From time to time, rumours emerge about a possible B-2 Stealth Bomber deployment to RAF Fairford. A few weeks ago, these rumours began to circulate again alongside the usual anticipation about the impending Exercise Ample Strike – a regular feature which routinely sees B-52 Bombers deployed to the UK.
What started out initially as rumours and speculation online, would quickly begin to have some credence, with several cargo and passenger flights taking place between Whiteman AFB in Missouri and RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. The combination of cargo flights and passenger flights were certainly a good indication that something was about to happen in the coming days.
On Monday 26th August, the excitement quickly began to rise with the publication of a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) advising aviators that RAF Fairford was open and active between 1345hrs UTC and 2345HRS UTC (+1 hour for local time) as below:
U3686/19 – FAIRFORD MIL ATZ ACTIVE, AD, RWY 09/27 OPEN. 26 AUG 13:45 2019 UNTIL 26 AUG 23:45 2019. CREATED: 26 AUG 06:39 2019
The arrival of DRAGON 22 – U-2 Spyplane 80-1070 – added to the excitement but also opened the possibility the NOTAM was issued to cover its planned arrival. Hopes remained high however given the large time frame of the NOTAM – and so the rumours and speculation really began to go into overdrive.
Then the world of social media and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) came to life with rumours across social media of DEATH 11/12 due in at 0030 hours local time. The rumours expanded a short time later to include the arrival of DEATH 13 also however speculation was this would land only for a quick refuel before returning to Whiteman AFB.
It didn’t take long for confirmation however when DEATH 11 flight was heard working Gander Control with a routing of 50N 50W – 53N 40W – 56N-30W – 57N 20W – ETILO and blocking flight level (FL) 270-280 (27,000 to 28,000ft). There was no sign of DEATH 13 callsign however when the NOTAM for Fairford being active was extended 0240hrs UTC (0340hrs local) – the plot thickened.
DEATH 11 flight was snagged by HF monitors around the country (and beyond no doubt) working SHANWICK HF 5649 and 6547, providing regular routing updates as they made their way across the Atlantic.
The issue I was having was that I wasn’t in the shack! Living with my partner in a first-floor marina-side apartment makes for less than ideal conditions for setting up radios and antennas. My actual radio shack is located at an undisclosed location (my parents house) nearby but life circumstances prevented me from a full radio shack activation to capture the inbound arrivals.
I did try to do my best with my two base station radios in the flat and the support of 360Radar on the iPad Pro but I realised very quickly that I was fighting a losing battle. My only option was to watch the updates being posted across social media groups and on the Fighter Control Forum.
The frustration was immense seeing reports and getting text messages from fellow monitors advising DEATH 11 was now working VHF/UHF frequencies transiting overhead Scotland and I was unable to get anything from flat setup. I quickly identified this as something I’ll need to address for the future.
Crossing over Scotland, DEATH 11 worked 132.730MHz before switching to Scottish Military 282.620MHz. Around the same time, sharp-eared HF monitors also picked up callsign DEATH 13 working HF 5649 and to call again at 20W – confirming a third B-2 Stealth Bomber was inbound.
It wasn’t just a straightforward flight over Scotland however. QUID721 – KC-135 Stratotanker 60-0324 – had launched from RAF Mildenhall Suffolk to conduct air-to-air refuelling with DEATH 11 and 12. After the refuelling was complete, DEATH 11 and 12 continued their routing south towards Fairford, with QUID721 following for some of the way before returning north to hook up with DEATH 13.
Logged into 360Radar on the iPad Pro, I was able to successfully track QUID721 on its sortie albeit I was unable to intercept any of the radio traffic.
Under the cover of darkness, albeit with quite a crowd I imagine along the fence line, DEATH 11 and DEATH 12 arrived at RAF Fairford, followed shortly thereafter by DEATH 13. The initial speculation about DEATH 13 just refuelling was quickly quelled, and all three aircraft were hangered for the night. This also includes potentially the first time (that I’m aware of certainly) the temporary hangar has been used operationally.
The aircraft on the ground were able to be confirmed as the following between radio intercepts and visual identification on the ground:
DEATH 11 – 89-0168 – Spirit of New York
DEATH 12 – 89-0129 – Spirit of Georgia
DEATH 13 – 82-1071 – Spirt of Mississippi
The question on everyone’s mind now is how long will they be staying for!