B-52: The 100-Year Bomber? The post-punk “gloriously weird” musical group B-52s is currently on the road as part of their farewell tour. It is doubtful that any of the four original members could have expected that the aircraft that they took their name from would still be flying after so many decades. In fact, the aircraft had been in service for nearly a quarter of a century when the group was formed in Athens, Georgia – and while the band known for such New Wave hits as “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack” will soon retire, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress will continue to “tour the world” for a few more decades.
In fact, the United States Air Force would be wise to use the 1989 track “Roam” as the long-range, heavy bomber’s official anthem.
Just this week, it was announced that four of the bombers have been deployed to Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford – and for local aviation buffs, the arrival of the massive warbirds on Thursday was as anticipated as a festival concert. The UK may have been home to the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but the arrival of the B-52Hs (the aircraft) was still a huge event. It was also a return for the aircraft, as four of the iconic bombers had taken up temporary residence at the base in Gloucestershire in response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February.
The B-52 Stratofortresses, along with a number of different RAF aircraft, had been regularly spotted departing and returning to Fairford and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire this past spring. The bombers took part in a number of NATO exercises over mainland Europe and training exercises before crossing “The Pond” back to the United States and their home at Minot Air Force Base (AFB), North Dakota.
Welcome the B-52s
Locals have posted images on social media of the bombers arriving, and they’ve received a hero’s welcome worthy of any rock star.
The awesome B-52 Stratofortress of the @TeamMinot 23rd Bomb Squadron, or Bloody Barons
— Matty ?? (@Callsign_Kodak) August 18, 2022
However, on Thursday morning at least one local wasn’t so delighted to have the bombers return. Perhaps the noise was comparable to a rock concert.
“Dear @usairforce as much as I appreciate the excitement, could you tell your Fairford B52 crews that sneaking up on residential areas at roughly 2k ft is not fun for those on the ground? Thx much,” wrote Alex Oates (@Velocentric) on Twitter.
Dear @usairforce as much as I appreciate the excitement, could you tell your Fairford B52 crews that sneaking up on residential areas at roughly 2k ft is not fun for those on the ground? Thx much.
— Alex Oates (@Velocentric) August 18, 2022
The B-52s were not the only American “rock star” jets to be deployed to RAF Fairford this year, as the United States Air Force also deployed around a half dozen Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs and Lockheed U2 spy planes. Now for aviation watchers that latter aircraft would be more exciting to see than the Irish band of the same name!
An additional four B-52H bombers from Barksdale AFB also went on a “tour” of sorts – but instead of landing at RAF Fairford, they arrived at Fairchild AFB outside of Spokane, Washington on Tuesday. It was the first time the historic long-range bomber had been deployed to the Pacific Northwest base since 2010.
“It’s been some years since we’ve brought them here,” Anthony Williams Jr., a production superintendent for the 2nd AMXS, told KCLY.com. “It’s a big deal when we can put airplanes in places to do strategic planning and to be self sustaining.”
The bombers will take part in exercises to improve U.S. Air Force-wide airpower survivability and resilience. Airmen will be tested on their agility and adaptability as they utilize new tools on their bombers.
What the Experts Think
Current plans call for the B-52s to remain flying until the early 2050s – essentially 100 years after they first took to the sky. While it is unlikely the B-52s (the band) will be there to perform for the plane’s final farewell, we’re betting Keith Richards will still be alive and kicking.
In fact, one former U.S. Air Force general that spoke to 19FortyFive backed up the idea that the B-52 could indeed get close to the century mark in terms of flying. “You have to remember the B-52 has been updated time and time again for the decades. The bomber that flew in the 1960s is very different than the B-52 of today. Constant maintenance, training, and preparing for future threats have given this plane what seems like nine lives. I would not be shocked if it was still flying in the 2040s or even 2050s.”
Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.