The latest Bomber Task Force deployment of B-52 Stratofortress aircraft into RAF Fairford has commenced, which has so far seen six of the behemoth aircraft arrive at the Gloucestershire Air Base.
The arrival of the 2nd Bomb Wing aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, has seen around 400 support personnel arrive at RAF Fairford, which will have been a welcome sight for local businesses around the area, to oversee B-52H operations during what has been referred to as Bomber Task Force 2019.
Operationally, this is the largest European deployment of a single bomber platform since 2003 when 17 bombers were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The deployment of strategic bombers to the United Kingdom helps exercise RAF Fairford as United States Air Forces in Europe’s (USAFE) forward operating location for bombers, as well as implementing joint and allied training in the United States European Command theatre of operations.
Speaking during the media event on Tuesday 19th March Lieutenant Colonel Esposito, Bomber Task Force Commander. stated –
On this deployment we will validate our readiness and interoperability with regional allies and partners. Overall, our airmen will become familiar with European airspace procedures and enhance the skills and relationships key to operating in the European area of operations.
Our bomber crews will exercise their readiness and efficiency, our maintenance crews will generate and prepare the the aircraft that our crews need to operate, our support team will provide security, communications, logistics, feeding, accountability and other essential services. We’ll also train with our allies and partners to tangibly demonstrate our commitment to security and stability.
Whilst no indication was given on the length of the deployment, Lieutenant General Harrigian, Deputy Commander U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA), did give some information relating to the task forces area of operations –
They will participate in multi-national exercises like African Lion while also conducting interoperability training with our NATO allies and European partners.
Task Force will operate across the USAFE and African theater from the Arctic all the way down to the Sahara desert, demonstrating how the United States, with our allies and partners, can quickly amass at time and place of our choosing to deter and defend against any possible aggression.
Exercise African Lion, an annual exercise involving Moroccan and US forces is currently taking place having started on March 16th and due to finish April 7th.
The first three legendary BUFF aircraft arrived at RAF Fairford on Thursday 14th March 2019 as callsigns Stray 81, 82 and 83; 60-0024, 60-0025 “Ol’ Crow Express II’ and 61-0013 “High Tension III” respectively.
On Friday 15th March 2019 a fourth aircraft arrived at RAF Fairford as Clip 91; 60-0058
The fifth and sixth aircraft to arrive were Dryer 91 (61-0015 “The Last Laugh”), and Dryer 92 (60-0032) on Saturday 16th March 2019.
Five of the six aircraft deployed have various missions markings applied to the front port (left) side just aft of the cockpit, with just 60-0024 devoid of any markings. Interestingly 60-0025 also shows a marking related to the launch of an AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM).
The B-52H is the eighth and latest version of an aircraft first devised by the being Company in the late 1940’s, first flown in 1952 before entering active service with the United States Air Force in 1955. Originally crewed by six personnel, the removal of the remote tail gun in the early 1990’s saw that reduce to five which is now composed of; Pilot (Aircraft commander), Co-pilot, Electronic Warfare Officer, Navigator and Radar Navigator.
744 B-52 aircraft were produced, the last to be built was 61-0040 in October 1962. They can each carry around 70,000 lbs of ordnance including bombs, missiles, mines and bombs and utilise the LITENING and Sniper Targeting system/pod. Of those 744 built, approximately 72 airframes remain in service today based at both Barksdale AFB in Louisiana and Minot AFB, North Dakota but shared between three Bomb wings.
The 2nd Bomb Wing as previously stated are based at Barksdale, identified by the tail code ‘LA’ and operate within the 11th (Gold tail band), 20th (Blue tail band) and 96th (Red tail band)Bomb Squadrons (BS). The 5th Bomb Wing operate B-52H’s from Minot AFB, identified by the MT tail code and operate within the 23rd BS (Red tail band) and the 69th BS (Yellow tail band). The final Bomb wing are the 307th who also operate out of Barksdale AFB, identified by the BD tail code and the aircraft are spread between the 93rd BS (Blue/Gold check tail band) and the 343rd BS who are an Air Force Reserve Squadron and have AFRC applied to the tail.
Four aircraft took to the skies from RAF Fairford during Monday 18th March as callsigns Aero 11-14. The flights were partly theater familiarization for the aircrews with aircraft flying to three different areas – the Norwegian Sea, the Baltic Sea/Estonia (where training took place with NATO Joint Terminal Attack Controllers on the ground) and the Mediterranean Sea/Greece. One of the aircraft was photographed later that day air to air refuelling over Romania by an eagle-eyed photographer, presumably by assets from the 100 ARW at RAF Mildenhall and all flights returned back to the Forward Operating Base (FOB) in England.