During the Gulf War fatigue was at least as great a threat to us as enemy action. Maybe more so.
The single B-52 lost during the conflict was due to a very tired crew mismanaging some systems problems and turning them into worse problems. The chain of errors cascaded until they splashed the aircraft in the Indian Ocean just short of Diego Garcia. Only three of them got out.
The high tempo of operations and long missions made fatigue a constant problem.
I shouldn't complain. A soldier lives in the war. An airman just commutes to it. We slept in clean sheets in air conditioned rooms. We ate decent food prepared by Navy cooks.
Other than the short time we were actually flying over Iraq there wasn't really any more danger than a normal training mission.
Still beats a tent in the desert.
We would show for our mission roughly 5 hours before takeoff. There were numerous briefings to attend concerning the mission, intelligence, weather, formation procedures etc. All of our gear and of course the aircraft itself needed to be inspected before flight.
So depending on when we got up, we'd be at least 6 hours into our day by the time we even got airborne.
As I've said before, just being in a B-52 is fatiguing. It's a cramped, noisy environment. The pressurization and climate controls don't work nearly as well as in an airliner. Ejection seats have very firm cushions by design because otherwise it would break your back in an ejection. The backrest is a parachute. Not the most comfortable place to sit for 16 hours.
Somewhere in the middle of all that we'd have the actual combat part to deal with. Even if it was a "milk run" you'd still be pretty keyed up the whole time you were in-country. We'd partially depressurize the plane (in case we took a hit) so we'd be sucking oxygen the whole time we were in bad-guy territory.
Then we'd have to refuel again to make it back to the island.
That third refueling was painful. Picture three tankers constantly jockeying to stay in formation while three bombers refuel off them. The KC-135s were having autopilot problems around this time, so the tanker pilots would be hand flying. Refueling off a hand-flown tanker is always just a little tougher than one with an autopilot. We'd be taking on 100,000 pounds of fuel so I'd be hanging on that boom for 20-25 minutes. It was mentally and physically exhausting.
After that last refueling it was still 4-5 hours over the Indian Ocean to get back to the island. We'd usually be fighting to stay awake by this point. I'd bring my portable tape player with me and stick the ear-buds up under my headset. I was fond of U2, REM and Concrete Blonde. Especially Concrete Blonde. Dark music for a dark time.
Once my entire crew fell asleep - myself included. I woke up and nobody was talking on the intercom. I looked over and my copilot was snoozing away. I looked out the windscreen and realized that during that time we'd overtaken the lead aircraft and were now out in front! Nobody in the formation said anything. They were probably asleep too.
Once we got back to the island we still had to put it on the ground.
I haven't talked about landing one yet so this is as good a time as any. I never thought it was a difficult plane to fly but it was difficult to fly well. It had a lot of weird design quirks that were ironed out in later Boeing products.
Meanwhile there was several thousand pounds of fuel sloshing around in the wings. When all that fuel went "downhill" in the low wing it would try to over-bank you.
There was one aspect of landing the B-52 that was easier than other heavies. Crosswinds were no trouble at all because we could pivot the main gear. The plane would stay pointed into the wind while the wheels pointed down the runway. It looks really strange but it works. You could actually find yourself looking out the side window while landing in a stiff crosswind.
We only had one flap setting - 100%. Landing flaps were the same as takeoff. Because of this we'd fly the traffic pattern with the spoilers (air brakes) extended part way. This has the additional benefit of giving us better roll response.
Fortunately the plane was very stable on approach. Not much seemed to move it. Set 25,000 pounds per hour on the total-fuel-flow gauge, trim the plane up and it would pretty much stay where you put it.
The actual landing was different. There wasn't enough elevator to flare the plane so you'd have to run a good 4 seconds of elevator trim in the flare. That's considered bad form in every other plane I've ever flown.
Finally, because of the way the main gear was set up you absolutely must land on speed. It simply will not land faster than the computed landing speed. Touch down a couple knots too fast and it will hit on just the nose trucks and bounce, sometimes rather spectacularly.
Once on the ground we'd deploy a drag-chute roughly the size of a house. Drag chutes aren't the most reliable things. They had a habit of not working the day you really needed help stopping. In a crosswind the chute might cause you to "weather-vane" into the wind so you had to be ready to cut it loose.
Then we'd talk to Intel about what we saw and what might have been shot at us.
"What color were the tracers?"
"I had NVGs on. Everything was green."
Finally, we're done. Time to head to the chow hall for whatever meal they happen to be serving and then jump in bed. The nature of the scheduling process had us switching our show times from days to nights to days. It was impossible to get into a real routine, which added to the fatigue factor.
Eat, sleep, fly, repeat.