Ultra-long haul air travel has become standard in recent years. Extremely lengthy routes such as Los Angeles to Dubai, or Dallas to Sydney, or Atlanta to Johannesburg, and many more are flown every single day–with few eyes batted. It’s an amazing feat of the advances in aeronautical engineering, and possibly an even more amazing testament to the human will, to sit in close quarters with a couple hundred of strangers your best friends as you are transported halfway around the world by air.
You wouldn’t imagine Bossier City, Louisiana would be an ideal location for long-haul service, but the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base recently put all the other long-haul flights to shame: a jaw-dropping 44-hour mission involving a pair of B-52s flying nonstop from Barksdale to Australia…and back. What did you do for the past two days? I can guarantee it doesn’t involve a quick dash down to Australia and back!
Loaded with inert ordnance and in coordination with the Australian Department of Defence, the two B-52s from the 96th Bomb Squadron flew all the way to the Land Down Under and delivered their bomb load on the Delamere Air Weapons Range in Australia’s Northern Territory.
That wasn’t enough action for our dear BUFF crews, so the bombers also conducted a low approach at the nearby Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal before calling it a day and flying all the way back to their Louisiana home. All that time and effort and the Red Devil BUFF crews didn’t even get their passports stamped.
The B-52, though still going strong, has amassed quite a record in its 60 year USAF career. In 1957 the USAF flew three B-52s nonstop around the world, and the BUFF has never looked back. Long-range missions are the standard for the USAF’s Global Strike Command (AFGSC), even if they are now more high-profile than ever before. Recent operations such as POLAR GROWL, EAGER LION, and SABER STRIKE have seen the force’s B-52 and B-2 fleet conducting lengthy missions overseas to demonstrate their command’s namesake capability: power projection and deterrence while keeping their aircrews sharp on long-range operations, as well as affording them opportunity to work with partner nations.
Like the BUFF it operates, the 96th Bomb Squadron has a storied past, tracing its roots to 1917 when it became operational as the 96th Aero Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas. It soon saw combat operations in western France during World War I, and though the 96th went through a 30-year span of inactivation, the unit is unique in that it has always been specifically a Bomb Squadron and has flown only Boeing bombers since 1942. The 96BS picked up their B-52s in 1993 and employs them with resounding success, having won several awards in the 2011 Global Strike Challenge, including the Linebacker Trophy for best B-52 squadron in the USAF.
Sixty years after beginning operations with the USAF, the proven BUFF continues to be a vital asset for the service and will continue to press on for decades to come. It’s a testament to the crewmembers and maintainers of the mighty BUFF that long-range missions like this are even feasible in the first place.