In late September
2005 several United States Air Force aircraft with around 60 of
their support personnel arrived to take part in pre-planned
global training exercises. The two B-52 Buffs were participating in
Exercise Bright Star, the B-1Bs in their own Global Power training
missions and supporting the Malta air show and the KC-135s were
needed to transport the ground support equipment and to provide the B-52s
with aerial refuelling on their missions.
Exercise Bright Star
is US Central Command’s largest and most significant regular
exercise. Involving forces from twelve nations and observers from
thirty-eight it’s designed to strengthen the military relationships
between the participating forces and improve their operational readiness.
B-52s were from Barksdale AFB, the B-1s from Dyess AFB and the
KC-135s from the Air Force Reserve Command base Grissom in Indiana.
An additional two B-1s staged through RAF Fairford on their way home from the Malta air show.
Most of the support personnel came from each of the aircraft’s home
bases although some European based people were also involved.
The B-1s came to RAF Fairford to help the air and ground crews train in unfamiliar environments. The air crews could take advantage of the range
facilities in England that would allow them to practice flying in
English air space at the same time. The B-52s were
demonstrating their show of force capability by flying
sorties from Fairford to the Egypt region as part of
Exercise Bright Star. As both types of aircraft were flying
training missions there were no live munitions involved.
For the ground crews the deployment was a chance to practice
operating at a forward location. With no specific B-1 or B-52
support equipment at RAF Fairford everything they needed to operate
the aircraft had to be sent
with the deploying aircraft, one of the reasons the KC-135 aircraft
Once the aircraft had begun landing
their ground crews prepared to park them while an RAF Fairford ramp
co-ordinator made sure the landing details were logged and each
aircraft was heading for the correct parking spot. Once at the
parking spots the ground crew marshalled the aircraft the last few
feet before the engines were finally shutdown. Having
stopped, the aircraft’s wheels were chocked and maintenance crews
began fitting ‘remove before flight’ covers and looking for any
parts that might have broken in-flight.
After the aircraft were shutdown their aircrew were met by British police who
performed customs and immigration duties, the same as those
for anyone entering the United Kingdom. While the paperwork
was being done and the mission orders verified the aircrew unloaded
their luggage from the aircraft. Usually they will carry two
to three bags each on the aircraft along with their survival vests
and any official paperwork that needs to be kept with the aircraft.
Everyone’s personal luggage was sent on the KC-135s.
the same time the security teams were
securing the aircraft operating areas to ensure only authorised
personnel were in the area and the aircraft inside were kept under
guard. With the RAF operating on the airfield at the same time
extra care and communication was needed to keep the American
aircraft safe from ‘intruders’.
With all of the aircraft parked
and unloaded the visiting personnel were given an in-processing
briefing in the base’s theatre by members of the base to welcome and
inform them about RAF Fairford and England. A senior base
commander gave them an introduction to RAF Fairford, spoke about
it’s recent history and the fact that the RAF forward deploying made the
base unusually busy. There were then fire, security and safety
briefings which talked about how to make their stay as enjoyable as possible,
for both them and the local residents. Finally they were told
about the region and some of the local areas they might like to
For some this was their
first trip to the UK or Fairford while others had been before for either exercises or Operation Allied Force in 1999.
To support the three types of aircraft during their
deployment a wide range of people were needed. As well as the
aircrew, who were pilots, co-pilots, loadmasters and weapons systems
officers, all the different types of maintenance, flight operations
and security forces personnel were needed, with most coming from the
Maintaining the aircraft requires people with knowledge of all the
different systems, propulsion, electrical, flight controls,
hydraulics etc. To become a fully trained B-1B maintenance
airman takes at least 18 months of training. After an initial
9 weeks at Tech School another 7 weeks of on the job training are
needed before they can start doing work on their own. As time
passes and confidence improves they then start working on the more
complex parts of the aircraft.
Before the aircraft
can fly considerable work is needed to make them ready for flight,
even if they previously landed with no major problems. Making
a B-52 ready for flight takes nearly 8 hours and even the more
modern B-1 still needs 6. Such long preparation times mean the
ground crews have to get up early most days, a 2am
working day start is common on days with morning flying planned.
As with any large and complex aircraft things always go wrong and
break but with the right people around fixing them isn’t always an
issue. However, some aircraft have very unusual components
that cause technical headaches. The B-52’s cross-wind crab
undercarriage is one of these, designed to allow the B-52 to land in
strong crosswinds by rotating the wheels to compensate for the extra
wind speed. They rely on a complex interconnected hydraulic
system which means a minor fault on one set of wheels often needs
all four sets of wheels to be jacked off the ground. For a
smaller aircraft this wouldn’t be too difficult but for something
the size of a B-52 means a lot of work gets done. Having eight
engines usually means eight times the work for routine work or that
an engine system fault is eight times more likely to happen than on
a smaller aircraft.
The B-1B benefits from more modern components which means even
complex mechanical parts like its swing wing system are fairly
reliable. The biggest problems on the B-1 are usually caused
by its e-mux, the electrical multiplexer, which is a complex and
self-contained computer system that manages all of the aircraft’s
power systems. Any request for power on the aircraft must be
approved by the e-mux computers so when these go wrong the whole
aircraft suffers. Although logical to fix it’s a system where
sitting down with textbooks is needed rather than a box of wrenches.
For around half of the people on the
deployment it was their first visit to England. Everyone had
been looking forward to coming to England, some just to experience a
cooler climate and green fields while others were looking forward to
going out in British towns. Compared to other deployments
where the weather is a lot hotter and the focus is purely on keeping
the aircraft mission ready people were pleased to come to Fairford.
Links to Photos
More photos of the aircraft involved in the deployment can be found
This article would never have been possible without the help and
support of those at RAF Fairford and the deployed squadrons.