After 4 USAF Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers arrived at RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, as part of the Bomber Task Force Missions and to serve a deterrent to a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, one of the B-52s spent 23 hours and 25 minutes in the air conducting a security flight around Europe and the Mediterranean.
Earlier this week, various B-52 Stratofortress bombers, part of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base from North Dakota, arrived at RAF Fairford as they were scheduled to be deployed to regularly scheduled Bomber Task Force missions carried out by the US European Command and the US Strategic Command. Together with British fighter jets and Portuguese F-16s, these bombers are part of NATO’s Icelandic Air Policing mission, which is conducted jointly with the British Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) to ensure readiness to launch and coordinate air strikes as well as security in the region.
“With an ever-changing global security environment, our efforts with our allies and partners must be unified,” said Gen Jeff Harrigian, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander. “We’re in Europe training and collaborating because consistent integration is how we strengthen our collective airpower,” said the statement released by US Air Forces In Europe & Air Forces In Africa.
This particular stability and security mission involved two B-52s with the callsigns CHIEF11 and CHIEF12 flying over Portugal, Spain, the Mediterranean, and Saudi Arabia. During this mission, they would be escorted part of the way by two Israel Defense Forces F-15s to show the country’s support and cooperation with the US forces in the region.
However, during the mission, CHIEF12 had suffered an ‘urgent issue’ and had to return to the United Kingdom shortly as it had declared Pan-pan, according to the UK Defence Journal report. A ‘Pan-pan’ for those of you who are new to the military is the general and international standard urgency signal that all modes of transportation use, whether that be a boat, aircraft, naval vessel, and other vehicles, to signal that an emergency has occurred on board. Basically, it’s like saying that there’s an emergency, but it still can be fixed and that we’re just informing you that we may need help when we get to land. It’s different from a ‘mayday call’ (often known as a distress signal) as maydays mean imminent loss of life may happen in the coming moments.
CHIEF12 later landed while CHIEF11 completed the mission, lasting an impressive 23 hours and 25 minutes in the air. That’s not bad for an aircraft that has been in constant service since 1955, with the last unit built-in 1962, it’s one hell of a big BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F**ker/Fella/Fellow) for security operations in Europe, but we honestly don’t think it’s that ugly!
The demonstration of such flights(and they are done for demonstration purposes) is to put countries like Russia and China on notice that the U.S. can send bombers anywhere in the world on short notice. A place like Minot North Dakota maybe 6,000 miles from China but the U.S. Air Force could have B-52s in the South China Sea armed with 8 to 12 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and 20 AGM-158 joint air-to-surface standoff munition (JASSM) weapons in well under 24 hours.
While the capacity and capability of the BUFF aren’t contested as it was built to fly 8,000 miles without refueling (while carrying 70,000 pounds of weapons, by the way) with its powerful eight Pratt & Whitney turbofan jet engines, it’s been notorious for having rigorous heavy maintenance to help it stay in service. The youngest planes have been flying since 1962, which makes these bombers 60 years old. Like any 60 year old, you need to do a couple of things to keep everything in good working condition.
Sources have said that the Air Force has a very strict set of guidelines on how B-52s are kept in shape. Personnel from the Aerospace Propulsion Apprentice program of the US Air Force stated that if any part of the B-52 bomber even looks tired, it immediately gets replaced regardless of whether it’s a major component or a small part.
You know what they say. Legends never die. The B-52 bomber today, despite its age, proved that it can still fly with the big boys for more years to come. And it’s unlikely that the old reliable bomber would get replaced anytime soon. The cost of developing and procuring new bombers would be billions more than just maintaining the current fleet. US Air Force has plans to fit the BUFFs with new engines under the Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP), so we’ll be seeing more great things for the granddaddies of the Air Force!