Cold War Era

Former B-52 Pilot Tells the Story behind this Photo of two BUFFs Buzzing USS Midway Aircraft Carrier

‘We were tasked by the JCS to fly a mission deep into the Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf to surveil the Soviet Fleet. At this time, the US 7th Fleet was in the area, being shadowed by the Soviets, and their Bear bombers, launching from Afghanistan, were harassing our carriers,’ Doug Aitken, former B-52 Commander.

The following story originally appeared on Vintage Wings of Canada website.

The cool photo in this post features two Guam-based B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers performing a low fly by over USS Midway aircraft carrier. The picture was sent by USAF B-52 commander Doug Aitken to Vintage Wings of Canada. The caption on the back reads “Grand Forks bomber over the Midway, winter of 81.” The story that comes with this photo makes for a long but very interesting caption:

‘I am a retired USAF pilot who also flew for AA for 17 years. I was an OV-10 Forward Air Controller in Vietnam and got into the B-52 in the second half of my career.

‘I was the Ops Officer for the 37th BMS, 28th BMW, at Ellsworth AFB in 1979, during the Iranian Hostage crisis. We were surprised with a no-notice Operational Readiness Inspection from SAC Headquarters in early Dec 79. During the prep for that ORI mission, we were halted in our tracks and told to prepare for a deployment to Guam. Six hours after that notice, the first KC-135s were airborne and three hours after that the first three B-52H’s deployed.

‘We ended up sending a Squadron’s worth of B-52H’s to Guam — a mixture of crews from the 77th BMS and the 37th. The deploying crews were led by the 28th BMW Vice Commander, Col Wayne Lambert, and the 37th BMS Commander, LTC Jim Dillon and 77th BMS/DO, Major Bill McCabe.

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‘LTC Bob Murphy, 77th BMS/CC, and I stayed behind with the remaining crews who flew that ORI mission.

‘At Guam, the deployed crews immediately began training in the conventional missions they were not proficient in — sea surveillance, mine laying, and conventional “iron bomb” missions. The B-52s stationed at Guam permanently were the “D” model, and while those crews were specifically trained to do conventional missions, their B-52’s did not have the range to get all the way into the Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf. Previously, the B-52H crews at Ellsworth only had a nuclear mission, so for most of them, this was new (we did have a few older members who had flown conventional missions during the Vietnam War.)

‘This effort went on for approximately a month until all the crews were trained. Then the majority of the crews returned to Ellsworth, and a small staff, led by Major McCabe, stayed with four of the Ellsworth crews. Around the first of the year, I led two more B-52’s as we deployed with staff to relieve Major McCabe and two of the deployed crews. We continued his work in formalizing the training program and started training the new crews.

‘After being there about a week, we were tasked by the JCS to fly a mission deep into the Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf to surveil the Soviet Fleet. At this time, the US 7th Fleet was in the area, being shadowed by the Soviets, and their Bear bombers, launching from Afghanistan, were harassing our carriers. The JCS evidently wanted to show the Soviets AND the Iranians that our strategic airpower could reach them that far out.

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‘Our small staff, with some assistance from the local staff, planned this mission overnight and launched early the next day. Since the Soviets always maintained an intelligence gathering trawler off the coast of Guam, these two B-52Hs launched in darkness, filed as KC-135s to Diego Garcia, complete with bogus KC-135 crew lists on the ICAO flight plan. Gunners were instructed to leave their radar off, and radar navigators were instructed to use frequencies that KC-135s would use.

‘The Airborne Commander was Captain Wally Herzog (copied on this message), who was the most experienced pilot available from the local crews. An instructor pilot in the B-52D, he had been the person leading the conventional qualification of the B-52H crews. The two crews, one from the 37th BMS and one from the 77th BMS faced a total of five air refuelings and 30 hours, 30 min of flight time (These missions eventually earned the name “Winchester” missions due to the 30–30 time.) After refueling with tankers based in Diego Garcia, these B-52s flew “due regard” (i.e. no flight plan) into the Persian Gulf.

‘At any rate, this deception was successful. The crews made contact with the US Navy and were vectored to the Soviet fleet. On their first pass, the Soviet crew were on deck waving, at first assuming the aircraft were their BEAR bombers. On the second pass, not one member of the Soviet navy was to be seen.

The BUFFS then went over and did a flyby for the US Navy, and returned to Guam. The following week, two crews from the 319th BMS at Grand Forks AFB, ND deployed to Guam and we returned the two crews who had flown the original mission. We then flew a second “Winchester” mission with those 319th crews. After that success, I returned to Ellsworth as we were relieved by two more 319th crews and staff.’  Doug Aitken

Special thanks to Dave O’Malley of Vintage Wings of Canada.

Photo credit: Don Kohlenberger / U.S. Navy

David OMalley

Dave O'Malley is a manager of Communications and Marketing at Vintage Wings of Canada. Vintage Wings of Canada is an Ottawa-based foundation dedicated to acquiring, maintaining and flying vintage aircraft of historical significance to Canada. All of the foundation aircraft are in flying condition or are presently under rebuilds.

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