Jan 19th, 2018

Tanker Trip to Guam VII | The B-52 and the Golden BB

In the fifth in a series of blogs regarding one of my most successful (and fun) KC-135 Tanker missions, I mentioned that our most exciting mission on Guam would come a few days after our first landing over the Guam cliff (https://www.doctoraviation.com/tanker-trip-to-guam-flying-at-andersen-afb/).  This how it “went down”.

Our crew had gone out for a routine training mission.  So routine, in fact, that I can’t even remember what we refueled.  It was that forgettable.  I had had dozens of those types of missions even at this early stage of my career.

We landed right around sunset.  By the time we landed, taxied back in, unloaded the gear and got something to eat, I was ready to turn in for the night.  It was around 22:00 hours or so.  I had just crawled into bed, ready to get some “power ZZ’s” (our term for a lot of sleep).  Suddenly there was a knock at the suite door, “Daryl, are you asleep yet…get up”.

It was Kevin we shared a large bathroom between our two dorm rooms.  I arose and said, “What’s up”.

“We’ve got to go back to the flight line…we may have another mission.”

“What, what’s going on?  We just flew.”

A B-52 (BUFF) recieves a shower spray at Andersen AFB. Note none of the photos in this blog are from the night of this mission

“I know but we still have crew duty hours available before we need crew rest.  So they called us back.  There is a BUFF with an emergency”.  BUFF, stands for Big Ugly Fat Fellow (one version at least), which was slang for a B-52.  “I’ll tell you more later.  We’ve got to go get Dorothy and Mac” (our other two crewmembers).

Soon enough we were in a truck on our way back to the airplane.  All that Kevin knew was that a B-52 had declared an emergency due to the loss of hydraulics.  Command Post had called Kevin in his room and told him to report with his crew back to the Tanker in case the BUFF needed emergency refueling.

We got back to the airplane and did one of the quickest preflight inspections I have ever participated in.  We were ready “in a heartbeat”.  Dorothy and I got all the radio communications up and running and began to monitor the radio traffic regarding the incident.  We could hear the B-52 flying above the island.

There were a number of individuals on the radios.  The top brass from Andersen AFB, I believe some folks from SAC Headquarters in Omaha Nebraska (I think I remember that), but the most surprising to me was an expert on the B-52 at Boeing in Seattle.  He made a couple of interesting suggestions, one pertained to what the crew could expect and should do upon landing.  Everyone was calm.

We reported that we had arrived and were ready for takeoff if necessary.  Our radio call was acknowledged.  However, we quickly realized that the chances of needing refueling was very close to zero.  In fact, the B-52 would eventually be told to “dump fuel”, a standard aviation practice to lighten the load of a heavy aircraft in order to allow emergency approaches to be flown at a slower speed and making the emergency landing safer.

Realizing that our services would not be needed we sat back and listened and speculated.  From what we could gather the B-52 had taken ground fire somewhere between the International Airport (in the middle of the island) and Anderson AFB at the northern tip of the island.  We had heard tales of a few disgruntled islanders who did not like the airplane noise at night.  We figured maybe one of them had taken a few “pot shots” at the B-52.

What was confirmed was that the B-52 had, indeed, lost hydraulic pressure.  It apparently had at least one substantial leak in the lines.  Hydraulics are used to lower the gear and flaps as well as to assist in the braking upon landing.

As we listened to the chatter, the final plan was agreed upon.  Emergency crews were standing by, particularly the fire trucks.  The B-52 went out over the ocean to dump fuel (which mostly evaporates before hitting the ground/water) to lighten the load.  They were to land on runway 06.  After bringing the airplane to a full stop, the crew was to egress (i.e. get out of) the aircraft as quickly as possible.

We heard and watched as the B-52 made the approach in the black of the night.  Upon landing we saw the big bird rolling down the runway at high speeds.  Suddenly, “Bang…Bang” rang out in the night.  My first thought was, “More Gun Shots”.  My heart raced a few beats.

Someone on the crew figured out it was the sound of tires blowing.  With the no hydraulic assist the brakes were applied unevenly, causing extremely high temperatures and resultant explosions as the rubber overheated.

We could make out the B-52 sliding off the runway into the grass towards the parallel runway (due to uneven braking).  Emergency vehicles reached to the scene as the crew simultaneously egressed and ran from the aircraft in the opposite direction.

We watched and chatted for maybe 15-20 more and, finally, figuring there was nothing else for us to do, we decided it was time for some shut eye.  We radioed Command Post that we were heading in.

The story made a small appearance in the UPI Papers the next day (https://www.upi.com/Archives/1987/10/06/US-B-52-hit-by-gunfire-in-Guam/3068560491200/), including the LA Times (http://articles.latimes.com/1987-10-06/news/mn-12524_1_emergency-landing).  We heard from the permanent party folks at Andersen that indeed it was a local resident who was the culprit.  The man, frustrated with the noise, took a rifle and fired shots up at the BUFF flying overhead.  He got lucky with one of the shots and severed the hydraulic line.

Several months later, Strategic Air Command (SAC) ran a detailed story on the incident in Combat Crew, the official publication of SAC.  They called it the B-52 and “the Golden BB”.

I never saw any more details on the incident until I was researching this blog.  There is an interesting post from a security policeman, on duty that night in Guam, with some more of the backstory on “the Golden BB”.  See: http://smith-wessonforum.com/firearms-knives-other-brands/180606-mini-14-downs-b-52-i-there.html

Oh, by the way, I slept really well that night.


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