Beale AFB, northern California
There I was going into the squadron for a night training flight in a B52 G Model. I had completed 12 months of pilot training, 3 ½ months of B52 school and sundry other USAF required schools/training. I was in month 1 of my required 4 months of local check out before full certification as a co-pilot of the B52G model. Upon arrival at the squadron for mission preflight, I was immediately approached by the squadron operations officer who said “Lt., pack your bags you are leaving for TDY Guam in 72 hours as a co-pilot for Crew R-12”. Of course, I saluted and replied, “Yes, sir”.
Journey to Guam
72 hours later, I met Crew R-12 for the first time (pilot, radar navigator, navigator, Electronic Warfare Officer, tail gunner).
We constituted a 3-aircraft cell assigned to ferry 3 B52Gs to Guam and remain there to conduct combat missions as directed by 8th Air Force. Our B52 had a maintenance malfunction and was 4 hours late departing. The other 2 aircraft left on schedule and we would fly as a lone aircraft. Immediately after departure, we conducted aerial refueling from a KC135 just outside San Francisco over the Pacific. It was my first solo, co-pilot aerial refueling. Aerial refueling is generally regarded as one of the most difficult/dangerous tasks in military flying. There are two large aircraft about 75 ft from each other (B52 and KC135 – Boeing 707)) connected by a long metal tube (boom) which pumps jet fuel from the KC135 to the B52 under high-speed pressure. The danger of a midair collision is omnipresent. The pilots of both aircraft must fly by hand as autopilot flying was not an option. 17 ½ hours non-stop later, we could see Guam (about 30 miles long and 12 miles wide) on the distant horizon. Now, I understood what Naval aviators must feel like when they spot their aircraft carriers! The runway at Anderson AFB, (our destination) was a little over 2 miles of the island’s 30 miles.
After arrival in Guam, we had about 7 days before our first mission. For the first mission only were we accompanied by an experienced combat pilot. The rest of the missions only included our crew. The average mission was about 10-11 hours, non-stop, depending on what part of Viet Nam was our target. We normally flew in 3 aircraft cells. KC-135s were strategically placed along the 5000-mile round trip route in case we needed any additional fuel. Creature comforts on the aircraft were pretty much non-existent. Our seats were thin foam on top of a survival kit mounted on an ejection seat. Therefore, we had to wear helmets, oxygen masks, parachute harness, etc. Ejection seats were triggered by an explosive charge which literally blew the seat out of a hatch in the top of the aircraft (the top hatch was triggered to blow a few milliseconds before the seat ejected through it). The seat traveled at close to 30Gs (30 times gravity) therefore almost assuring some form of spine injury. When on the ground the explosive charge was protected by a safety pin. The seat safety pin was removed prior to takeoff and replaced after landing. Heaters, air conditioners and coffee pots were low maintenance priorities so almost never worked. These were the Arc Light designated missions in support of ground troops. (Operation Arc Light was the code name for the B52 participation in the Vietnam war. Operation Arc Light ran from 1965 to 1973). The missions were mostly in South Vietnam, but I think we occasionally drifted into Cambodia and North Vietnam. Not sure if we had any missions in Laos. I completed 28 Arc Light Missions.
Most South Vietnam missions were uneventful but occasionally we would pick up a MIG searching for a target or very rarely a radar ping by a SAM (surface to air missile). The EW (Electronic Warfare Officer-managed all electronic defensive systems for the aircraft) would commence radar jamming defensive measures which were effective. The SAMs and the MIGs were all Russian.
The most difficult B52 missions came right before war end during the Paris peace talks. Kissinger used the B52s based in Guam and U-Tapao, Thailand as serious negotiation tools/threats. I was in Guam on my 2nd TDY as an Air Staff Officer for 8th Air Force, so was able to see the big picture from an operations view. As the Paris negotiations ebbed and flowed, we were required to launch a maximum surge (all available aircraft) to target Hanoi. These were the Linebacker II missions. (Operation Linebacker II was the code name for the massive 11 day bombing campaign conducted primarily by B52s over Hanoi in support of the Paris peace talks). A number of B52s were shot down over Hanoi by SAMs (using effective Russian radar and MIG positioning). We launched about 4 maximum surges. After peace was concluded in Paris, it took about 6 months to wind down the B52 operation in Guam and in Thailand.