On Sep. 16, 1991 SAC eliminated the gunner position and deactivated the guns on the B-52 as a cost reducing initiative
As we have previously reported, on May 12, 2017, CMSgt (Ret.) Robbie Wellbaum, the U.S. Air Force’s last B-52 Stratofortress (BUFF) aerial defensive gunner retired marking the end of an era.
Now the footage in this post tells Wellbaum story.
When he joined the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in 1987, Wellbaum had no idea he would be the last of his kind.
According to Wellbaum, it was his own desire to fly that encouraged him to join the Air Force.
“I went into the recruiter’s office and asked them what jobs they had for enlisted [members] to fly,” recalled Wellbaum. “My recruiter listed off loadmaster, boom operator, and B-52 aerial defensive gunner. The gunner job sounded like the coolest job out of the three so that is what I applied for.”
In fact in Dec. 1987 he started basic training to become a BUFF gunner.
But 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 as a cost reducing initiative.
As a result, by 1992, the guns were non-functional on the aircraft.
“We knew something was in the works but we weren’t expecting to be cut,” explained Wellbaum. “However, the Air Force did take care of us and opened up a lot of AFSCs, one of which was flight engineer. I knew several people who crossed trained into that career field, so I saw it as a natural progression.”
Over his career, Wellbaum logged over 6,500 flight hours with over 1000 flight hours on the B-52, and was awarded Master Aircrew Enlisted Flyer Wings.
However Chief Master Sgt. Rob Wellbaum apparently is not the last B-52 gunner. In fact John Stallings, President of the Air Force Gunners Association and a reader of The Aviation Geek Club, told us that currently there are at least 3 former BUFF gunners who are either on active duty or in the Reserves/Guard, but unfortunately the association does not have a list of the members who are still serving.
Stay tuned for additional updates if further details on this story had to come to light!
Credit: Senior Airman Michael Reeves Jr.
Photo credit: Greg Goebel via Wikimedia Commons
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com