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B-52 Crash

MSNBC reports on the loss:

HONOLULU – An Air Force B-52 bomber crashed off Guam on Monday morning, killing at least three airmen and leading to an intensive ocean search for the remaining three crew members, the military said.

Three vessels including a destroyer, three helicopters, two F-15 fighter jets and a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft based in Japan were involved in the search, which covered roughly 3,000 square miles of the Pacific, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen.

The B-52 bomber was en route from Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base to conduct a flyover in a parade on another part of the island when it crashed around 9:45 a.m. Monday about 30 miles northwest of Apra Harbor, the Air Force said.

Master Sgt. Cindy Dorfner, a spokeswoman for the Air Combat Command in Langley Air Force Base, Va., said the last crash involving a B-52 was on June 24, 1994 in Spokane, Wash. The bomber was practicing touch-and-go landings before an air show at Fairchild Air Force Base when it plunged to the ground and exploded, killing all four on board.

First off, my Dad and I have both flown from Andersen, it is a stopping point for long range aircraft.  I also know Fairchild because the Air Force SERE school was there, as well as bombers and tankers in those days.

The aircraft belonged to the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale, flying on temporary duty [TDY] and performing a flyover, so having 6 people on board doesn’t make sense.  A normal crew is 5 and 3 could easily have performed this mission, as the other two are involved with the weapons systems.  It is possible that they were performing crew training in addition to the flyover.

B-52s probably have the best flight safety record of any aircraft in the inventory, so having one crash is really strange, especially when it would have been at altitude.  It has 8 engines, so you don’t worry about losing power, especially with an empty aircraft.  Very unusual.

3 comments

1 Badtux { 07.23.08 at 5:53 pm }

Indeed, very strange. B-52’s have lost entire engine pods (two engines) without a problem, indeed one Buff’s engine pod came down through the roof of a church near my home in North Louisiana once (whee!). Regarding why six were on-board, the extra two people were likely passengers (the usual crew on this sort of trip is four, because while it only takes three people to fly the plane, an extra set of hands sometimes come in handy). One of the “perks” of being a top commander in the Air Farce is that you get to take joy-rides in the passenger seat (former gunner’s seat) of a B-52 whenever you feel like it. In this case, however, it turned deadly :-(.

Most previous B-52 crashes have occurred because the pilot was “stunting” the plane — flying it beyond its parameters. The B-52G/H in particular, with their shorter tail and lack of aelerons, are not very “stuntable”, they are easily stalled, lack of aelerons means no means of generating more lift on the “down” wing to pull it back up, and their shorter tail is incapable of providing sufficient force to haul the tail around to get out of the stall. Another source says that this crew was practicing for their flyover when they went down, shades of Czar-52. But if there were six people on board, this tends to indicate that the pilot had a good reputation — the reason why Czar-52 (which crashed in 1994) had only four people on board, and all four were high-ranked officers in the air wings involved with the air show, is that each of these officers refused to have any of the men under their command fly with Bud Holland as the pilot because they knew Bud was dangerous and instead took the danger upon themselves, this was supposed to be Bud’s last flight before retirement and they were afraid he was going to do something dangerous. That does not appear to have been the case here.

So I’m as puzzled as you right now as to what really happened. Given the facts it seems very unlikely that this B52 was “stunting”. On the other hand, it’s damned hard to take down one of these big Buffs with anything short of stunting — some of the B52D’s in Vietnam made it back to base with half of a wing shot off with no real problems (albeit granted the “D” had aelerons and the tall tail to help there).

– Badtux the Flightless Penguin

2 Bryan { 07.23.08 at 8:20 pm }

They have released the crew list and the sixth person was a flight surgeon, a Colonel, who would have been logging his flight time, so you know they weren’t messing around.

As long as they have dropped their load and have four engines, one of which on the other wing, they can land normally.

All I can think off is they were flying low and hit a flock of birds taking out multiple engines and there wasn’t time to recover.

Since they recovered two bodies with their life preservers deployed it sounds like they ditched and broke up when they hit the water.

3 Badtux { 07.24.08 at 3:48 pm }

Bryan, the B52-D could (and did) make it back to base with only four engines. The B52-G when used in Operation Linebacker never could, their crews always ended up having to bail because the plane would try to go into a spin if they applied full power to the remaining four engines. The shorter tail and lack of ailerons on the B52G/H wrecked havoc with the ability to control the plane in that scenario. (Note that the B52H is identical to the G with the exception of its engines, which are turbofans rather than turbojets).

The life preservers are water-activated and do not require any action on the part of the flight crew to deploy them. The flock of birds scenario is certainly possible. If they were banking on a go-round at under 1,000 feet and a flock of birds took out even two engines at the exact wrong time (when the bank angle was, say, 30 degrees), you end up sliding sideways into the drink similar to Czar-52 before the other turbines have a chance to spin up and get you out of that situation because you can’t increase lift on the down wing via deploying ailerons to keep the jet from continuing its bank past 45 degrees — you don’t have any on a B52-H. The Buff would slam into the water wing first and break up into little pieces as the rest of the plane pivoted on the wing.