Rapid launch exercise at Minot AFB: 17 B-52 heavy bombers take off in sequence to test mission readiness

A 17-ship rapid launch from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, was the highlight of Constant Vigilance, an exercise held on June 11, 2012 to test the B-52H Stratofortress force’s mission readiness.

The Cold War-like quick reaction launch included B-52 bombers from both Minot and Barksdale AFB, Louisiana that took the air one by one for a subsequent training mission.

Such exercises are regularly scheduled to check the B-52 Stratofortresses’ ability to respond to threats at a moment’s notice. During this training events, aircraft are launched by a method known “cart-starts” from cartridge starts: a small-controlled explosive is inserted into two of the eight engines of the heavy bomber. The charges jumpstart the engines (the remaining engines are started while the aircraft taxies to the runway) removing the need to use ground equipment normally used for aircraft’s startup.

Using cart-starts, startup time is cut from more than an hour to less than 10 minutes. Not bad for an aircraft with more than 50 years of combat operations under its belt.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Reminds me of the halcyon days of my youth when our world was perched on the knife edge between Cold War paranoia and mutual assured destruction. We used to lie on our backs in the state park off the end of the runway at Grand Forks AFB and count rivets as the BUFs took to the air. We drank some beers too.

  2. The G and H models use air carts, not shotgun cartridges. I think the D model was the last one to use cartridges.

  3. To complete my thought since I got distracted by the pretty pictures….. The one hour start time was to run engines and align the navigation system. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to align the INS on anything that uses it. That time can be reduced to less if they do an alignment every two days or so. Once aligned the INS will hold its alignment for roughly 48-72 hours, but the longer it goes without realignment, the more it wanders.

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