When I was a child, I was fascinated with airplanes. When I heard an airplane, I looked up. When I dreamt, it was about flying. And when I lay in my bed and stared at the ceiling, it was up at a mighty B-52 Stratofortress with a black belly and lizard camo. It was a beast of an airplane. 8 engines, 10 wheels, and a crew of up to 10 that could command 70,000 pounds of nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance. A whole lot of awesome and all in one devastating airplane. And now, I was standing face to this classic aircraft, about to take off carrying live bombs.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of this versatile aircraft. From dropping bombs in Vietnam in the mid 60’s, to being a first strike weapons platform during the cold war, to supporting troops in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this venerable aircraft continue to reinvent itself and prove it’s worthiness, generation after generation.
And this week, I will get a chance to witness first hand the capabilities of this BUFF (Big Ugly Fat, ahem, Fella)!
Six months ago, a old friend of mine and I were chatting after he recently left Barksdale AFB and I mentioned that I wish I had the chance to fly the B-52 and it was a shame that he was leaving. A few days passes and I forget our conversation. But then all of a sudden I get an email from the Barksdale AFB Public Affairs Officer inviting me on behalf of Wing Commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing, Col Andrew Gebara to come out and fly with them; if I was interested! Um, YES! And what amazing timing with the Year of the B-52 going on.
So here I was, at Barksdale AFB, home of the B-52, 8th Air Force, and Air Force Global Strike Command, about to embark on a journey to get airborne with 20th Bomb Squadron. But while I wish I could say it was as easy as putting on a flight suit and hoping in the plane, it wasn’t. Today, I had a very intense day of training and checkouts ahead of me before I could even think about getting in that 8 engined beast.
Arriving on base just after sunrise, I had an intense morning with Aerospace & Operational Physiology Team learning about symptoms of hypoxia, combating fatigue during my 7+ hour mission, decompression sickness, eating properly, and more hypoxia stuff. 🙂 And luckily for me, this course was taught by an old friend of mine who gave me my very first High Altitude Chamber Training 6 years ago at Beale AFB. It was such a treat to see a familiar and friendly face to start my morning off. Probably explains why they rolled out the red carpet for me. 😉 Thanks KMR!
And then the rest of the morning was off to visit the Flight Doc. Gotta make sure I’m fit to fly! And after being quizzed, having my blood pressure taken, spine and distance measured from my buttocks to my knees (to see if I fit into the ejection seat), and other tests, I was given the all clear by the Major and declared fit to fly! WooHoo!
And how did I celebrate passing? Just had a casual lunch with Wing Commander Gebara. No big deal. Just me and the guy who commands half the worlds B-52’s, has a couple of Masters and a Doctorate, a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Bronze Star. Oh and he’s been published half a dozen times. So yeah, no big deal. But it was great to hear his take on the challenges facing global power and how proud he was of his Airmen for stepping up and doing a tremendous job using such a classic plane. They may not have the newest and shiniest toy on the block, but man do they get the job done!
Then my afternoon went into overdrive. It was like Alice falling through the rabbit hole. Facts, figures, checklists, what to pull, when to pull it, what if this handle doesn’t work, what if you land in water, what’s in your seat kit, what if there is a fire, red apples, green apples were flying past me. Emergency Egress Training, Parachute Hanging Harness Training, Aircrew Flight Equipment Training.
Or in other words: What to do if your need to leave/egress the plane ASAP so you don’t die. How to eject before the plane crashes so you don’t die. What to do if your ejection seat doesn’t work and you have to manually bail out so you don’t die. What you have with you when you eject so you don’t die. How to parachute, and not die. How to avoid hitting a power pole so you don’t get electrocuted (and not die), and if you survive all that, but find yourself hung in a tree, how to lower yourself down (without dying).
And here are some of my favorite quotes from the training: “Plan for the worst, and hope for the best.” “Fight the fires that are gonna burn you the worst.” “If there is damage, don’t introduce more.” “Don’t worry, someone will find you eventually.” “How long are you going to beat your parachute during free-fall if it doesn’t open? For the rest of your life.”
Well, that is all for tonight. Time to hit the sack cuz tomorrow I fly! 🙂 Wish me luck!