One rescue saw, two qualified technicians and less than 45 minutes later, the final B-52G Stratofortress accountable under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was eliminated Dec. 19 at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.,, commonly referred to as the Boneyard.
“Behind me is the final B-52G, serial number 58-0224, to be eliminated under (New START),” said Col. Robert Lepper, the 309th AMARG commander and speaker at the event. “What you see today will not be overly dramatic, but it is definitely historic.”
Lepper then outlined the process.
“Employees from the 577th Commodities and Reclamation Squadron will finish this elimination by using a saw, similar to a firefighter’s rescue saw, to cut along the predetermined circumference cut line to sever the aircraft’s tail section from the fuselage,” he said. “You will hear a distinct ‘clunk’ as the fuselage breaks into two, signaling the cut is complete and the aircraft ‘eliminated.'”
The United States were required cut the tails off the aircraft in order to remove the B-52G models from treaty accountability, as they still count as deployed, nuclear-capable delivery platforms, said Ken Vantiger, an Air Force Global Strike Command senior arms control analyst.
AFGSC is the lead command for New START implementation, although Air Force Materiel Command and Air Force Space Command also have major roles in meeting the treaty limits.
In addition to other strategic categories, New START, which entered into force Feb. 5, 2011, mandates that Russia and the U.S. limit deployed strategic delivery vehicles to 700.
“The deactivated G models in the boneyard count as deployed strategic delivery vehicles,” Vantiger said. “We have to meet the treaty limits by February 2018 or we are in violation of international law. AFGSC has set a goal of meeting the limits one year in advance of the suspense.”
The 309th AMARG, part of AFMC, eliminated the first B-52G in October 2011 and has eliminated 39 since, including the last, tail number 58-0224. These 39 eliminations have been essential elements to the Air Force plan in meeting the treaty limits.
Although eliminated from Air Force inventory and resting tailless at The Boneyard, the G model, first delivered in 1959, has a strategic and innovative history.
In an effort to improve performance, G model designers reduced the overall weight of the aircraft and moved the tail gunner from the back of the airplane to the forward crew compartment, AFGSC Command Historian Yancy Mailes said.
“The G model’s, and eventually the H, design and production really marked a major upgrade for the bomber and a capability the Air Force desperately needed,” Mailes said. “In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union began fielding improved radar systems that limited the B-52s ability to penetrate enemy territory. To offset this, Boeing built the G model so it could carry the AGM-28 “Hound Dog” missile, which allowed bomber crews to launch a missile well outside the threat of enemy guns and missiles.”
Tail number 58-0224 flew combat missions over North Vietnam in Operation Linebacker II, which began Dec. 18, 1972 and lasted 11 nights. This particular B-52G targeted the Yen Vien Railroad Yards and the Hanoi Railroad Repair Yards.
While the B-52G played a large role during Linebacker II operations against North Vietnam, the bomber also left its mark during Operation Desert Storm.
“During Desert Storm, the B-52s not only attacked strategic targets, but were given a new mission to employ a string of bombs to blast passages through minefields in order for coalition forces to pass,” Mailes said.
In all, B-52s flew 1,741 sorties for 15,269 combat hours during Desert Storm. Although the bomber only comprised 3 percent of the total combat aircraft, they dropped 72,000 bombs, which amounted to approximately 30 percent of all U.S. tonnage dropped.
“Behind all the statistics, were the dedicated troops and the aircrew that flew this air plane,” said guest speaker, retired Gen. Earl T. O’Loughlin, a former commander of Air Force Logistics Center, now AFMC. “This plane came into the inventory at a very strategic time … it gave us a capability of long range strike and gave us the true support that we needed for this country.
“My career for 24 years was directly or indirectly involved with the B-52,” O’Loughlin continued. “This is a bitter sweet moment in my life to be able to come out here and watch you cut the tail off of it. It was a good ship and it flew well.”