Home Losses and Aviation Safety The story of Bud Holland, the rogue pilot that crashed his B-52 after having maneuvered it beyond its operational limits at low altitude

The story of Bud Holland, the rogue pilot that crashed his B-52 after having maneuvered it beyond its operational limits at low altitude

by Dario Leone
The story of Bud Holland, the Rogue Pilot that crashed his B-52 after having maneuvered it beyond its operational limits at low altitude

“Apparently Bud Holland fancied himself the best B-52 pilot who ever lived and took pride in displaying his prowess in inappropriate, irresponsible ways,” Jay Lacklen, former B-52 pilot

Jay Lacklen is a former B-52 pilot with 12,500 flying hours and the author of two books, Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey and Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey Volume Two: Military Airlift Command. He’s working on the last book of the trilogy.

Bud Holland, Rogue Pilot

A B-52 pilot contemporary of mine, Bud Holland, provided the textbook of the dangers a rogue pilot can represent. Although it seems I should have known him, since we overlapped for several years in the SAC force in the late 1970s, I do not recall him. I had been about three years ahead of him in seniority.

In June 1994, while practicing for an upcoming air show at Fairchild AFB, WA, Lt. Col. Bud Holland tried to maneuver outside the capability of his B-52H and crashed on the field, killing the four crew members on board (This information is presented as described in Darker Shades of Blue: A Case Study in Failed Leadership by Anthony T. Kern.)

Holland had dead-ended his career as chief of stan/eval, not an uncommon occurrence, but had a troublesome penchant for flying beyond regulation limits, either flying too low, too fast, or on the edge of the plane’s, capability. Worse, he got away with repeated aerial outrages that should have permanently grounded him on several counts. His shenanigans proved doubly egregious since his position demanded he set the standards for other wing pilots. Yet none of his commanders took the imperative step of grounding him for cause, a drastic but necessary step in this case. Holland had only months left until retirement, and successive commanders hoped he would behave himself until that time.

Apparently Holland fancied himself the best B-52 pilot who ever lived and took pride in displaying his prowess in inappropriate, irresponsible ways. Or maybe he skirted the limits in retaliation of not being promoted; I don’t know. At a previous air show practice, he had blasted over the field and the crowd at much too high an airspeed and then overbanked the aircraft during his pull-up, against the agreed parameters for the maneuver.

The story of Bud Holland, the Rogue Pilot that crashed his B-52 after having maneuvered it beyond its operational limits at low altitude
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”.

One of my current fellow simulator instructors flew as one of Holland copilots and offered at least a partial explanation for his flying. Holland had attended a special course that explored edge-of-the-envelope maneuvers to be used during war. Holland seemed to feel that they would not have taught him these things if they didn’t expect him to practice and use them. In films I watched of his air show warm-up in the days before the event, however, he seemed to have lost his mind. I would never have dreamed of trying to pull off the maneuvers he did over the field. He could have crashed into base housing and greatly multiplied his eventual disaster.

So legendary were his flying excesses that many squadron pilots and crew members refused to fly with him in fear for their lives, according to the analysis written afterward. By the time of the fatal air show practice, his squadron commander insisted that he alone would fly with Holland to keep him in check. Obviously, that plan failed, as Holland attempted too steep a turn very close to the ground, stalled the aircraft, and caught a power line with his wingtip before cart-wheeling nose first into the ground and sending a towering fireball into the air. This took the funerals from closed-casket to no-casket affairs and surely required use of the pilot training footprints to identify the crewmembers.

Holland’s story became a primer for Air Force commanders in dealing with potentially rogue pilots who had to be clamped down upon to avoid catastrophes. Holland’s wing commander on the day of the crash has the same name as one of my pilot training classmates, but I don’t know if it was the same man. I don’t want to know. All base command heads rolled over this, as well as the heads of previous commanders who failed to rein in Holland. Pilots face enough danger from conditions conspiring to kill us through no fault of our own to have us go looking for trouble.

The following clip shows the infamous B-52 crash at Fairchild AFB after Bud Holland maneuvered the bomber beyond its operational limits and lost control.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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9 comments

delmarm Jan 31 2019 - 6:33 PM

The METNAV personnel observed Lt Col Holland’s irresponsible behavior that day, and some will never forget. While dropping a maintenance crew at the Localizer we noticed a B-52 approaching the threshold at a high rate of speed (actual speed and altitude was not easy to judge from our location). The aircraft approached around 300 mph and between 200 to 400 feet above the antenna array. From a level approach to the threshold the B-52 went into a vertical climb for approximately ¼ to ½ mile. My only thought was where to go if it stalled, knowing that aircraft could roll toward us.
We dropped off the Localizer crew, and continued to the Middle Marker to perform the Preventive Maintenance Inspection (PMI). On the way we witnessed at least 2 more high speed runs down the runway with sharp climbing departures. At the Middle Marker I watched concerned about the crew I left at the Localizer. Earlier I mentioned to my team mate that B-52’s aren’t designed to perform those maneuvers. His comment was, “They know what they are doing.”
His sentiment was pretty much the same around Operations when we returned from the PMI. When I mentioned that he flew the aircraft into the ground many argued that “Bud” knew what he was doing and the aircraft malfunctioned, since the engines were smoking. The aircraft looked normal with my B-52 experience, 18 years.
My only comment concerning the actual crash is that I was 2 miles from the crash when I saw the aircraft roll at least to 60 degrees to port and the fuselage was barely above the Control Tower when it stalled.
I know Lt Col Bud Holland had a close group of supporters who informed me that the aircraft malfunctioned. As the article states that his behavior was noted for decades, he should have been stopped. But instead the navigator and a retiring Col were killed. The rumor was that the navigator was on board because he would not allow his personnel to fly with Lt Col Holland due to previous complaints, and that he was gathering more information.
And if you listen to the audio of the accident I believe the voice of the person screaming when the plane crashed was Col Wolf’s wife. Public Affairs was filming Col Wolf’s last flight for retirement.
The lives of the families on board that day changed forever. And ground personnel at the Localizer, Survival Training school, and the Weapons Storage facility were impacted. A main reason a METNAV technician gave for not reenlisting was due to this incident. He was at the Localizer.
How many others were impacted at the Air Traffic Control tower, the storage facility, and the survival school! Commanders and Supervisors have a responsibility to stop chronic dangerous behavior early. While I have not been in the Air Force for over 20 years, I still see this behavior in the general work force too. Some people admire and promote this behavior because they get the job done. But do they get really get the job done? Look at the total cost!

TRK516 Apr 8 2019 - 4:09 PM

Any of those “people” that say the aircraft malfunctioned are full of it. Holland was a cowboy and after seeing the YouTube video of his antics, I’m convinced that the crash was totally his fault. How can they possibly say the aircraft malfunctioned when they weren’t even on board? That’s typical USAF officers sticking up for other USAF officers, just to attempt to keep his name clear. But it was too late. He already had a bad reputation and an appetite for destruction.

AZFlyer Jul 22 2019 - 12:33 PM

I’ve honestly never heard anyone claim there was a mechanical failure. Although I can see how people could want that to be the case.

OldAviator May 8 2020 - 1:22 PM

A lot of inaccuracies in the rendition of the story, as there are with most re-tellings of this accident. I cannot let these lies continue any longer.

Fairchild Bomber operations were winding down. The aircraft that crashed was actually loaner from Minot AFB. Many of the bomber crew members had actually taken assignments and moved on. This “last hurrah” of the B-52 was supported and endorsed by the SAC leadership at the time. Holland was an excellent pilot who maintained his position as head of Stan Eval because of that reputation. Anyone who says otherwise is “covering their ass.” Bud Holland’s safety record and talent as a pilot speaks for itself. Prior to his assignment at Fairchild, Bud Holland was SAC Headquarters Stan Eval B-52 pilot. SAC Headquarters approved of the flight profile as a final send-off of the Fairchild B-52 era because they trusted Bud Holland’s abilities and judgement.

The senior officers that asked to be on that flight did so without any provocation. Had they felt a safety concern, it’s unlikely they would have flown with Bud. The story that Lt. Col McGeehan chose to fly that day because he did want to expose any of his crew members to Bud Holland’s unsafe flying is a total fairy tale. I know the Stan Eval Aircraft Commander Bud Holland chose to do the airshow practice with. He stated unequivocally that Lt. Col McGeehan approached him the day before the practice flight and asked him personally if he could fly that practice and the airshow because “It’ll be my last chance to fly an airshow.” Lt. Col McGeehan was heading to a headquarters assignment after his Fairchild tour and would likely never fly again.

Note: A pilot on the go does not request a “360 degree turn.” The request is for a closed pattern which is a turn to downwind to maneuver for landing when well past the approach end of the runway. A more accurate description is two 180 degree turns, one to downwind and one to final.

If you listen to the TOWER voice tapes, you can hear Lt. Col McGeehan’s voice on the radio. When one pilot flies the airplane, the other runs the radio. Bud Holland flew the first two passes and McGeehan ran the radios. On the go-around, directed by TOWER, Bud Holland’s voice is heard on the radio. This means that Holland gave the aircraft to McGeehan on downwind for the full stop landing. This means McGeehan flew the go around and the closed pattern after being directed to due to the conflict with the tanker on the runway. This also means that McGeehan pulled the aggressive closed pattern and stalled the aircraft as Holland had made the last radio call before the crash.

In the simulator, Holland advised asymmetric power as a way to recover from uncommanded roll and it can be clearly seen in the final frames of the video where the low wing engines are producing high power and smoke just prior to impact. That means Bud Holland took control of the aircraft after McGeehan screwed up the closed pattern and stalled the aircraft. Holland was headed for retirement and McGeehan was on the Colonels list headed for a non-flying slot on the fast-track to General.

Who do you think the Air Force would blame?

The piece of the aircraft seen just prior to the crash is the panel located in the ceiling above McGeehan’s ejection seat. As part of the ejection process, that panel departs the aircraft before the seat fires. In this case, seat initiation was interrupted by ground impact.

There is more to the story of the two low range passes filmed by Navigators from the bomb wing. Holland knew they were there and filming because Holland and the Nav’s coordinated the filming. This range flight was some three years before the crash at Fairchild in 1994, and before Holland busted a couple Navigators for sub-par performance. The full un-edited version of this video was widely viewed by crews on alert back at Fairchild after they were filmed. The piece shown in this video is but a small fraction of the low-level videos the Nav’s compiled on Bud’s flights. Before Holland busted the Navs, the Navs loved filming his low level flights including some from the bomb bay. After the crash, someone leaked these videos to CBS as a way to hammer Holland after his death for the Nav busts. The actual unedited videos audio track is clear as the Nav’s are screaming and high-fiving one another. That doesn’t come through in this edited clip.

It’s easy to buy into stories about a dead man involved in a crash. I will ask anyone fingering Bud Holland as the man who brought down CZAR 52 this simple question: If Lt. Col Bud Holland was so dangerous, why did no one relieve him of command well prior to this flight? Why did the Vice Wing Commander fly his Fini Flight with Holland if he felt there was a risk? And if Holland was flying at the time of the accident, why was McGeehan heard on the radio on the first two patterns, but not the last? Why did the crash occur when Holland was running the radios?

And as a pilot myself, I have to ask: How did Holland fly two fine patterns with the tanker and then crash on a simple closed pattern preparing to come back and land? The simple answer is: Holland was not flying the aircraft at the time. The delay in adding power is typical of a change of control event where Holland advised McGeehan that his energy was decaying and to add power. McGeehan was slow to react or added too little power. A B-52 when light can decay energy very rapidly and Bud Holland knew this. When the stall occurred, Holland took control in a vain attempt to save the aircraft. Meanwhile, McGeehan was ejecting.

SAC headquarters wanted this all to go away. So they fingered Bud Holland as the scapegoat. Bud cannot speak for himself, so I did it for him.

Thoughts and prayers to all that were lost that day and to the families that never got to see their fathers or husbands again, including Lt. Col. Bud Holland’s family who have had to endure 25+ years of misinformation incorrectly naming Bud Holland as the bad guy in this accident. As those of us who flew with Bud Holland knew, Bud was an extremely talented and capable pilot.

Godspeed Bud Holland

Dario Leone May 8 2020 - 1:24 PM

Thank you very much for sharing with us your unique perspective. Have you flown with him?

OldAviator May 8 2020 - 1:44 PM

Yes.

Dario Leone May 8 2020 - 1:48 PM

If you want to share with us your name too, I would be glad to use your comment to write an article telling your perspective of the things. Let me know if you can be interested in this.

Tarl Jun 26 2020 - 1:05 AM

I’d like to read more of “OLDAVIATOR”s stories and thoughts, especially on the incident above and further on Lt. Col Holland.

Jeff Wustrack Oct 5 2020 - 8:59 PM

I would also like to hear more from OLDAVIATOR.

In particular, any insight he might provide as to why Col Holland, as chief of Stan Eval, felt he was justified in violating standards as was observed on a number of occasions.

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