A Boeing B-52G Stratofortress of Cold War is laid to rest in Arizona

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) A Boeing B-52G Stratofortress (59-2601) on display at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia in (2) B-52 engines (3) A B-52H on display with its weapons at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana in 2006 (4) A B-52F dropping its payloads of bombs over Vietnam in 1966.
Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) A Boeing B-52G Stratofortress (59-2601) on display at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia in (2) B-52 engines (3) A B-52H on display with its weapons at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana in 2006 (4) A B-52F dropping its payloads of bombs over Vietnam in 1966.

The sustained state of military and political tension between U.S. led Western Bloc and the Soviet Union led Eastern bloc a.k.a. The cold war lasted from September 1947 to 25th December 1991. As there was no large scale direct fighting between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over democracy and capitalism, so it was ‘cold.’ But in Korea and Vietnam, there were major regional wars fought between the two ideologies during this era.

The two superpowers each armed extensively in preparation of an absolute nuclear WWIII though they never engaged directly in full-scale armed conflict. Each side adopted a doctrine of national security policy in which a full-scale use of weapons of mass destruction would cause the complete annihilation of both the aggressor and the defender. This deterrence strategy is called mutually assured destruction or MAD.

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is one of the cold war era deadly weapons operated by the USAF (United States Air Force). The subsonic, jet-powered, long range strategic bomber was introduced by USAF in February 1955 and is still in service. It is capable of carrying up to 32,000 kg or 70,000 pounds of weapons and was built to carry the cold war era nuclear weapons for the deterrence missions. But it only carried conventional munitions in warfare as a veteran of several wars.

Convair B-36 was replaced by the B-52. Its official name Stratofortress is rarely used. Commonly the B-52 is called BUFF which means Big Ugly Fat ******! 85 B-52s have been in service as of 2012, with 9 in reserves. Because of its low operation costs and superior performance, it has completed 50 years and still in service.

Per unit cost of the B-52B was $ 14.43 million, and that of the B52H in 1998 was $53.4 million. Each B-52Gs cost approximately $ 30 million. Total 744 B52s were built by Boeing Co. After the completion of the latest upgrades carried out between 2013 and 2015; the B-52 is expected to remain in service into the 2040s.

The B-52G was launched on 13th February 1959. Total 193 of this upgraded B-52s were produced, and it was the most produced B-52 variant. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed on 31st July 1991 between the U.S. and Soviet Union (USSR) barred the signatories from deploying more than 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and bombers and from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads. In compliance with the treaty, most of the B-52Gs were destroyed.

Web edition of largest daily newspaper in American state Arizona, The Arizona Republic reported that the last of the B-52G, number 58-0224 and nicknamed Sweet Tracy, has been dismantled on 19th December 2013 in compliance with the New START treaty between U.S. and Russia which was signed on 8th April 2010.

Sweet Tracy carried out a double duty as a Cold War warrior and also as a combatant over North Vietnam. As the Air Force mechanics severed a 30 feet rear end section of the 161 feet long 53-year-old Boeing B-52G Stratofortress, it became a relic of the Cold war. It was the 39th and the final B-52G stored to be destroyed at the infamous aircraft ‘boneyard’ of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

A diamond-edged saw was used by the specialists of 577th Commodities & Reclamation Squadron to cut the 9,000-pound rear end of the plane. It dropped onto wooden pallets with a ‘thunk’, and the members of the 578th Disposal Squadron placed the severed tail of the aircraft at a 30-degree angle six ft behind the fuselage using a crane. This 30-degree angle ensured that the Russian spy satellites would be able to document the dismantling process. The severed tail section of Sweet Tracy will remain on the ground for at least 60 days to give Russian satellites ample scope to photograph the aircraft in its present condition.

Commander of 309th Aerospace Maintenance & Regeneration Group that manages the boneyard, Air Force Col. Robert Lepper said that the demolition of the aircraft helped satisfy the treaty between the Cold War foes.

Vaughn Johnson, a former B-52 pilot who now serves as a senior analyst for Virginia based the Analytic Services, said that watching the airplanes get cut up was like a knife through his heart. The Airforce had been cutting one or two B-52Gs per month to comply with the treaty.

The New START Treaty barred the each side from deploying more than 800 deployed or non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and nuclear arms equipped heavy bombers and from deploying more than 1,550 nuclear warheads. The number of deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuke equipped heavy bombers is limited to 700.

Various versions of B-52s have been used in every war from Vietnam to Afghanistan. The eight-engine jet represents the United States’ nuclear threat. It was the countries first high altitude, intercontinental heavy bombers.

The Boeing B-52G Stratofortress could reach 634 mph and while carrying full combat loads that exceeded 50,000 pounds, flew 7,300 miles without refueling. The combat loads included missiles, bombs, and other ordnance.

Sweet Tracy flew from January 1960 to February 1990 including Vietnam War missions between November 1972 and July 1973. As part of the Linebacker 2 offensive, it carried out bombing runs over Hanoi railroad yards on 18th December 1972 and over Yen Vien railroad yards on 20th December 1972. It was stationed in Guam during the Vietnam missions.

According to the flight records, Johnson piloted Sweet Tracy four times in Vietnam. Overall, he piloted B-52s on 213 air combat missions targeting truck yards, rail yards, warehouses, bridges, roads and other enemy holdings. 27 conventional 1,000-pound bombs were loaded in a B-52 during that time.

The destruction of Sweet Tracy confirms that it had the capabilities of carrying nuclear payloads. Wayne Bettman retired Air Force Col. and a member of the Ohio-based B-52 Stratofortress memory preserving Association, said that the United States had kept a certain amount of nuclear-armed B-52s in the air 24 hours a day for years.

From 1959 to 1965 and from 1973 to 1975, Bettman also served as a radar navigator on B-52s. He said that before one plane landed, another one had been taking off. He added that the number varied over the period according to the political situation.

The B-52s were not always airborne 24 hours a day since the mid-1970s. Bettman flew two Boeing B-52G Stratofortresses other than Sweet Tracy.

Earl O’Loughlin retired Air Force Gen. who piloted several B-52s, said that the B-52Gs had provided a counter-offensive against communist regimes during the peak of international tensions. He also recalled that the USSR had shot down a U.S. U2 spy aircraft and captured its pilot, Gary Powers in May 1960. He added that the G variant had given them the long-range strike capabilities and true support for the United States.

Sweet Tracy was posted to different bases in Maine, California, New York, South Dakota and Louisiana before ending up at Davis-Monthan in 1990. Before cutting it, the engines, part of its nose and the vertical tail fin had been removed a few weeks ago.

Both sections of the aircraft will be kept alongside 3,671 other mothballed aircraft at the boneyard. Spare parts from the aircraft can be salvaged for the successors of B-52Hs which still fly. Components ranging from hatches to electronics and structural ribs can be recycled. Johnson said that to come into full compliance with the treaty with Russia, the United States will eventually reconfigure or destroy a number of B-52Hs as well.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE