Aviation History

Meet B-52 ‘Flak-Bait II,’ the BUFF named after the B-26 ‘Flak-Bait,’ the U.S. warplane that flew the most combat missions in World War II

Flak-Bait II now shares a common name and heritage with the older bomber.

When World War II ended in 1945, a Martin B-26 Marauder named Flak-Bait had flown 207 missions — more than any other U.S. plane in the conflict.

But, as Master Sgt. Ted Daigle, 307th Bomb Wing, in the article Spirit of B-26 Marauder lives on at Barksdale AFB, its achievement was lost to history until three Barksdale Air Force Base crew chiefs named a B-52 Stratofortress after the record-setting B-26.

Flak-Bait lived up to its name during the war. It sustained hits on almost every mission, once having its hydraulics shot out, and twice losing its electrical system to German 88mm guns. On two other sorties, it returned home on only a single engine.

By war’s end, the bomber endured more than 1,000 strikes. Not a single panel on it had gone unscathed.

Flak-Bait II, a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing, sits on the flight line at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, May 22, 2020. The jet’s crew chief recently renamed it in honor of a B-26 Marauder that flew more combat missions than any other U.S. aircraft in World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

After the war, it was disassembled and shipped in crates to the National Air and Space Museum’s storage facility in Washington D.C. It remained in storage for decades, its name and history largely forgotten to current generations of bomber aircrew.

That is until Senior Airman Joshua Rich, an 11th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, stumbled across the name. Rich and his fellow 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chiefs, Staff Sgt. William Etheridge and Tech. Sgt. Patrick Deslauriers, were in charge of a newly repainted B-52 and searching for a new name for it.

They started brainstorming and Rich inadvertently offered the name Flak-Bait, unaware of the B-26 and its history. Rich could not account for how he thought of the name.

“It was something that was just in my head,” he explained. “I was a big airplane buff as a kid, so maybe it was something I read about in my childhood.”

The front fuselage of Flak-Bait, a B-26 Marauder, displays insignia for each mission it flew during World War II. The bomber flew more than 200 missions and is preserved at the National Air and Space Museum. (National Air and Space Museum courtesy photo by Eric Long)

An internet search of the name opened up the crew chief’s eyes to the history of the bomber. They were hooked.

The Airmen decided to name the B-52 Flak-Bait II and re-create the nose art of the original plane. None of them had ever renamed a jet, and the name choice created some steps not found in the usual process.

The crew chiefs decided to contact the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to see if they needed permission to use the name. They did not and the museum curator expressed enthusiasm for the idea.

Smithsonian officials directed Etheridge to Roberta Dow-Faulkenberry, a secretary at the B-26 Marauder Historical Society, for help in recreating Flak-Bait’s nose art.

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Dow-Faulkenberry had studied Flak-Bait’s history since 1980. She has, by her estimation, completed several hundred hours of research on the bomber. She was happy to help when Etheridge reached out to her.

“It’s amazing that we are actually bringing our first-generation aircrew back into the light,” she said. “There aren’t very many of them left.”

Preservation of the original Flak-Bait started a few years ago at the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. An idea to showcase Flak-Bait and Flak-Bait II together was floated, but the B-52 was too large to maneuver the center’s flight line.

Still, Flak-Bait II now shares a common name and heritage with the older bomber.

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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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