Editor's note: The last B-52 bomber (61-1040) came off the assembly line at Boeing in June 1962 and was brought to Minot Air Force Base Oct. 26, 1962 50 years ago. Col. James Dawkins Jr., commander of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, recently responded to questions about his flying career and the B-52.
Dawkins is responsible for providing combat-ready B-52H Stratofortress aircraft, crews and associated combat support for deterrence, crisis response, global power projection, major theater war and maritime operations and Air and Space Expeditionary Force deployments. He also serves as the installation commander at the Minot base.
MDN: How long have you flown the B-52?
Dawkins: Minot is my first assignment flying the B-52 (16 months).
MDN: Do you have combat hours in the B-52 and if so, how many?
Dawkins: No combat hours in the B-52.
MDN: What other aircraft have you flown?
Dawkins: F-111, F-16 (125 combat hours), B-2 (41-hour combat sortie), RC-135 (80 combat hours).
MDN: As a pilot and wing commander, could you give your view of this aircraft, how it handles and the capabilities it has?
Dawkins: The B-52 is the most versatile bomber in the inventory. For over 50 years, it has carried a wide range of weapons and has participated in numerous combat operations. Also notable is the fact that it has served as a test bed for weapons designed for use on other bomber aircraft.
Out of the five combat aircraft I've flow, the B-52 is the most difficult aircraft to fly. Unlike modern aircraft that use electronic "fly-by-wire" flight controls, the B-52 is flown through a system of control cables attached to hydraulic actuators on the flight control surfaces. Flying the aircraft smoothly requires the pilot to make simultaneous pitch, roll and yaw inputs to the control column, and good hand-eye coordination skills. Landing the aircraft is also demanding due to the twin-tandem landing gear design and the large wingspan. Additional landing gear at the tips of the wing prevent the aircraft from rolling right or left and damaging the wingtip.
Physically flying the aircraft is not necessarily the most difficult part. Successfully employing the aircraft for combat operations is where we make our money. This requires all five crewmembers to work together to defeat enemy air defenses and successfully navigate to the weapons release point so we can put "bombs on target on time" at a time and place of our choosing.
MDN: The last B-52 (61-1040) came off the assembly line in June 1962 and was brought to Minot AFB Oct. 26, 1962. However, that plane and others being used here at Minot and at Barksdale AFB, are not exactly the same planes they were when they came off the assembly line. What are upgrades you would like to point out that are keeping this plane flying into this year and future years?
Dawkins: The ability to carry smart, precision guided weapons like the JDAM and the JAASM. The integration of laser targeting pods has also been a nice addition. Finally, long range, satellite communications capability improvements have allowed us to stay relevant in today's fight.
MDN: The B-52 has third-generation crewmembers, perhaps also maintenance people? Could you comment on the capabilities of these individuals who fly and maintain the B-52 here at Minot AFB?
Dawkins: The first aircraft rolled off the assembly line in 1952 with the 744th aircraft rolling out the door in 1962. 744 aircraft in 10 years is quite a feat. The 5th Bomb Wing has the last aircraft off of the assembly line, tail number 61-1040. The truly impressive part is that our airmen, most of whom are in their early to mid-20s are still maintaining and flying an aircraft built 50 years ago. Comparing this to a 50-year-old car is a useful way to see how truly impressive this is. How many cars built in 1962 are still able to drive from Maine to California, non-stop, without changing the oil or conducting maintenance while on the trip? Probably not too many. The B-52 is still capable of non-stop, around the world flying...our airmen routinely launch and fly sorties that cross vast stretches of ocean lasting well over 30 hours.
MDN: The two bomb squadrons go on several month deployments to Guam? What is the importance of these particular deployments for Minot AFB and nationally?
Dawkins: Deployments to Guam demonstrate our resolve and dedication to supporting America's interests in the Pacific region.
MDN: What has been the use of the B-52, including Minot's, in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Dawkins: The B-52 was used in both wars.
Afghanistan: B-52s attacked al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds, assembly areas and military targets in late 2001 during the opening phase of Enduring Freedom. Continued close air-support missions through early 2006.
Iraq: March 2003 B-52s attacked command, control and communications targets during the opening phase of Iraqi Freedom. Continued operations conducting interdiction, close air-support missions, and strikes against the Republican Guard through May 2003.
MDN: What is the Air Force/Department of Defense's plan for the number of years the B-52 will continue to fly?
Dawkins: I believe 2040 is the on-record date.