It seems the UK military aviation scene was caught off guard this morning as six USAF B-52 Bombers from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota made an early morning return to the Cotswolds.
Chatter across the various aviation social media feeds and forums had indicated a deployment was likely in the very near future with Bomber Task Force missions having taken place around this time for the past few years. The usual indicators including support aircraft arriving ahead of time was still to happen with these expected to arrive in the final week of August ahead of the B-52s.
Showcasing their ability to mobilise the Bomber Task Force with little notice and very much ‘under the radar’ of the aviation community and the wider public, the USAF Bomber Command had a different plan up their sleeve than what most people were expecting.
With a very late NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) being published around 0400 hours advising RAF Fairford was open for arriving traffic, the majority of people (including ourselves) would be sound asleep as these heavy bombers made their way to the Cotswolds.
There was no doubt some very confused locals as the distinctive sound of Pratt & Whitney jet engines disturbed the early Saturday morning silence. The residents around RAF Fairford will no doubt now be used to the sound of the U-2 which flies on an almost daily basis, but it’s been sometime since the base has hosted this many B-52s arriving in such a short space of time. Given their arrival wasn’t expected or published would likely have only added to the surprise sound of the jets overhead.
One of today’s arrivals captured by @BenBatson2
In today’s modern world where there’s minute-by-minute updates on just about everything, it is clear the USAF planners pulled this one out of the bag given the fact there were only a handful of aviation enthusiasts at RAF Fairford this morning. They possibly had some inside information or live close enough to get to the base once news of the first inbound aircraft became known. Either way the mission planners succeeded in keeping this deployment ‘off the radar’ for most people.
We only became aware of the mighty B-52s arriving back in the UK early doors due to chance. After an earlier than planned wake up to let the dog out into the garden, we always find time for a quick glance at our social media feeds before trying to get a few more hours sleep. Sleep would allude us however as we seen the news of the first arrivals by some of the local enthusiast. A few tweets later and it was action stations as the phone went into meltdown with Twitter notifications and we were monitoring the arrivals from a distance.
We had well and truly missed our opportunity for any radio intercepts, but we were closely monitoring the various social media channels and forums as the arrivals unfolded. It was interesting to watch Twitter in particular as the news began to spread as more and more people woke up and checked their phones. We often forget what the ‘old days’ were like when we didn’t have this instant access to information in relative real time.
As far as real time intelligence goes it would be fair to assume the relevant authorities also keep an eye on social media feeds to see how quickly news and updates appear – especially in circumstances like this where they managed to effectively sneak in without warning.
So what do actually know? At the moment we can confirm six aircraft have arrived for what the USAF have described as a long-planned training mission which is consistent with recent years. The duration of their deployment is unknown at this time although various online sources suggest they’ll be based in the UK for around four weeks.
As always rumours quickly start about other aircraft arriving including B-1B Lancers and the distinctive B-2 Stealth Bomber. It has been many years since RAF Fairford has hosted B-1B Lancers on deployment however the B-2 has become a semi-regular visitor. The B-2s were deployed earlier this year in March albeit their mission was cut short as the world came to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We fully anticipate the B-2s will return to RAF Fairford before the end of the year however the question of when remains a closely guarded secret no doubt for the time being. Today’s arrival of six B-52s is a positive sign that the USAF are ramping up their training operations again after several months of reduced deployments overseas amidst the COVID-19 situation. These aircraft will likely provide the local enthusiasts with plenty of listening and photography opportunities, but we remain hopeful their sorties will provide listening opportunities for those further afield.
In the meantime, the best advice is to keep a close eye on the social media feeds and aviation forums to see how this deployment progresses and whether additional bombers make an appearance.
Aircraft Serial Numbers via http://www.fightercontrol.co.uk
Callsigns: TORE 51-56
Speaking about today’s arrival, the USAF Public Affairs Office provided:
Six U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber aircraft from the 5th Bomb Wing, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, arrived Aug. 22, 2020, at RAF Fairford, England for a long planned training mission where the aircraft will conduct theatre and flight training across Europe and Africa.
The strategic bomber missions, which have been occurring since 2018, provide theatre familiarization for aircrew members and opportunities for U.S. integration with NATO allies and regional partners. The bomber missions enhance readiness and provide the training necessary and respond to any potential crisis or challenge across the globe. There have been more than 200 successful flight sorties coordinated with allies and partners since the Bomber Task Force missions began.
“B-52s are back at RAF Fairford and will be operating across the theatre in what will be a very active deployment. Our ability to quickly respond and assure allies and partners rests upon the fact that we are able to deploy our B-52s at a moment’s notice,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “Their presence here helps build trust with our NATO allies and partner nations and affords us new opportunities to train together through a variety of scenarios.”
Ongoing planned bomber missions showcase the Air Force’s ability to continue to execute flying missions, sustain readiness and support our allies and partners, regardless of any external challenge to include the current global COVID-19 crisis response or other current events within Europe and Africa.
It looks like RAF Fairford will once again become the focus for many military aviation and radio enthusiasts in the days and weeks ahead for what should be an exciting time.