“SKULL23 Flight, cleared for take off runway 33.” As the heavy B-52 Stratofortress in front of us released their breaks and lumbered onto Runway 33 at Barksdale AFB, LA, the Co-pilot of our B-52 started the ‘hack’ on the stopwatch. We would time our take off to be exactly 30 seconds behind the first B-52 so that we could be airborne as quick and safely as possible. “Breaks off, ready, now.” the Co-pilot shouted out. Our pilot pushed the 8 throttle levers forward an the sleepy giant came to life as we slowly inched forward and taxied towards the runway. A few seconds later we lined up on the center-line of the runway and could see SKULL 23 lift-off right in front of us with a massive trail of exhaust coming out from it’s 8 engines balls to the wall.
During our intensive pre-take off brief, it was decided that we would simulate a MILCOM take off to best simulate a war time scenario since we were in the midst of “War Week” at Barksdale AFB. This way if enemy forces were monitoring our take off, which was likely, they would not be able to determine our planned route.
And for our mission of penetrating enemy defenses, and destroying the enemy airfield, only the necessary communications would be broadcast over the airways. But since we were still in the good ol US of A, we still needed to communicate with ATC so other jets didn’t hit us.
Real World Communications:
- Contact Ft Worth Center for range entrance/exit
- Monitor Center Frequency
- Contact SNYDER NLT 50NM from site
- Coordinate IP time and “Music”
- 0045z – Check in with DARKSTAR (our AWACs Controller aircraft)
- 0050z – Roll Call
- 0051z – Lowdown
So just after take off we received vectors and clearance from Shreeveport Departure to climb up to FL270 (Flight Level 27,000 feet) and hit our Waypoint 3. Time to do the post take off checklists.
Our route would take us across 4 states during this flight. We had 33 individual way points to guide us from take off (Waypoint 1), to a cruise at FL270 (Waypoint 3) west bound.
And for those few hours of straight and level flight, it was a rare moment to stay hydrated and to eat my in-flight meal: 2 PB&J’s, a bag of chips, muffin, small package of Oreos, and a can of Gatorade. 100% Pure O2 makes you hungry!!
As we entered Texas to rendezvous with a COPPER 08, a KC-135 Refueling Tanker from the 161st ARW Arizona ANG (Waypoint 10), who would be in a long racetrack pattern expecting us at 2400z at FL240. First up was SKULL 23 to get fuel as we flew slightly above and behind providing air cover with our offensive countermeasures.
Then it was our turn to fuel up before our bomb run. Things seemed NBD when you’re a half mile away from the tanker like we were above. But once we were behind that -135, that boom looked REALLY close to us.
One bad move and that boom was coming right through our window and going to make Sagar-shish kabobs, Check out how much maneuvering the pilot has to do to keep this BUFF in position.
After an east bound jaunt down AR310E, SKULL Flight then would be cleared into the LANCER HI MOA where we would wage war from 0045z to 0145z in the altitude block FL360-FL400. Zig zag around “enemy” radar sites and surface to air missiles as our Electronic Warfare Officer does his best to jam their radars and avoid missiles being shot at us.
Waypoint 20 would be the start of our bomb run to destroy our enemy targets. For today’s simulation, the enemy airfield is Winston Airport, Texas. A small GA airport with two crossing runways was going to suffer the wrath of two fully loaded B-52 Bombers.
This is where the defensive capabilities of the BUFF get their moment to shine. Just as the sun set over the war fields of Texas, a lone Electronic Warfare Officer in the back of the B-52 were now in command of both the airplane and it’s top secret radars and jammers.
We were up against a gluttony of enemy threats. On the ground we had reports of SA-2F Surface-to-air missiles (SAM) with a max range of 20 nm, the SA-10B SAM (range 45 nm), and the mighty SA-5 SAM with a lethal range of 100 nm. And as if that threat weren’t enough to scare us away, there were also MiG-31s in the area salivating for a BUFF air to air kill. But E-Dub armed with ALR-20 Trace 2 and 2xALQ-155 E/F gave us vectors, jammed frequencies and released chaffs and flares to along with 45 deg bank turns to avoid the threat and line us up for the bomb run.
Now it was time for the bomb run with our arsenal of 12 GBU-31v1 GPS guided bombs loaded under both wings and 27 M-117 gravity bombs in the bomb bay. This is why we flew for hours and where streets get named after you.
The plan for the two guys in the bottom was simple: Fly-to gravity target (D26) and bug heading – Hack Watch! Switch to SMO and fly to JDAM release point (D28) and switch to JDAM and have CF-62A ready if auto doesn’t work. Release JDAM (should have approx 21 seconds until gravity bombs release). Switch to Gravity, center FCI, Pilot calls “Parameters”, Nav calls “Parameters Check”, connect RCD and ensure bomb bay doors open at 15 TC.
Target #1 are the runways at Winston Field Airport, TX (SNK). We had a 500′ x 500′ area where our 11 GBU-31 bombs needed to hit from an altitude of 35,000 feet while we flew overhead at 460 kts. No big deal. Of course any slight deviation risked the bombs missing the target. Target #2 is the Fuel Tanks at SNK and will be hit with the M-117 gravity bombs. While on the bomb run, the pilots give up control to the Radar Nav at the bottom of the B-52.
And just like that, the war was over. Well for tonight at least. Time to contact DARKSTAR with a mission update and RTB (return to base).
The flight back was uneventful. I was drained. I didn’t actually do anything, but this “short” 7 hour mission kicked my a$$. I have no idea how these men and women do it. The longest strike mission in the history of aerial warfare was a 35-hour, non-stop combat mission which was during the Gulf War when B-52s took off from Barksdale AFB, launched conventional air launched cruise missiles and returned to Barksdale. I don’t know how many in flight refuelings that was, or how long they had to stay away, but I am glad that these men and women are being the stick of this plane and not me.
But still, one task was still left to do. Land this 8 engine beast.