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Combat-ready for 50 years: B-52s fly past another milestone

by Stephanie Bemrose
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

3/17/2006 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFPN) -- The B-52 Stratofortress reached a milestone March 12 with the 50th anniversary of the first B-52 wing being declared combat-ready.

The 93rd Bombardment Wing was declared combat-ready March 12, 1956, after being activated June 29, 1955.

Although it had been declared combat-ready for 10 years, the first time a B-52 was involved in combat wasn’t until June 18, 1965, when aircrews were involved in Vietnam, said Buck Rigg, 8th Air Force museum director.

The decision to declare the 93rd BW, and all other bombardment units that followed, combat-ready was historically significant in two ways, Mr. Rigg said.

“The first was that America now had at its disposal the professionals who could meet any expectation the world might create, flying the ultimate in long-range bombardment aircraft, the B-52,” Mr. Rigg said. “By having the B-52 crews combat certified, we could rest assured that the crews were well-trained and most importantly, disciplined to carry out any assigned task, anywhere around the world.”

Mr. Rigg said the second historical significance the combat-ready decision had was in the two missions the B-52s had in the 1950s -- high-altitude, long-range bombardment and reconnaissance.

“These (new) missions and capabilities would become one of our greatest strengths,” Mr. Rigg said. “And this would eventually lead to the end of the Cold War."

The adaptability of the B-52 has made the difference since the combat-ready decision was made, said Lt. Col. Parker Northrup, 11th Bomb Squadron commander.

“No other strike platform has demonstrated the versatility necessary to meet national security requirements across the spectrum of conflict: from current-day Afghanistan, the Cold War and Desert Storm; from small-scale contingencies to superpower politics of the Cold War,” the colonel said.

B-52 aircrews continue to have a positive impact in the world, said Capt. Chad Bigelow, 11th BS instructor pilot.

“With our global strike capability, we continue to be a powerful and flexible asset for the combatant commander,” he said.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this event and the anniversary of training B-52 aircrews, Colonel Northrup and Captain Bigelow were part of a fly-over at the former Castle Air Force Base, Calif., March 13.

While this fly-over was a celebration of the past, Colonel Northrup said the flight was also a glimpse into the future because the concept of end-to-end electronic execution, or Four Echo, was initiated during the flight.

“Even though we are commemorating these events and pushing forward on new technologies, we are still a combat-ready unit and conducting formal B-52 training on this flight,” the colonel said.

Captain Bigelow said this test is part of the continuous adaptation of new technologies and techniques for the evolving nature of warfare.

“The Four Echo test is a definite step toward this goal -- adapting technologies to reduce inefficiencies in our training practices,” Captain Bigelow said.

As for the far future, Colonel Northrup said he hopes someone will look back and see that current B-52 crews were good stewards of the airplane’s history.

“It’s exciting to be fortunate enough to be in the cockpit of an airplane as it passes through 50 years of combat readiness and training -- all the while knowing it can serve another 30,” the colonel said.

Captain Bigelow agreed.

“The B-52 is not a dying airframe,” the captain said. “We continue to adopt new roles, making us more flexible in a war-time environment, becoming more useful to combatant commanders. The Four Echo test is the first step to validate the utility of this new technology and help create a model for its use in training future crews.”

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