Cold War Era

B-52 pilots recall performing the Whifferdill turn during aerial refuelings at 70 Deg bank angle

B-52 Stratofortress performing Whifferdill turn while refueling from Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker

The impressive photos in this post show US Air Force (USAF) B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers performing the Whifferdill turn while refueling from a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. Noteworthy this maneuver was performed to demonstrate operational limitations of the aircraft and their systems.

Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-52 crews did this maneuver for decades at the Central Flight Instructor Course (CFIC). The Whifferdill included high banked turns in conjunction with vertical maneuvering. ‘Truth is, it wasn’t even the most challenging thing we did,’ John Mitchell, former B-52 pilot, explains in an interesting post appeared in the Facebook Group B-52 Stratofortress.

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John Leone, another B-52 pilot, echoes Mitchell: ‘We did this at CFIC.. The Whiff… a confidence maneuver where your tanker was your ADI…we got a block altitude and gained and lost altitude performing the maneuver… very real and very eye opening…’

B-52 pilots performing the Whifferdill turn during aerial refuelings at 70 Deg bank angle

Jim Warren, former B-52 pilot and author of the photo featured in this post recalls; ‘Those of us that did the ‘Whiff’ at CFIC know, and that is all that matters. This pic is mine in ‘88. We only managed 70 Deg. I expect they stopped doing it after the Fairchild crash.’

Scott Dunn, former B-52 instructor pilot, adds more details; ‘Very real. B-52s and KC-135s did this maneuver at the north end of AR6, which went along the coast of Northern California. As previously stated, was a confidence building maneuver for Instructor Pilot candidates during CFIC. When SAC was dissolved in 1992 and the bombers went to ACC and the tankers went to AMC, this demo was discontinued. For CFIC Instructors at the time, our farewell gift was a color version of this picture.’

Kelly M. Haggar, former B-52 pilot, recalls; ‘Back then flown out of Castle AFB near Merced CA. Yes, these are real photos. No clue if the schoolhouse now at Barksdale AFB near Shreveport/Bossier City LA does this anymore. BTW, this photo is sometimes reversed. Since it’s a G (last one retired late 1992/early 1993) the cooling air intake for the AC generator is on the odd-numbered engines. That’s the left engine in each pod. Here you can almost make out that scoop/bulge on #5 and #7.’

Just following the tanker and not staying in level flight

Gordon Bielanski, former B-52, performed the Whifferdill while refueling from KC-135 Stratotanker many times; ‘Been there, done that numerous times as a CFIC instructor at Castle AFB for a number of years. The picture is a moment in time. We were just following the tanker and not staying in level flight at all. Always climbing and descending with varying bank angles and just staying in contact with the tanker. If you got a disconnect, you still followed the tanker and re-established contact. The tanker was your world and the big ADI in the sky. Just had to stay focused on the tanker and not think about what was happening with the horizon. Have seen numerous pictures in color with greater bank and have some. Loved doing the Whiff maneuvers at the turns on the double AR Tracks over California.’

Greg Guest, former B-52 pilot, recalls when SAC was absorbed by Air Combat Command (ACC); ‘I was in CFIC when SAC was absorbed by ACC. ACC’s first order of business was to ground all field grade pilots since they weren’t is a staff job. So we were hurting scheduled to do the Whiff but not everyone in the class got to because all the CFIC instructors certified to fly the maneuver were Majors and suddenly grounded. Some of us eventually got to try it, but I think that was the last class to do so.’

The Whifferdill turn

According to Wikipedia, a whifferdill turn (also wolferdil, whiferdill, or (chiefly Canadian & British) whifferdale or wifferdale manoeuvre) is any of a number of aerobatic maneuvers performed in an aerial flight show or while flying aggressively. It is a turn with both horizontal and vertical components, usually performed at the end of one maneuver in preparation for the next. As the plane is climbing the pilot makes a turn reversal, and as the plane descends it is turned so that it can make its next maneuver.

Aviators often use the term as slang for any multi-axis movement or comical / interesting / unusual movement.

The whifferdill is a basic aerial warfare maneuver that is used to reverse course in a dogfight with very little loss of energy/airspeed. It is also a fundamental maneuver used in air shows.

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Photo credit: Jim Warren / 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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