MINOT AIR FORCE BASE - A nine-member B-52H crew from Minot Air Force Base's 69th Bomb Squadron went down in the history of Air Force Global Strike Command for making the first flight over the North Pole in a B-52.
Four of the crew members - Maj. Patrick Small, of Las Vegas, Capt. Timothy Brown, of Lewisville, Texas, Capt. Raymond Ku, of Honolulu, Hawaii, and Capt. David Skelonc, of Cedar Springs, Mich., met with local media Wednesday about their flight across the North Pole and the air show they participated in last month in Russia.
Global Strike Command officials said, according to available mission records, the milestone flight took place when the crew flew about 30,000 feet over the geographical North Pole. That flight was on Aug. 12.
Eloise Ogden/MDN • From the left, Capt. David Skelonc, Maj. Patrick Small, Capt. Timothy Brown and Capt. Raymond Ku are shown by a B-52 bomber at Minot Air Force Base Wednesday. The four were part of a crew that recently flew over the North Pole to participate in a Russian air show.
The flight over the North Pole also is the shortest route, said Carla Pampe, a spokeswoman for Global Strike Command at command headquarters in Barksdale AFB, La.
The crew and B-52 "Wham Bam II" made the nonstop trip from Eielson AFB in Alaska and then landed in Russia for the Moscow International Aviation and Space Show at Zhukovsky Airfield.
Small, senior navigator and senior officer on the trip, said the flight over the North Pole tested the limitations of the aircraft but it also saved on air refueling gas and logistics. The flight did not require air refueling.
Crew members said a great deal of preparation was done in advance of their flight and for going into Russia and being in the Russian air show.
"To make the trip, there was months of planning as far as diplomatic clearances and routing permissions all the way up through the major command to four-star level, obviously, to not only participate in the air show but taking that route," Small said.
"It was a huge honor to go on this flight for all of us," said Capt. Timothy Brown, aircraft commander. "We knew it would be historic and we were hand-selected to represent the unit, the Air Force and our country in Russia so the pressure was on to do it and to do it well."
Skelonc, radar navigator, said, "With the relationship with our allies, it's a testament to our B-52 and the community as a whole that we got to take a plane over there.
Ku, electronic warfare officer, said it was interesting to take the Cold War bomber legend to the Russian capital of Moscow. "When we landed we saw fighter aircraft that they have and it was interesting to see our bomber land in the airfield with their fighter on the ground," he said.
The flight time from Eielson, which is near Fairbanks, Alaska, to the air show in the Moscow region is about nine hours.
"The weather was a big challenge over the North Pole but thankfully, it cooperated and we got to fly at a high altitude, conserve fuel and get there safely," Small said.
What did they see flying over the North Pole?
Crew members said they saw lots of ice - ice floes and water.
Others on the flight were Maj. Paul Stucki, Capts. Timothy May and Randall McCart, and crew chiefs Staff Sgt. Kyle Schulz and Senior Airman John Redmon.
The group spent quite a bit of their time at the air show near Moscow giving tours of the aircraft. For many people who came to see the U.S. bomber it was a chance of their lifetime, they said.
"We were the hit of the show, as well as the other American airplanes out there. We were allowing in small groups - civilians and military dignitaries - to come through, escorted and give them a personal tour of the airplane - the outside of the airplane," Small said. Others there with U.S. aircraft were doing the same.
The crew members said the Russians were amazed at the B-52, the good condition it is in and that it looks like it's brand new. The B-52H flown to Russia came off the assembly line in the early 1960s.
Contractors showed their assets of aircraft and ground support during the first three days of the show. The remainder of the show was open to the public.
During the Aug. 16-21 air show, Russia's new stealth fighter, the T-50, was unveiled.
The air show was the third time a B-52 had ever landed on Russian soil and/or been on public display. A Minot AFB B-52 also was at the air show the first time a B-52 was on public display in Russia in 2003.
When the B-52 and crew returned to the United States last week they again flew the North Pole route.
The crew members said they feel fortunate to be part of this flight and to participate in the air show in Russia with the B-52.
"I feel honored to be able to be part of it and to prove the capabilities of our airframe and our community that the airplane can do what it actually was designed to do back in the Cold War days and now we're actually doing it as peace to help out our allies," Small said.
Brown added, "We got to go and we got to fly the plane there." He said the plane is a real workhorse for the Air Force.
Throwing a pitch in for the B-52 maintainers, Brown said, "For its age, it flies like new and we feel lucky to fly on such a safe aircraft. It's a testament to our young maintainers who work on these aircraft and keep them operating as much as we fly them (and) as old as they are, their hard work pays off when we get to go do something like this," he said.