Aviation History

EXCLUSIVE: FORMER BUFF GUNNER REVEALS INTERESTING DETAILS ABOUT B-52 “IN HARM’s WAY” INCIDENT

“The Weasel WSO launched the HARM “in the blind” hoping a threat would come up and it would take it out. The WSO admitted to this. It was a case of both aircraft being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the Gunner turned his radar on, there was a HARM in the air looking for a threat and it found B-52 “In HARM’s Way” radar

On Nov. 5, 2017 we claimed that the deactivation of the B-52 tail gun was due not only to a cost reducing initiative, but also to a friendly fire incident happened during Operation Desert Storm (ODS).

We reported in fact that the incident took place during a BUFF mission, when a tail gunner thought an Iraqi plane was closing in. The plane was actually an Air Force F-4G Wild Weasel. The crew of the Phantom jet mistook the B-52G’s AN/ASG-15 for an enemy air-defense system. The Weasel crew fired an AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile), which damaged the BUFF. The bomber returned to base, and was reportedly named “In HARM’s Way” as a result.

But, as a former B-52 gunner who wishes to remain anonymous explained us, things that night went a different way. “I know the Gunner involved and was there when they landed in Jeddah that night. After an investigation, it was determined that the Gunner was operating his radar as ordered. It operated in the same frequency spectrum as a particular threat that the HARM looked for. So we would turn in on for a minute or two, scan and turn it back to standby. The Weasel WSO launched the HARM “in the blind” hoping a threat would come up and it would take it out. The WSO admitted to this. It was a case of both aircraft being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the Gunner turned his radar on, there was a HARM in the air looking for a threat and it found that radar. It CLEANLY sawed off everything aft of the vertical and horizontal stabilizer’s. The crew are lucky they survived. The pilot of the B-52 received the Silver Star for saving the aircraft and his crew.”

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He also added that this incident had nothing to do with the deactivation of the BUFF tail gun. “We (Gunners) were done away with for two reasons 1) Budget. It was very expensive to maintain the Fire Control System. It was the ONLY system on the jet that had never been updated. It still used vacuum tubes! If a part broke and couldn’t be located, it had to be made. This was very expensive. And 2) Missile technology had become advanced enough to shoot aircraft down from beyond visual range. The guns were obsolete, unless a fighter was dumb enough to try and get close enough to use its guns on the BUFF. Those are the facts.”

On Sep. 16, 1991 General George L. Butler, then Strategic Air Command (SAC) commander, announced the elimination of the gunner position and the deactivation of the guns on the B-52.

Since then a generation has passed since the BUFF had a tail gunner and gone are the days when a fighter had to watch its steps when trying to get behind the B-52.

We would like to say thank you to the former BUFF tail gunner who gave us the chance to report in this article the additional details about B-52 “In HARM’s Way” story.

We also encourage other B-52 tail gunners to share their stories with our team at contact@theaviationgeekclub.com. We can write articles that would give your stories some good publicity!

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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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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