Two-ship B-52 flyover wows Air Force Museum crowds

Iconic plane expected to fly into the 2050s, historian says

A pair of stately B-52 bombers soared over the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Friday afternoon, impressing hundreds of people waiting for a glimpse off and on museum grounds.

“Beautiful, lovely, awesome,” was Waynesville resident Robert Earl’s verdict minutes after the two planes flew in from the northeast and exited to the west, capping a journey that began at about 11:30 a.m. North Dakota time from Minot Air Force Base.

The Stratofortress flyover was part of the museum’s salute to Vietnam War veterans, taking place from Thursday to Sunday.

ExploreAir Force Museum schedules B-52 flyover, traveling veteran tribute

The Vietnam salute is free, like the museum itself. It features the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Memorial, talks with Vietnam veterans and a chance to explore the Southeast Asia War Gallery in the museum’s second building.

Dayton resident and U.S. Army veteran Willard Williams, 78, said Friday he knew 10 of the men whose names appear on the memorial, a replica said to be about 80% the size of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

Two of those men Williams recalled especially. He remembered being on patrol in Vietnam with two fellow soldiers on his first night in the country in 1968.

“They jokingly said, ‘Oh, we will be going home before you,’” Williams said.

In the following weeks, both men were killed, he said.

The B-52 flyovers were done to help boost the museum’s event, but what makes them special?

“To put it in a nutshell, it’s a really great design, a really versatile design,” said Doug Lantry, an historian for the museum. “The basic design of the airplane has been ideal for all its missions basically from 1955 until now.”

One of the most widely recognized and iconic airplanes, it has crossed over from aviation and military culture to pop culture, he said. One of Lantry’s favorite bands is the B-52s.

The B-52 was designed to serve as a long-range, high-altitude, strategic nuclear deterrent. Over Vietnam, it became a tactical weapon.

It was used in Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, and it has been adapted for close air support of troops and other non-nuclear missions.

“It has performed all of those jobs really well,” Lantry said.

Because it’s so big — it has a length of nearly 160 feet and a wingspan of 185 feet — the Air Force can fit modern systems and weapons into it quite easily. It is expected to serve into the 2050s.

“The engine, electronics and other features will change, but that iconic shape will stay the same,” Lantry said.

If so, when all is said and done, the B-52 will have served the nation for a century or more, Lantry said.

The plane is still active, of course. U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa announced Thursday that B-52s from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota arrived at Royal Air Force Base in Fairford, England to support NATO.

Air Force Magazine recently reported that further updates for the plane are ahead, with the B-52H to be redesignated the B-52J or B-52K when it gets a new radar and new engines.

Col. Louis Ruscetta, senior materiel leader for the B-52 program office, told the magazine that flight testing with the new radar will start in late 2025, and the first production versions should be built around then.

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