The last time that United States Air Force (USAF) Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses deployed to RAF Fairford was back in March 2003 during the second Gulf War. As Europe's only Forward Operating Location (FOL) for USAF's Global Strike Command's bomber fleet, Fairford had at one time seen almost annual deployments of both B-1 and B-52 bombers to the base. Rumours had been circulating within the 'aviation community' for some months that a deployment may take place; and so it was that three B-52Hs arrived at RAF Fairford on 4th June. One aircraft each from the 20th, 23rd and 96th Bomb Squadrons (BS), with the call-signs 'Exult 11' (61-0004/LA), 'Exult 12' (60-0059/LA) and 'Exult 13' (60-0017/MT) landed between 10.45am and 11.00 am local time.
Having just completed a connection to the KC-135's boom, 'Doom 12' drops away from the tanker
A well used 'Doom 11' formates behind our KC-135 Stratotanker
Note the Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 passing below the B-52
#93-1088 'Spirit of Louisiana' was the second of the two B-2s to arrive
"It Always Was, It Always Is" A statement that sums up the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress perfectly. Despite its age, whenever the United States calls on its bombers, the first place it looks is at the B-52 fleet.
The long, narrow fuselage of the Stratofortress is evident in the image above
An ominous-looking B-52H Stratofortress air-to-air refuels somewhere over the UK on 11th June 2014
During their two week deployment in the UK the B-52s conducted daily missions, these generally lasting between 7-8 hours. As with the B-2s, the Stratofortresses also took the opportunity to get some air to air refuelling practice in with the 100ARW. Crews from the three different B-52 squadrons that supported the deployment to Fairford were rotated on a daily basis, two aircraft being involved each day with just a single crew on board each one. During the missions the crews performed similar navigation missions to those conducted by the B-2s, which generally involved flying up the East Coast of England into Scottish air space, then tracking west-bound before heading south over Wales and down to Cornwall, then north-east over Yeovilton prior to landing back at RAF Fairford. On a couple of occasions they also used the Stanford Training (STANTA) area ranges in Norfolk for simulated bomb drops.
As previously mentioned, the daily B-2 and B-52 missions involved some practice air-to-air refuelling with the Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers of the 100ARW based at RAF Mildenhall. Jetwash Aviation Photos took part in such a mission with the 100ARW on 11th June, flying onboard "Quid 80" to bring you some of the action. Having arrived at Mildenhall's main gate for a 06.30am meet with SrA Christine Griffiths from Mildenhall Public Affairs, we completed the security formalities and headed off to the 100ARW building to sit in on the crew briefing. At around 08.05 we boarded the bus and headed out to our tanker #58-0001, named "Wolff Pack". Our aircraft commander Captain Tim Gerne gets us airborne at 09.33 for our 5+ hour mission, which sees us head north along the East Coast and over Leuchars, before tracking west to the Isle of Skye. After refuelling "Doom 11" and "Doom 12" (two B-52s), we then headed south via Benbecula, DIKAS and onto Air Refuelling Area-10West (ARA-10W) over south-west England, where we refuelled "Spirit 01" (B-2 Spirit #93-1088), before heading back via Yeovilton to RAF Mildenhall and a 14.48 landing
The 'Boss Bird' of the 96th Bomb Squadron/2nd Bomb Wing based at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana
Just after the arrival of the B-52s the 501st CSW (Combat Support Wing) released the following statement; "This deployment of strategic bombers provides an invaluable opportunity to strengthen and improve inter-operability with our allies and partners," said Adm. Cecil Haney, Commander, U.S Strategic Command. "The training and integration of strategic forces demonstrates to our nation's leaders and our allies that we have the right mix of aircraft and expertise to respond to a variety of potential threats and situations."
The weather remained good throughout the deployment, as illustrated in the B-2 image above
Saber Strike, BALTOPS and the Ukraine; A question that cropped up on more than one occasion was whether or not the aircraft from 2 AEG were involved in either of the exercises currently taking place in Europe, or whether the Ukrainian situation had in any way influenced the deployment. Every time, it was met with a categorical "no".
Lt. Col. Brad Cochran, commander of the 393rd Bomb Squadron told us "We are here to conduct a training mission. It's a great opportunity for our pilots and squadron to have new airspace, new command & control procedures and to familiarise ourselves with this region. We are capable of deploying anywhere in the world and so this is a fantastic opportunity for us to come out and train in this area of the world and we are grateful to be here, the UK have been fantastic hosts". He went on to say "We were not scheduled for Saber Strike at all. We are integrating several exercises with the B-52 community and our allies, conducting long-range training flights. All are local training exercises and we have no specific names applied to them". When also pushed on the current situation in Ukraine and whether the deployment had anything to do with that he said "This mission was planned many months ago, it has nothing to do with that". Talking about aerial refuelling (AAR) he went on to say, "AAR is critical to long-range strike, it's a great opportunity to train with the 100 ARW at RAF Mildenhall and to practice our AAR skills". However we are currently conducting all of our missions in UK airspace.
This B-52 is from the 23rd Bomb Squadron/5th Bomb Wing based at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota
A Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirit sits in one of the two specially constructed hangars at RAF Fairford
2nd Air Expeditionary Group (2 AEG); 2 AEG is made up of the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (96 EBS) and the 393rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (93 EBS) flying the B-52 and B-2 respectively. Speaking to Colonel Leland Bohanan (Vice Commander, 2nd Bomb Wing) he told us "As the commanding officer for 2 AEG, our involvement is consistent and dedicated to both exercises" (BALTOPS & Sabre Strike). "Our purpose in being here hasn't changed; we are here to train for three things; to assure our allies, to deter adversaries and to be 'ready'. Forward, ready, now-You see it!"
Lt. Col. Ryan Link, Commander 96 BS told us that the 96 EBS is made up of aircraft and personnel from the 20th, 23rd, 96th and 343rd Bomb Squadrons (the 343rd is an Air Force reserve unit). "I have people here who just graduated, to very experienced people", but joked that "no-one is older than the jet" (referring to the B-52). We are here to integrate with our European partners; and things may change, but as we speak we are only
The B-2A seems to change shape from every angle it is seen from
#82-1069 'Spirit of Indiana' shows the rear zig-zag shape to good effect
The image above shows the almost egg-shaped fuselage profile of the B-2A
During their time in the UK, the B-2 sorties normally involved one morning and one afternoon mission, usually lasting between 4-5 hours. The sorties generally just consisted of Navigation Exercises, which involved simply flying between pre-set waypoints and familiarising themselves with UK airspace. No live munitions were scheduled to be dropped during the deployment; and all were confined to UK air space. Most days the missions included some air to air refuelling with the 100th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) out of RAF Mildenhall. Whilst also providing some practice for the B-2 crews, it also provided an opportunity for the KC-135 crews of the 100ARW to refuel aircraft that they are not familiar with; and having been on one of the tanker aircraft during a mission I can assure you that the Boom Operators were very keen to get involved.
Aside from the routine missions flown around the UK, the B-2s also conducted a single long-range mission with both aircraft on the evening of the 11th June. Heading south over the Atlantic, the mission lasted some 20 hours, with the aircraft returning to Fairford the following day. Prior to the mission, Lt. Col. Cochran had told us "We are conducting both long and short duration sorties whilst in the UK, with one long duration sortie planned. The arfield here gives us great flexibility in order to practice our skills for those sorties and to make us combat ready."
Smoke billows from the eight Pratt & Whitney TF-33 engines on the mighty BUFF
As if the B-52s in the United Kingdom didn't cause enough of a stir, well the events of Sunday 8th June certainly did! At approximately 14.30 local time, the sight of a Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirit (or Stealth Bomber to the uninitiated) appeared in the distance on approach to Runway 27 at RAF Fairford. Call-sign "Death 11", it was all the more unusual in that it was accompanied by "Death 12", the first time that two B-2 Spirits have ever deployed to the United Kingdom for an exercise; and the first time ever that they have deployed anywhere in the world simultaneously with the B-52. The aircraft involved were #82-1069 named "Spirit of Indiana" (all B-2 aircraft have a name such as Spirit of Indiana, Spirit of ..... etc.), from the 393rd Bomb Squadron ("Invisible Defenders") and 93-1088 named "Spirit of Louisiana", from the 13th Bomb Squadron ("Grim Reapers"), both part of the 509th Bomb Wing based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. RAF Fairford has long been designated as a forward operating location for the U.S Air Force and in particular the B-2A Spirit, having two specially constructed climate-controlled hangars for the B-2, alongside a low-observability maintenance dock to house any deployed aircraft.
#60-0059 of the 96th Bomb Squadron at 27,000 feet
#60-0017 crosses the hammer-head on Runway 09 after a mission lasting some seven hours
#61-0004 from the 20th BS/2nd BW at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana sits on the RAF Fairford ramp in glorious sunshine
The unmistakeable shape of a B-2 Spirit touches down at RAF Fairford
Seen on the 11th June 2014 over AARA-10 (West), #93-1088 "Spirit of Louisiana" moves onto the boom of our KC-135R tanker
'Death 12' taxying at RAF Fairford after its trans-oceanic flight from the United States on 8th June
We would like to thank the following for their help in completing this article:
Candy Knight, Whiteman AFB Public Affairs
501st CSW Public Affairs
SrA Christine Griffiths,100th ARW Public Affairs
The crews of 100th ARW and the 2nd AEG
2nd Air Expeditionary Group
United States Air Forces Europe
RAF Fairford 2014
authorised to fly in UK airspace". The 393rd EBS has people from both the 393rd BS and the 13th BS, which includes crews, aircraft and maintenance personnel.
Royal Air Force B-2 exchange pilot;
Also taking part in the deployment to RAF Fairford was Flt Lt. Ian Hart, an exchange pilot from the RAF. Having joined the RAF in 2002 and spending three and a half years at RAF Marham with 9 Squadron on the Tornado GR.4, he later moved to RAF Lossiemouth with 15 (Reserve) Squadron (The Operational Conversion Unit for the RAF Tornado). He was then selected for exchange two and a half years ago and subsequently joined the 13th Bomb Squadron (13BS) at Whiteman Air Force Base to fly the B-2A Spirit.
I asked him about his role and a summary of his involvement in the deployment to RAF Fairford, to which he said; "As for my role, I am a combat-ready pilot on the B-2. I have the same roles as them (referring to the USAF pilots).
I am now an instructor pilot on the B-2, so they trust me enough to train their pilots. I was lucky enough last year to go to Guam when the 13th BS deployed there. The 13th BS was the lead squadron on that and it was a fantastic experience. The chance to deploy to the Pacific (sic), obviously we do less of that now in the RAF; and I also deployed to Diego Garcia, which is a British Overseas Territory. Not many people I know in the RAF have had that opportunity". He went on, " Most of the guys here have never flown in UK airspace and aren't familiar with UK Air Traffic Control (ATC) procedures. So any help I can provide is invaluable to them". Asked about the B-2 and his previous experience on the Tornado he said; "It's much more involved in the systems management, we have two pilots and no WSO (Weapons Systems Operator), the roles in the B-2 are divided between the two pilots. The missions are also much longer; the longest flight I did in a Tornado was 8 hours over Iraq, whereas in the B-2 I have already done over 20 hours on a single mission."
Even after 60 years the B-52 is still the most numerous bomber on the USAF inventory and with the new CONECT upgrade
programme which currently includes 76 aircraft, it will probably continue in service until 2040