Almost as soon as the the previous B-2 Spirit deployment was over so the second B-52 deployment of 2019 to RAF Fairford was underway, with four of the eight-engine strategic bombers arriving on the 10th October 2019.
Primarily exercising over the Baltic, Arctic and Black Sea regions with NATO and allied partners, their presence was also part of the United States Strategic Command’s Exercise ‘Global Thunder’.
RAF Fairford has a long history with the B-52, dating back to Operation Desert Storm (the first Gulf War) in 1991, and later, during Operation Allied Force (the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia) in 1999 with Fairford-based bombers dropping 48% of the NATO ordnance on targets in the former Yugoslavia. and Operation Iraqi Freedom (the second Gulf War) in 2003. As well as the four aircraft, 300 support staff accompanied the deployment, taking care of everything from maintenance, security and policing through to logistics and procurement of locally sourced equipment and services. All of these personnel are either brought in from the USA or from other European USAF installations, due to RAF Fairford being in a status of “Care and Maintenance” by a small number of civilian personal under the command of the 420th Air Base Squadron.
Operating on an almost daily basis, the B-52s of the 2nd Bomb Wing from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, conducted inter-operability sorties with Royal Norwegian Air Force and Polish Air Force F-16s, French Air Force Rafales, Czech Air Force Gripens and Royal Air Force Typhoons. The RAF Coningsby-based Typhoons used the exercise to practice Quick Reaction Alert intercepts on the B-52s. The Stratofortress’s were also seen operating with USAF F-22 Raptors, Hellenic Air Force F-16s and Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s during a mission which also took them close to Russian airspace in Syria.
Air Officer Commanding 11 Group, Royal Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Ian Duguid commented on this training opportunity “We have a longstanding and rewarding partnership with the United States Air Force having worked successfully together on operations and exercises as part of NATO.”
The BUFFs were seen operating locally over the Pembury Ranges in South Wales, which is believed to be a first. As well as utilising the ranges in Holland and the east of England .The Boeing made aircraft are capable of carrying approximately 70,000 pounds (31,500 kilograms) of mixed ordnance—bombs, mines and missiles and can also be modified to carry air-launched cruise missiles.
General Jeff Harrigian, Commander United States Air Force in Europe and Air Forces Africa stated that “By varying types and overall numbers of aircraft on each rotation we are able to train to a variety of scenarios and partners while we demonstrate our ironclad commitment to our NATO allies and our promise to ensure regional security”
Its fair to say that US Strategic bombers will return to the Cotswolds in the near future, when and for how long is anyone’s guess though.
South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank all at the 501st Combat Support Wing, USAF for making this article possible.