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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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.

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Welcome to The Aviation Geek Club, your new stopover aviation place. Launched in 2016 by Dario Leone, an Italian lifelong - aviation geek, this blog is the right place where you can share your passion and meet other aviation enthusiasts from all over the world.
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