Bomber Task Force Europe 23-3

09/07/2023

Between May and June 2023, RAF Fairford hosted a Bomber Task Force Europe mission consisting of Rockwell B-1B Lancers. 

The first indication that a deployment was on the horizon came when a Kalitta Air Boeing 747 filed a flight plan from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas to RAF Fairford. It was planned to arrive early morning on Friday 12th, but, as of May 12th, it had yet to arrive at Dyess. It finally scheduled an arrival into Dyess from JFK Airport in New York on May 15th. It was due out to Fairford at 05:45 on the 16th, but problems on the ground delayed the departure by around 90 minutes. It arrived on May 16th at 16:00, meaning the last kit was in place. The aircraft, N782CK, departed on the 17th to Hong Kong. 

On May 10th a Lockheed Martin C-5 Super Galaxy filed a flight plan from its home base of Kelly Field in Texas to Dyess. It was due to arrive on May 11th, but delays on the ground meant it didn't arrive until the early morning of May 12th. The pilot stated that they had various issues with the jet, so I hoped it would stick around until I could make it there. It departed later that morning to Gothenburg, but not before they'd had all sorts of problems with their flight plan. 

It wasn't until May 15th that we got word on the next expected arrivals. National Airlines A330 was due into Dyess on May 15th and was due to arrive in Fairford the next day. It did just that, and so with this aircraft on the ground, the personnel for the exercise had made it to Gloucestershire. N819CA departed later that day to Gothenburg. 

On May 21st, an air refueling NOTAM was posted that suggested bombers would be heading to Fairford on May 23rd. Not long before Midnight on the 22nd, SPICY21 flight of 3 was airborne out of Dyess and heading for the Air Refuelling track on the East Coast of the US. It was here that SPICY flight became a flight of 2. The suggestion was that the bombers would be arriving late at night on the 23rd following a sortie around Europe and Asia first. SPICY21 flight of 2 arrived in Fairford at roughly 17:30, after conveniently giving me a flypast at work! Not long after they had arrived, the United States Air Forces in Europe and Africa put out a press release across social media stating that another 2 aircraft would be arriving on the afternoon of Thursday 25th May.

Departing at around midnight on May 25th, SPICY41 flight of 2 arrived in Fairford at almost 7 pm following a mission integrating with European nations and causing Russian SU-27s to scramble for the second time in a week, the first being when SPICY21 flight were around on the 23rd. I did catch a glimpse of both aircraft passing from north to south in the distance. With the final 2 on the deck, the deployment was officially underway.

Due to work commitments, my first proper chance to see them came on May 26th, when unfortunately but unsurprisingly, all the jets were on the ground. I was glad to get some shots of them finally though, having seen so many shots of them across the week. And to have made 3 new numbers is great, with the B-1s to be retired by the end of the decade, the more I can see the better!

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 85-0064

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0103

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0105

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0125 

They say that good things come to those who wait, and, having not made it up to Fairford for any flying so far, my luck came on Friday 16th June when SPICY51 flight of 2 departed at 04:16 and 05:02. Despite being ridiculously early, I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to get my first dose on B-ONE burner in 2023! Seen below is SPICY51 flight departing Fairford destined for Morocco, where exercise African Lion is currently taking place. Between the first and second departure, the bombers' tankers transited overhead Fairford. 4 KC-135s from the 100th Air Refuelling Wing at RAF Mildenhall were tasked with fuelling SPICY as they flew south. 

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0103 SPICY51

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0105 SPICY52

My luck continued onto Saturday 17th June as a pair of Lancers were expected for flypasts at Finland's Turku air show and at the 2023 edition of the Estonian Aviation Days. The pair did indeed fly, blasting off of runway 09 at 07:25 as SPICY61 flight. They met USAF KC-135 Stratotankers from the 100th Air Refuelling Wing over the North Sea. Following the refueling, SPICY61 flew to Estonia as planned and made passes overhead the airfield for the viewers on the ground. They then performed flypasts at Turku before touching back down at Fairford at 15:10. 

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0105 SPICY61

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0125 SPICY62

Monday 19th came, and the first movement was a Ramstein-based Lockheed Martin C-130. The aircraft came and went in the space of just over 90 minutes. It arrived at Lulea Kallax Air Base, Sweden. SPICY11 flight of 2 blasted out of Fairford not long before 9 am. The 2 aircraft (86-0103 & 86-0105) never returned, and it was later announced that they had arrived in Lulea. This was a historic occasion as it marked the first time a USAF bomber had touched down on Swedish soil. 86-0105 returned on Thursday, 22nd June, whereas 0103 headed to Paris Le Bourget to take part in the static display at the Paris Air show. A C-130J from Ramstein Air Base returned the Bones equipment to Fairford from Lulea later that day. It departed on Friday, June 23rd. 86-0103 returned from Paris early morning on Monday, June 26th.

The 26th also sadly saw the departure of the first 2 jets as they headed home to Texas following an almost 5-week deployment. SPICY11 flight thundered overhead my workplace as they flew towards the Daventry Radar Corridor and onwards towards Scandinavia, where they flew their final mission as part of Bomber Task Force Europe 23-3. The next day, SPICY21 flight also blasted overhead my workplace, unfortunately, this time completely obscured by low cloud. They too flew towards Scandinavia before going back home.

The first of the personnel departed on June 29th aboard an Omni Air International 767. The aircraft left Fairford just before midday and arrived at Baltimore some 7 hours later. It made it to Dyess AFB later that day. A C-17 Globemaster arrived from Stansted Airport on June 29th. It departed on the 30th at just after 3 pm, destined for Dyess.

One of Atlas Air 57 Boeing 747s arrived on July 5th from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. It departed on July 6th to Pease Air National Guard Base, before continuing on to Dyess. This was the last of the equipment to leave, bringing an end to what was a challenging but fruitful deployment. I had great fun shooting them on a couple of occasions, the Bone is just a remarkable aircraft! As always, they are welcome back anytime with these powerhouse jets!

With credit to and help from The Official Fighter Control Website and the RAF Fairford Movements Blog, here is the full list of aircraft involved:

Atlas Air Boeing 747 N471MC GTI9264

Kalitta Air Boeing 747 N782CK CKS411

National Airlines Airbus A330 N819CA CMB550

Omni Air International Boeing 767 N351AX CMB502

USAF Boeing C-17A Globemaster III 06-6161 RCH460 - 60th AMW

USAF Lockheed Martin C-5M Super Galaxy 86-0018 RCH450 - 433rd AW

USAF Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules 15-5831 HKY637 - 86th AW

USAF Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules 16-5840 HKY631 - 86th AW

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 85-0064 - 9th Bomb Squadron 'Bats' - 7th Bomb Wing

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0103 - 9th Bomb Squadron 'Bats' - 7th Bomb Wing

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0105 - 28th Bomb Squadron 'Mohawks' - 7th Bomb Wing

USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer 86-0125 - 9th Bomb Squadron 'Bats' - 7th Bomb Wing