchsteeringyouhad.

    Neartheendoftherunwaytherewouldbeanotherpilot,sittinginatruckwitharadioandactingasasafetyobserver.Hewouldgiveusaonceoverlookingforanythingoutofplaceontheplane.Wealldidour"turninthebarrel"pullingthisduty.Onceclearedtogowe'dpulloutontotherunway.

    Takeoffwasdifferentfromanyotherplane.Iftherewasacrosswind,wecouldactuallypivotthemainwheelssothattheplanewouldfaceintothewindwhilethewheelsfacedstraightdowntherunway.Whentheplanewasbrandnewthiswasactuallyclassified,andtheywouldn'tshowthelandinggearinpublicityphotos.

    Theflapsarehugeandelectricallypowered(mostheaviesusehydraulicsforthis).Theflapsareactuallyaslargeasthewingonsomeairliners.Therewasonlyoneflapsetting,100percent,andittookthemafullminutetoextendorretract.

    AswelinedupontherunwayI'dshiftthenosewheelsteeringtolowrange,advancethethrottlesandthenturnonthe