B-52 Pilot tells the story of Bud Holland, the rogue pilot that crashed his Stratofortress during an airshow practice after having maneuvered it beyond its operational limits at low altitude

B-52 Pilot tells the story of Bud Holland, the rogue pilot that crashed his Stratofortress during an airshow practice after having maneuvered it beyond its operational limits at low altitude

By Dario Leone
Jun 22 2024
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The B-52H

The B-52H Stratofortress is a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions. The bomber is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet. It can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability. In a conventional conflict, the B-52 can perform strategic attack, close-air support, air interdiction, offensive counter-air and maritime operations.

On Jun. 24, 1994 at Fairchild Air Force Base, southwest of Spokane, Washington, a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress, serial number 61-0026, call sign Czar Five Two, was being flown by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Alan (“Bud”) Holland, the aircraft commander, with the commanding officer of the 325th Bomb Squadron, Lieutenant Colonel Mark C. McGeehan, as the co-pilot. Colonel Robert E. Wolff, the vice commanding officer of the 92nd Bomb Wing, was aboard as the designated safety observer. The fourth crew member, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth S. Horton, the 325th squadron operations officer, was the radar navigator.

As reported by This Day in Aviation, the mission was a practice flight for an upcoming air show demonstration. During the 18-minute flight, virtually every maneuver performed by Lieutenant Colonel Holland exceeded the operating limitations of the B-52, and violated Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

The result was the infamous B-52 crash featured in the video below.

The infamous Stratofortress crash at Fairchild AFB

Bud Holland was notorious for his reckless flying. As explained by Jay Lacklen, a former B-52 pilot with 12,500 flying hours and the author of three books, Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey, Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey Volume Two: Military Airlift Command and Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey Volume Three: Air Mobility Command, ‘A B-52 pilot contemporary of mine, Bud Holland, provided the textbook of the dangers a rogue pilot can represent. Although it seems I should have known him, since we overlapped for several years in the SAC force in the late 1970s, I do not recall him. I had been about three years ahead of him in seniority.

‘In June 1994, while practicing for an upcoming air show at Fairchild AFB, WA, Lt. Col. Bud Holland tried to maneuver outside the capability of his B-52H and crashed on the field, killing the four crew members on board (This information is presented as described in Darker Shades of Blue: A Case Study in Failed Leadership by Anthony T. Kern.)

Bud Holland, the best B-52 pilot

‘Holland had dead-ended his career as chief of stan/eval, not an uncommon occurrence, but had a troublesome penchant for flying beyond regulation limits, either flying too low, too fast, or on the edge of the plane’s, capability. Worse, he got away with repeated aerial outrages that should have permanently grounded him on several counts. His shenanigans proved doubly egregious since his position demanded he set the standards for other wing pilots. Yet none of his commanders took the imperative step of grounding him for cause, a drastic but necessary step in this case. Holland had only months left until retirement, and successive commanders hoped he would behave himself until that time.

‘Apparently Holland fancied himself the best B-52 pilot who ever lived and took pride in displaying his prowess in inappropriate, irresponsible ways. Or maybe he skirted the limits in retaliation of not being promoted; I don’t know. At a previous air show practice, he had blasted over the field and the crowd at much too high an airspeed and then overbanked the aircraft during his pull-up, against the agreed parameters for the maneuver.

One of my current fellow simulator instructors flew as one of Holland copilots and offered at least a partial explanation for his flying. Holland had attended a special course that explored edge-of-the-envelope maneuvers to be used during war. Holland seemed to feel that they would not have taught him these things if they didn’t expect him to practice and use them. In films I watched of his air show warm-up in the days before the event, however, he seemed to have lost his mind. I would never have dreamed of trying to pull off the maneuvers he did over the field. He could have crashed into base housing and greatly multiplied his eventual disaster.

Bud Holland and his B-52 flying excesses

An Omega KDC-10 is the first commercial tanker to refuel USAF B-52, MC-130J over Pacific Ocean
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

So legendary were his flying excesses that many squadron pilots and crew members refused to fly with him in fear for their lives, according to the analysis written afterward. By the time of the fatal air show practice, his squadron commander insisted that he alone would fly with Holland to keep him in check. Obviously, that plan failed, as Holland attempted too steep a turn very close to the ground, stalled the aircraft, and caught a power line with his wingtip before cart-wheeling nose first into the ground and sending a towering fireball into the air. This took the funerals from closed-casket to no-casket affairs and surely required use of the pilot training footprints to identify the crewmembers.

Holland’s story became a primer for Air Force commanders in dealing with potentially rogue pilots who had to be clamped down upon to avoid catastrophes. Holland’s wing commander on the day of the crash has the same name as one of my pilot training classmates, but I don’t know if it was the same man. I don’t want to know. All base command heads rolled over this, as well as the heads of previous commanders who failed to rein in Holland. Pilots face enough danger from conditions conspiring to kill us through no fault of our own to have us go looking for trouble.

B-52 Pilot tells the story of Bud Holland, the rogue pilot that crashed his Stratofortress during an airshow practice after having maneuvered it beyond its operational limits at low altitude
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-52H Stratofortress 2nd BW, 20th BS, LA/60-0008 “Lucky Lady IV”.

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Dario Leone

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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