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In the last diary I introduced you to the B-52, at least as I remember them from the late 80s and early 90s.

Flying the B-52 - Part 1

Today we're going to take it out on a training mission. Better pack a lunch, training missions typically lasted 12 hours. We normally did one or two a week.

As SAC used to say "You've got to be tough to fly the heavies".

A training mission actually starts the day prior to the flight. You'd spend the better part of a day mission planning. The crew would study the route of flight, especially the low-level training route(s), air refueling procedures, formation procedures and then the Aircraft Commander (me) would conduct a formal crew briefing.

On a normal mission you might be done mission planning by 2:00 PM. If you were playing in a big exercise it might take a couple more hours to cover everything.

My memory is hazy on this, but I think we showed up on the day of the flight 2 1/2 hours or more before takeoff time. Day sorties took off around 6:30 AM and night sorties took off around 6:30 PM. This meant either getting up at ridiculous-o-clock or getting to bed at ludicrous-o-clock. It was pretty common to have a day and a night sortie in the same week, which really threw off your sleep schedule. "Fatigue" was not a word in SAC's vocabulary. "You gotta be tough....."

A bus would take us to Life Support to collect our flight gear, the Flight Kitchen for our box lunches, Command Post for the flight plan (these were stored on portable computer tape drives). Finally we'd head to Base Operations for our weather briefing and to conduct a final crew brief (and a last bathroom stop!) before heading out to the airplane.

At the plane we'd check the maintenance logs, and then myself and the copilot would do the exterior inspection (we'd each take a side) while the rest of the crew settled in.

Normally you don't just jump into a bomber fire it up and go fly. It takes time to align the plane's navigational systems and to run the lengthy interior inspection checklist. There's also a good chance of something requiring maintenance attention. These are old planes and there's a lot of things that can break. I've actually taxiied to the runway with electronics techs working on some piece of equipment in the plane and kicked them out just before takeoff.

Everything in a bomber is based on timing. We need to take off on time to meet up with our tanker on time and to make our low-level route on time. There's some slop built into the flight plan, but a significant delay will require the schedulers to start coordinating new times for everything.

Once everything was ready engine start was normally by ground air cart. We'd start engines 4 and 5 (the most inboard on each wing) with the air cart and then use those engines to start the other six.

With the engines running it's an extremely noisy airplane, both outside and inside. We always wore helmets or full headsets to cancel some of the noise. Unlike an airliner cockpit, the only way to talk between crew members was by using the intercom. My copilot sitting three feet away would not have been able to hear me talk. The air conditioning system seemed to generate more noise than cold air.

Once the engines are running we bring the rest of our systems on line and get ready to taxi. Even with the air conditioning on it's like a sauna in the airplane. Most of the AC is being sent to keep the electronics cool. We sweat in the cockpit until we reach altitude. "Hey, you gotta be tough....."

The hardest part of flying any large airplane is taxiing it on the ground. The B-52 especially so because there are wheels out on the wingtips and you always have to keep in mind where those are. Fortunately SAC bases had nice wide taxiways and runways. The nose trucks are quite a ways behind the cockpit, so you had to make big square turns like a city bus. There was no tiller for the nose-wheel steering like an airliner would have. It was all done through the rudder pedals. There was a setting for taxi and a low range for takeoff and landing that limited how much steering you had.

Near the end of the runway there would be another pilot, sitting in a truck with a radio and acting as a safety observer. He would give us a once-over looking for anything out of place on the plane. We all did our "turn in the barrel" pulling this duty. Once cleared to go we'd pull out onto the runway.

Takeoff was different from any other plane. If there was a crosswind, we could actually pivot the main wheels so that the plane would face into the wind while the wheels faced straight down the runway. When the plane was brand new this was actually classified, and they wouldn't show the landing gear in publicity photos.

The flaps are huge and electrically powered (most heavies use hydraulics for this). The flaps are actually as large as the wing on some airliners. There was only one flap setting, 100 percent, and it took them a full minute to extend or retract.

As we lined up on the runway I'd shift the nose-wheel steering to low range, advance the throttles and then turn on the water injection. It would get even noisier as 2000 pounds of water was pumped into the engines to augment our thrust.

I always thought that water injection was something Wile E. Coyote invented to catch the Roadrunner. I'm pretty sure it said "ACME" on it somewhere. Pouring water on a fire doesn't seem very intuitive, but it works. The water cools the air going into the engines. The denser air lets us burn more fuel to make more thrust. As the water turns to steam, it also gives us more thrust. It's sort of a poor-man's afterburner. We sometimes referred to our planes as "water wagons" or "steam jets".

This also produced a tremendous amount of dense, black smoke. If you were taking off behind another bomber (sometimes as close as 12 seconds) you couldn't see a whole lot.

Takeoff, like everything else on a bomber was a crew effort. We'd use a stopwatch to make sure we were accelerating properly. If we didn't achieve a certain speed by a certain time something was wrong and we would reject the takeoff.

Pilot (me): "Set dry thrust"
Copilot (adjusts throttles): "Cleared for water"
Pilot (checks water injection): "Four good pumps"
Pilot (checks airspeed): "70"
Navigator (starts his stopwatch): "Nav's timing"
Navigator: "Expiration of S1"
Pilot (checks airspeed again): "Committed"

Once past S1 speed (V1 in the civilian world, SAC always had to be different) we're going no matter what. We wouldn't be able to stop in the remaining runway if we had a problem.

Passing 70 knots or so, the wings actually start flying so I have to start working to keep them level. I'm also holding back pressure on the yoke to keep the rear wheels on the runway. Otherwise the back wheels will lift off first and we'll become a 480,000 pound wheelbarrow (bad). Normal planes don't act like this, by the way.

We also didn't rotate for takeoff like a normal plane, we would "unstick". When the plane's good and ready to fly it flies. In a fully loaded G model we would be uncomfortably close to the end of the runway by the time this happened. We sometimes joked that it only became airborne due to the curvature of the Earth.

That's only a slight exaggeration. G models had a bad habit of using more runway to take off than what the takeoff data predicted. Sometimes it would use every last bit of runway. On one or two occasions we had to put the throttles all the way to the firewall and over-boost the engines just to get the thing off the ground. It's rough on the engines, but not as rough as flying through trees would be.

Once the plane finally decides that it's going to fly today, it actually comes off the runway in a nose-level or even nose-down attitude. Quite odd the first every time you see it.

Once airborne, I would tap the brakes to stop the wheels from spinning (normal planes do this for you) and call for gear up. At 1000 feet I'd call for flaps up. As the flaps slowly come up the jet accelerates. The key here is to match our acceleration with the flap position. Too fast and we over-speed the flaps. Too slow and we could stall the airplane. About halfway through bringing the flaps up (it takes a minute) the water injection would run out of water, it would get a bit less noisy, and we'd start to descend. Once the flaps were fully up we'd accelerate to 280 knots and start to climb again. A B-52 takeoff looks like a roller coaster - up, down, and finally up again. Normal planes don't do this - notice a trend here?

B-52G water injected takeoff
Climb performance in a G model was pretty uninspiring. It will take a good half hour or so to reach cruise altitude. Once there, we'll start heading for our first training event today, a practice air refueling, which I'll cover in the next installment.

Originally posted to Major Kong on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 11:32 AM PST.

Also republished by Aviation & Pilots and Kossack Air Force.

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