What’s it like to be the first pilot to land a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress at EAA AirVenture? We asked Aircraft Commander Major Jeremy Holt, USAF-R, of the 93rd Bomb Squadron, 307th Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB near Shreveport, LA, and longtime EAA member, about flying the classic eight engine strategic bomber into Oshkosh.

“I’m in the fourth generation of pilots who have flown the Stratofortress. This is the latest version, the B-52H, one of 102 units built in 1961 and 1962. I’ve been flying it for ten years. While being more than a half century old, it’s been updated with the latest equipment, so it’s still viable in most threat environments.”

Holt says the Air Force plans to keep the aircraft in service at least until 2040, making it the longest serving aircraft ever employed by the United States military. “No other aircraft comes close. It’s a tribute to Boeing’s engineering.” It’s also a testament to the quality and dedication of USAF Strategic Air Command’s maintenance pros.

B-52 first entered service in the 1950s, powered by eight 10,000 lb thrust [11,000 lb with water injection] Pratt & Whitney J-57 turbojets and having a 420,000 lb MTOW. Combat range was approximately 3,600 nm.

Compared to earlier models, the –H model was fitted with more fuel efficient, 17,000 lb, TF33-P-3 turbofans in place of the original J-57 turbojets. Basic operating weight is 192,000 lb and fuel capacity is 321,600 lb. As MTOW is limited to 488,000 lb, the aircraft cannot takeoff with maximum fuel, let alone max fuel and max weapons payload. Inflight refueling, though, allows the aircraft to be topped off by a tanker. Holt says that keeping the aircraft in close formation on the tanker while refueling, within a 10 ft square box, is one of the most challenging aspects of flying the aircraft.

After refueling, the aircraft can fly more than 12 hours and landing with 2+ hours of reserve fuel. Maximum combat radius range is 4,400 nm at an average speed of 0.82 Mach. The B-52 played a key role in supporting Operation Desert Storm in the war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Punishing raids by B-62 bombers on Haiphong and Hanoi during the late 1972 Linebacker II offensive by the US during the Vietnam were critical elements in bringing the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table in early 1973 to end the conflict.

B-52H has 6 ejection seats that accommodate an aircraft commander, second pilot, radar operator / navigator, electronic warfare officer and former remote gunner’s station. Four additional crewmembers, typically consisting of instructors, can be accommodated in conventional crew seats.

Major Holt says that the aircraft’s crosswind main landing gear are one of its most impressive features. The crew can dial-in the appropriate crosswind correction angle before landing. This function enables the aircraft to land flat in a crab while the main landing gear track the runway centerline.

Landing at Oshkosh, Holt said he wanted the aircraft to arrive at light weight as Runway 36 is only 8,002 ft long, 2,000 short of what USAF wants for B-52H landing facilities.

“We made our approach at 136 knots and flared at 126, aiming for Brick One. As soon as we touched down, I popped the chute and fully extended the spoilers. We stopped in 5,000 ft.”

The biggest challenge then was how to move the aircraft, with its 159 ft length and 185 ft wingspan from the runway to Boeing Plaza. USAF ground support staff and EAA volunteers, though, quickly moved the aircraft to its position on the static display without incident.