A question recently asked of me was “Your favorite plane when you served in the U.S. Air Force.” Well, that’s a no-brainer for me: the B-52 Stratofortress heavy bomber AKA The “BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F*ck*r).
Had my depth perception deficiency known as stereopsis not rendered me medically ineligible for Pilot and Navigator training — I ended up as a ground-pounding beret-wearing Security Forces type instead (HOOAH!!) — the BUFF would’ve been my choice of platform.
As to why the B-52 was and still is my fave, my short answer is: “Nothing says don’t mess with the good ol’ US of A” quite like a B-52 carpet-bombing raid.”
As for the longer answer…well, y’see, it goes back to when I was a kid…
B-52: Pre-USAF Positive Impressions
The B-52 was a plane that caught my attention and held it from the time I was a wee-bitty lad, thanks to watching war documentaries and fiction series alike with my Dad (himself a B-25 armorer during WWII).
The mere phrase “B-52” took on this near-mythical status in my impressionable childhood mind; I just liked how it sounded and how it rolled off the tongue.
Fast-forward to Operation Desert Storm in 1991, my sophomore year in my high school, and the B-52 really caught my attention due to the media coverage of the plane’s fearsome carpet-bombing raids against Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guards.
Fast-forward again to my college days at the (USC) School of International Relations, and I heard a guest lecturer (his name escapes me, unfortunately) with some decidedly contrarian and politically incorrect viewpoints on the Vietnam War; particularly memorable for me was his mention of how the B-52 raids during Operation Linebacker II AKA the “Christmas bombing” of Hanoi in 1972, tremendously boosted the morale of American POWs like Medal of Honor recipient Admiral James Bond Stockdale whilst concurrently blasting the arrogance and morale out of their North Vietnamese captors at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison.
Now I was really impressed about what a special warbird the B-52 was.
One more pre-military fast-forward: in March 1999, two months before I took my oath for the USAF’s Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP), Operation Allied Force kicked off. Initially, I was getting frustrated with how the mostly pinprick nature of the airstrikes contrasted with the intensity of Desert Storm’s airpower. But then that June the full brunt of the B-52s’ power was finally brought to bear against the Serbs, who now experienced the same physical and psychological devastation of the BUFF that the Vietnamese Communists and Saddam’s troops had.
Buffing Up at Basic and Mingling at Minot
I finally shipped off to USAF Basic Military Training (BMT) in September 1999, whereupon I was issued that mandatory piece of reading material known as the Basic Military Training Manual (BMTM) II.
Among the nuggets of USAF knowledge contained in that book was additional detail about the effectiveness of those B-52s during Desert Storm: one particular Iraqi Republican Guard unit commander stated that he’d surrendered his unit because of the B-52 strikes; when reminded by the interrogator that his unit was never bombed by B-5s2, the Iraqi officer replied, “Yes, but we saw units that were.” Reading that passage just further impressed upon me what a top-notch PSYOP weapon the BUFF could be in addition to her earth-shattering physical power.
As luck would have it, after I completed BMT and Security Forces tech school, my first operational, “real-world” USAF assignment —from February 2000 to July 2001 —was Minot AB, North Dakota, which just so happened to be a B-52 base, home of the 5th Bomb Wing. Mind you, I was on the 91st Space Wing side of the fence, safeguarding Minuteman III ICBMs instead and therefore not getting up-close-and-personal with the BUFFs. Nonetheless, getting to see my favorite warbird take off and land on a regular basis was simply too cool for words; the highlight was during the base’s airshow that first summer, which showcased a B-52 low-level mock bombing run, complete with pyrotechnics.
OTS, GWOT, and Beyond…
By the time I got to USAF Officer Training School (OTS) at Maxwell AFB, Alabama in July 2001 to sell my soul to the Dark Side of The Force, er, a transition from the enlisted to the commissioned ranks, I’d already gotten that aforementioned stereopsis diagnosis and therefore knew that a career as a B-52 crew dog wasn’t in the cards for me. But as at least a partial consolation prize, the B-52 static display at Maxwell enable me to get a far closer look at the favorite warplane than I ever got at Minot. As The Fates decided, the Global War On Terror (GWOT) kicked off right after my September 2001 OTS graduation & commissioning, and from there, the BUFF continued to prove her prowess in the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq Part Deux alike.
Who knows, maybe someday, if and when the B-52 FINALLY retires, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) will get ahold of one and keep it flying, and maybe I’ll finally get to go up in one like I did in CAF’s B-17 back in August 2020. Hell, I can dream, can’t I?!
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.
August 22, 2022 at 2:23 am
I live in Rosemont, California, a mile or do from Mather AFB. A squadron of B-52 (SAC) were stationed there (the base is closed now, sadly).
Evey month, at 3 in the morning, they’d send up 12 of these old war birds, and you were not going to sleep for an hour or so. Noise suppression was not a priority.