It surely made for an impressive sight. Eight United States Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers could be seen lined up on the runway at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana in an “elephant walk,” the procession of military aircraft taxiing in close formation prior to takeoff. This most recent show of force of the Cold War-era bombers, which took place last week, was part of a readiness exercise conducted to ensure that the 2nd Bomb Wing remains fully able to provide winning combat power.
The Air Force has been increasingly conducting such elephant walks as a demonstration of the capabilities of its bomber fleet. A similar show of strength was conducted in April involving five B-52H bombers prior to their departure from Guam.
Following last week’s lineup of bombers, the eight aircraft flew to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota before returning back to their home base in Northern Louisiana.
To Europe and Back
Some of the B-52 bomber crews have already had a busy month apparently, as a pair of the aircraft from Barksdale AFB made a round trip flight to Europe, where the aircraft took part in a major NATO training exercise during a Bomber Task Force (BTF) mission over the North Sea. The two-week-long NATO exercise has involved more than fifty aircraft from across the alliance—and it was held to ensure that Allied air forces are able to operate effectively together.
The B-52s conducted the non-stop trans-Atlantic flight to Europe, and then made the return flight to Louisiana with support from Dutch, German, Italian, and U.S. aerial refueling capabilities. The multilateral support to the BTF was the most recent example of the strength gained through interoperability and partnership with the U.S. Air Force’s NATO allies and partners, as well as a continued validation of a shared commitment to global security and stability in Europe.
The refueling missions included KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall in England, which refueled the bombers off the coast of Scotland.
The Air Force’s strategic nuclear force, including the B-52, remains an essential military link between Europe and North America and has been seen as a key contributor to the Alliance security as the bombers offer a global strike capability. This recent trans-Atlantic crossing comes less than two months after six B-52s took part in the “Allied Sky” flyover across thirty NATO countries in a single day at the end of August. It was meant to highlight solidarity with U.S. partners and allies.
Four of the Cold War-era U.S. Air Force bombers were deployed from Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in the UK and flew over Europe, while two bombers from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota flew over the U.S. and Canada.
Over the summer additional B-52H bomber training missions were conducted at RAF Fairford as part of a long-planned exercise involving the 5th Bomb Wing, which was deployed to demonstrate U.S. capability to command, control and conduct bomber missions across the globe.
Despite its age, the upgraded B-52H bombers can still perform a variety of missions at subsonic speeds at high altitudes while the aircraft have a combat range of 8,800 miles and are able to carry precision-guided ordnance with worldwide precision navigation.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
Image: B-52H Stratofortresses from the 2nd Bomb Wing line up on the runway at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Oct. 14, 2020.