Losses and Aviation Safety


“We see a handful of strikes every year, but out of all the maintainers we have, no one had seen lightning damage that bad,” Lt. Col. George P. Cole III, commander of the 307th MXS

As reported by KTBS a U.S. Air Force (USAF) B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber on final approach to Barksdale Air Force Base (AFB) in December was struck by a bolt of lightning that tore a man-sized gash in the tail.

According 307th Bomb Wing (BW), since control systems for the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker, as the B-52 is dubbed by her aircrews) were not affected the crew was able to land without incident.

The episode took place on Dec. 19, 2017 as the crew was returning to Barksdale from a training mission. A story posted on Barksdale’s web site said the crew heard something that sounded like a thud outside the jet, but did not know what happened until after they landed and got out of the B-52.

The damaged tail of Aircraft 60-051, a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing, waits to be removed from Barksdale Air Force Base on Feb. 1. The tail was damaged beyond repair when lightning struck it upon final approach during a routine training mission. Pilots were able to land the B-52 without incident after the strike.

As 307th BW explained the aircraft features a lightning arrester designed to mitigate damage from lightning strikes, but the strike that damaged the tail was too strong for the jet’s safeguards.

“We see a handful of strikes every year, but out of all the maintainers we have, no one had seen lightning damage that bad,” Lt. Col. George P. Cole III, commander of the 307th Maintenance Squadron (MXS), pointed out. “That includes personnel that have been with the unit for more than 20 years.”

The entire tail of the jet was replaced on Feb. 1 and the B-52 is back in service. According 307th BW it took about 10 hours of work time to replace the tail.

Airman 1st Class Clint Walker, 307th Maintenance Squadron B-52 aircraft mechanic, holds a pin that connects the tail of the jet to its fuselage at Barksdale Air Force Base. Walker was one of eight Airmen who on Feb. 1 replaced the tail on a B-52 Stratofortress that was damaged by lightning on its final approach to base. Such replacements are uncommon in the maintenance world and present a unique set of logistical and physical challenges.

Master Sgt. Eric Allison, 307th MXS B-52 aircraft mechanic, was the only maintainer on the eight-person team with experience replacing a tail.

“It’s challenging because you have to position the tail just right – and it is a 2,000-pound piece of metal,” Allison said.

Aircraft 60-051, a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing, sports a new tail at Barksdale Air Force Base. Mechanics from the 307th Maintenance Squadron had to replace the damaged tail with this one, which had been salvaged from a B-52 that is no longer in service. The tail still bears the markings of its old unit, the 49th Testing and Evaluation Squadron.

B-52s are no longer being manufactured but a tail was available from another jet that is no longer in service, the USAF said.

For more than 40 years, B-52 Stratofortresses have been the backbone of the manned strategic bomber force for the U.S.. The BUFF is capable of dropping or launching the widest array of weapons in the U.S. inventory. This includes gravity bombs, cluster bombs, precision guided missiles and joint direct attack munitions (JDAMs). Updated with modern technology the B-52 will be capable of delivering the full complement of joint developed weapons and will continue into the 21st century as an important element of our nation’s defenses. Current engineering analyses show the B-52’s life span to extend beyond the year 2040.

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”.

Photo credit: Master Sgt. Ted Daigle / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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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