Few days before flying “violation” of China’s new ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), the iconic B-52H Stratofortress bomber was involved in another memorable operation.
On Nov. 10, two B-52s, respectively launched from Minot and Barksdale AFB with radio callsign Hail 13 and Hail 14, were flying over Alaska, when they were called from Anchorage ATCC (Air Traffic Control Center), asking for their assistance: contacts with a Cessna plane had been lost after its pilot became disoriented after flying into bad weather.
The small plane was flying at such a low altitude that the ATC was unable to talk with it on the radio.
Hail 13 was about 200 miles away from the Cessna pilot’s estimated location when they got the distress call.
“The first thing we did was calculate our fuel to make sure we had enough,” said Capt. Joshua M. Middendorf, 69th BS aircraft commander of Hail 13. “We also had to ensure our wingman, Hail 14, would have enough fuel to make it back to Barksdale.”
After assessing that they had enough fuel for the new task Hail 13 headed directly west in search of the Cessna pilot.
One hundred miles into their detour, the leading B-52 was able to locate and establish a radio contact with the pilot who had dropped to low level to keep visual contact of the terrain below the clouds and was flying through a ground surrounded by mountains.
Since the B-52 was much higher it could act as a relay between the pilot and the ATC, providing the distress pilot information about the weather ahead and “directions” to reach the nearest landing field.
As the pilot approached Calhoun Memorial Airport in Tanana, Alaska, Hail 13 turned up the air field lights over a common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) to help the pilot landing safely.
“Although both crews flew hundreds of miles off course, they did not allow the detour to compromise their mission,” the Air Force official release on the episode says.
“The fuel saved by the crew of HAIL13 in the beginning stages of the mission allowed them to fly faster back to their original course, putting them back on schedule. Not only did they meet schedule, HAIL13 and their wingman were able to complete every mission checkpoint, resulting in a successful mission.”
Did you know that, among all the other roles, the B-52 could also fly SAR (Search And Rescue) support missions?
Image credit: U.S. Air Force