“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.
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