Military Aviation

B-52 Maintainer tells the story of ‘In HARM’s Way’, the BUFF that had its tail Blown Apart by an Anti-Radiation Missile fired by an F-4G Wild Weasel

‘The aircraft (B-52G 58-0248, nicknamed In HARM’s Way) had the aft six to eight feet of its fuselage blown completely off during the first days of the war. There were – and still are- two different versions of how it ended up in that shape,’ ‘Twiggley’, B-52 maintainer.

As the Cold War drew to an end in the late 1980s, the B-52’s role began to change. Improved defences led to the adoption of new tactics and weapons, some of which would prove suitable for the new world order.

While the B-52H remained committed to the nuclear strike role, older B-52Gs were increasingly pressed into service in the conventional role, forming the backbone of US bombing assets during Operation Desert Storm, when they dropped about one third of the ordnance delivered by the USAF, as well as firing some of the opening shots of the campaign.

Undertaking over 1600 sorties, and dropping nearly 26,000 tons of bombs — 29 per cent of the total tonnage delivered — the B-52 had a devastating effect on Iraqi morale.

B-52G flew only a single 4.5-hour mission during Desert Storm before having its gun turret blown off by either AAA or a missile.

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‘There was a lot of speculation as to what struck the aeroplane, and whether it was enemy or friendly fire,’ B-52 navigator Jim Clonts explained in Jon Lake’s book B-52 Stratofortress Units in Operation Desert Storm. ‘There are a lot of theories, but I don’t know what really happened. The pilot, Maj Linwood Mason, who was my Flight Commander, managed to keep the jet under control, and he returned for an emergency landing. He was later decorated for his excellent airmanship.’

A B-52 maintainer known only as ‘Twiggley’ was able to give more detail as to what happened to the aircraft which lost its tail turret, and landed safely at Jeddah:

‘The aircraft (B-52G 58-0248, nicknamed In HARM’s Way) had the aft six to eight feet of its fuselage blown completely off during the first days of the war. There were – and still are- two different versions of how it ended up in that shape. During a documentary shown on the Discovery Wings channel, the aircrew claimed that they were in a very high angle bank when the ground fire took the aft section off, gun turret and all.

‘Rumour and popular belief have it that the B-52’s gunner turned his defensive fire control system (DFCS) radar on at exactly the same time an F-4G “Wild Weasel” shot off an AGM-88 High speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) at a ground threat. The B-52 got in the way of the missile, which was now trained on the DFCS radar emissions.

‘At Jeddah, we could clearly see that all the metal shards and jagged edges at the rear of the B-52 were pointing downwards when the damage was viewed from the under-side of the tail section. Perhaps the final clincher in favour of the HARM theory is that SAC and the USAF let us give the bomber the In HARM’s Way nickname and nose art. That would have had to be one hell of a bank angle — upside down! — for ground fire to have caused that sort of damage.

‘I witnessed the damage, along with all the other maintainers on the flightline at Diego Garcia, BIOT, where it landed en route to Guam for repair. Andersen AFB had the only heavy maintenance facility for B-52s in-theatre that could repair that type of extensive damage. It stayed on Guam, unflyable, until the end the war.

‘I, along with more than a few others, volunteered to put her back together immediately after the war by basically sawing off the aft section of another unflyable B-52G that was already on Guam with an unrepairable wing spar break and patching it onto ‘0248. We accomplished that feat in about seven weeks, patching all the gun-plumbing and other avionics in, and then sent her back to Castle [Castle Air Force Base]. I flew on that mission back to my, and the aircraft’s, home base, and all the operational checkouts en route were code 1— no defect, fully mission capable. That was my last flight in a B-52, and one I will proudly remember forever. It was also my homecoming from the war.’

B-52 Stratofortress Units in Operation Desert Storm is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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  • This story is totally inaccurrate. The B-52G and D systems utilize two different radars, one for tracking and one for searching. Both run continuously. However the search anteena is in the top and sheld by radar absorbing panels ao the radar will not interfere with the track system. The track radar radiates from the aft nose cone of the gun turret in a rectangular pattern. Any aircraft crossing the tail and aft area will be radiated. I was in the first team deployed in desert storm and became desert shiel. I was a ssgt in DFCS B-52G's. I was in Guam when the plane was hit. I got on a plane headed to Diego Garcia to fix it. Before landing we were diverted back and told they would send it to me. I worked with Boeing reps to repair the aft section. They told me an A10 crossed to aft section in the clouds and when he received a radar lock he launch a radar syncing missle without visual contact. The story was covered up to hide the misshap and in doing so many versions were creates. But it was hard to hide when the plane landed in Anderson AFB with the tail capped with sheet metal. Also, it was hard to hide, when I was told to remone the tail off of the B-52 memorial in Anderson and put it on 248 and put the old one on the memorial. 248 was from Eaker AFB, Arkansas formerly Blytheville AFB. The following morning I went to stary on the repairs and boeing cit all the wiring harnesses for the turret. I would estimate 1000-1500 wires. I helped with the structural repairs, but was told boeing would finish the wiring. The aircraft was still in work when the war ended. Anderson was shut down 6 months before the war and we used it for a year and a half before returning to Eaker. Two people from Anderson came to Blytheville and they said they never got evrything working right. Eaker was closing and they removed all the gunners off of the B-52G's and I was reassigned to an EOD unit in Las Vegas Nevada. And thats the truth, although I am not sure what type of aircraft was responsible.

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