20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron RAF Fairford TDY March-April 2019


Between March 14th and April 6th, 2019, RAF Fairford hosted 6 Boeing B-52H Stratofortress', the most that had been at the base at one time since Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003.

6 B-52s require plenty of support, and as such, in the lead-up to the exercise, no less than 4 Boeing C-17A Globemasters, 3 Boeing 747s operated by both Atlas Air and National Airlines, and a Delta Airlines Boeing 777 arrived in Fairford from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana with over 450 personnel and a whole lot of support equipment!

I was lucky enough to see plenty of action from that deployment, from the build-up to the draw-down. It was a hell of a sight to see so many B-52s over here at once. It still stands as the joint biggest BUFF deployment to Fairford in my lifetime!

The first action I saw came on March 9th, when 3 C-17s arrived in Fairford. Other commitments meant I missed the 1st aircraft, but I managed the 2nd and 3rd! 97-0041 was the second C-17 that day, arriving as RCH246 from Bangor Airport, Maine. The aircraft was on the deck for around 90 minutes before departing to Prestwick Airport in Scotland. 89-1192 RCH410 was the 3rd and final jet to arrive on March 9th, also coming from Bangor. It departed for the Middle East the following morning. 

USAF Boeing C-17A Globemaster III 97-0041 RCH246

USAF McDonnell Douglas C-17A Globemaster III 89-1192 RCH410

With the equipment in, it was just the ground crew to arrive. And, on March 11th they did indeed arrive onboard Delta Airlines Boeing 777 N860DA CAMBER525. This aircraft passed by my house on its way in. It's always nice to shoot aviation from the comfort of your own doorstep!

Delta Airlines Boeing 777 N860DA CAMBER525

March 14th marked the arrival of the first 3 B-52s. 2 performed a mission over the Baltic Sea and arrived in Gloucestershire between 13:30 and 13:45. The 3rd aircraft came direct to Fairford and was on the ground by 10:30. I couldn't make it to the base until March 16th at the earliest, but the excitement of having B-52s back had certainly set in. The next day, a further aircraft arrived from the USA not long before 16:00. 

Rumours then suggested that a final 2 jets were due in on Saturday, March 16th. And sure enough, by about 08:00 DRYER91 flight of 2 were overhead the UK and burning fuel to get to a decent landing weight. At 09:30, the first jet touched down. Around an hour later and jet number 6 was on the deck. Prior to the B-52s' arrival, a KC-135 from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base diverted into Fairford due to poor weather at Ramstein Air Base and RAF Mildenhall. This aircraft was not affiliated with the detachment. 

USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0024 

USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0032 DRYER92

USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 61-0013

USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 61-0015 DRYER91

USAF Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker 63-8014 RCH330

My next proper sighting of them came on April 1st when AERO12 flight of 2 flew a short evening sortie to the cornfield ranges on the Dutch coast. 60-0025 AERO13 tracked back through the UK and called up for a runway 09 initial, which it performed with its trademark smoke pouring out of the engines. The jet landed at 18:10. AERO12 was then tracked back through the UK. The crew performed an overshoot before bashing the circuit for around half an hour. It arrived an hour later at 19:10. It was an absolutely crazy evening and one I won't be forgetting in a hurry. It remains one of my favourite moments at the fence line!

USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0025 AERO13

USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0058 AERO12

April 5th saw the first 3 jets depart for home. The final 3 left on April 6th, the day I decided to look around the RAF Museum at Cosford instead of watching the buffs go. Even now, I can't decide if I made the right decision that day!

The first flights to take the crew and kit home came on April 11th, when 2 Atlas Air Boeing 747s, 1 Kalitta Air 747, and 1 Atlas Air 767 landed. The arrivals started early morning and by the evening 1 Atlas Air 747 remained on the deck. It departed the next day. 

Atlas Air Boeing 747 N445MC

Between Monday, April 15th, and Wednesday, April 17th 2 C-17s came and went on the final support flights. The first C-17 arrived from Ramstein late at night on Monday and departed back to Ramstein the following day. The 2nd arrived from Ramstein on April 16th and departed for the US on the 16th. That brought an end to Bomber Task Force Europe 19-1. The entire list of aircraft involved is below. 

USAF Boeing C-17A Globemaster 06-6168 RCH214

USAF Boeing C-17A Globemaster 05-5141 RCH698

Credit must go to both The Official Fighter Control Forum and the RAF Fairford movements blog in the arrival times and serial numbers for the support aircraft.

National Airlines 747 N919CA NCR404

Atlas Air 747 N465MC GTI8734

Atlas Air 747 N485MC GTI8692

USAF C-17 99-0166 RCH166 - 62nd Airlift Wing

USAF C-17 97-0041 RCH246 - 437th Airlift Wing

USAF C-17 89-1192 RCH410 - 437th Airlift Wing

USAF C-17 02-1110 RCH144 - 62nd Airlift Wing

Delta Airlines 777 N860DA CMB525

USAF B-52 60-0024 - 20th Bomb Squadron 'Buccaneers' - 2nd Bomb Wing

USAF B-52 60-0025 'Ol Crow Express II' - 20th Bomb Squadron 'Buccaneers' - 2nd Bomb Wing

USAF B-52 60-0032 - 96th Bomb Squadron 'The Devils Own' - 2nd Bomb Wing

USAF B-52 60-0058 - 20th Bomb Squadron 'Buccaneers' - 2nd Bomb Wing

USAF B-52 61-0013 'High Tension III' - 20th Bomb Squadron 'Buccaneers' - 2nd Bomb Wing

USAF B-52 61-0015 'The Last Laugh' - 96th Bomb Squadron 'The Devils Own' - 2nd Bomb Wing

Atlas Air 767 N645GT GTI8881

Atlas Air 747 N445MC GTI8974

Atlas Air 747 N465MC GTI8857

Kalitta Air 747 N401KZ CKS9581

USAF C-17 06-6168 RCH214 - 436th Airlift Wing

USAF C-17 05-5141 RCH698 - 452nd Air Mobility Wing