You could call it a “hero-to-hero” courtesy call.
The word started circulating on social media on Wednesday evening that a B-52 Stratofortress from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., would be engaged in a “mission essential sortie,” but there was a collateral component of the mission profile.
Team Edwards wanted to let the nurses and health care professionals of the Antelope Valley know that they are loved and respected.
If some of the cities on West and East coasts were watching flyovers by the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, the Antelope Valley has high-flying resources all its own.
The B-52 Stratofortress, an aircraft type that made its maiden flight in April 1952, would be well into the age of collecting Social Security by now. By like many of our fit and seasoned elders, it is still performing its duties. It remains one of the world’s most formidable strategic bombers.
So, it was fitting that this big bird – the BUFF – the “Big Ugly Fat Fella,” ahem, was tasked to perform an airborne sortie flyover to the heroic front-line health-care performers of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
“I think the crew flying in that is probably about 40 years younger than the aircraft,” said Nathan Burnett, an Army veteran of the 101st Airborne Division in operations and maintenance at High Desert Medical Group.
Burnett gathered with Administrator Rafael Gonzalez in the parking lot of High Desert Medical Group, where dozens of nurses gathered — all masked and at a safe distance.
The mission profile for the bomber powered by eight turbojet engines was to pass over health care sites across the Antelope Valley.
“The flyover is our way of showing our gratitude to healthcare workers, first responders, and others on the forntlines in our combined fight against Covid-19,” said Col. Matthew Higher, who commands the 412th Test Wing. “We wish everyone to stay safe and healthy during these times and for those that are affected, a speedy recovery.”
The bomber sortied from Edwards, passed over Tehachapi, and then turned south, passing over Antelope Valley Hospital, and next over High Desert Medical Group — where nurses in the parking lot of the large clinic have been administering free, public access Covid-19 tests daily for more than a month.
The bomber, built by Boeing, and modified many times over 68 years in service, then passed over Kaiser Permanente Thrive, then the Antelope Valley Mall, where Palmdale Regional Medical Center staff have also been providing Covid-19 testing.
“I am so glad the Air Force decided to do this,” said Palmdale City Manager J.J. Murphy, himself a retired Air Force officer with a background in search and rescue. “We know they have a lot on their plate, too.”
Mayors of both cities, R. Rex Parris in Lancaster, and Steve Hofbauer in Palmdale, have worked through the months of the pandemic to sort through best practices for community safety, and worked to secure testing and Personal Protective Equipment for first responders and front-line employees.
At High Desert Medical Group, cheers erupted from the safely-spaced nursing crew. Gonzalez, accompanied by RN Lori Cosgrove, and HR specialist Regina Clouse unfurled an HDMG banner big enough to be seen from the air, and the B-52 continued on its mission.
Editor’s note: Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group who has been a military affairs journalist since 1980, and deployed to the Iraq War as an embedded journalist covering Antelope Valley troops from the California National Guard.