Since the day I first saw one, the solid Boeing 747 has been an airplane that lifts my spirits simply by looking at it. I don’t know exactly why I have that reaction, but I have a sneaking hunch that it just triggers my “that’s amazing” button to think that something that huge can fly. Last weekend that button was triggered again when I saw a B-52 fly for the first time.
When my son was at school at the University of North Dakota, we saw a couple of B-52s parked at the Grand Forks Air Force Base North Dakota. Even from a distance they were impressively huge but, like a lot of big airplanes, they looked ungainly just sitting there. It would be more than 20 years until I saw another one.
Last Saturday, just for fun I worked at the Coke Zero 400 race at the Daytona International Speedway. I was assigned to be at an information booth across the track from the main grandstand. That area has a smaller grandstand called the “Super Stretch” but only a few of the suites were open; no tickets had been sold for the seats. To say the area was quiet for most of the day was an understatement. Fortunately, my booth was directly across the street from the airport and the B-52 was parked facing the booth. It had been brought in to do a pre-race fly-by over the oval. So, between looking at that and watching airplanes take off and land on the E/W runway, I wasn’t bored. The arrival of the Goodyear blimp was a big deal, too.
Things started to get interesting when the B-52 fired up its engines. After a long warm-up, it turned – in place – and headed out to the end of the runway where it would have to again turn in place in order to take off. The local newspapers had noted that the airplane is so big (read “wide”) that it cannot use the ramps airplanes typically use to exit the runway. It had to stay on the runway and do the turn in place thing before take off and after landing.
I couldn’t watch it get in position for take off, but we sure could hear it. Most activity stopped around the booth as people paused to see whatever was making all that racket take off. She was well into her roll by the time we could see her and the lift off was very gradual – that is a LOT of weight to get off the ground. But off she went, turning south over the Atlantic, ready to bide some time until she was scheduled to fly over just after the National Anthem was sung.
The booth got busy just before the race, but I was aware that the Anthem had been sung so the airplane had to be close. Another clue was that the blimp had moved out of the way! I had hoped the bomber would come back in from the east, but it approached from the west so I couldn’t see it. We were helping a young mother get situated because she was meeting her husband. Her two young sons were in the SUV, hanging out of the open windows, watching their mom. I walked over and told them to look towards the front of their car for a big airplane. I don’t know what was more fun – watching the bomber appear after flying really, REALLY low and loud over the oval or watching the boys’ eyes get absolutely huge at the same sight.
It landed after circling back to the airport and parked for the night, a job well done - leaving 115,000 people in the grandstand in awe of what they had just seen.
To get an idea of how big that airplane is, this is a picture of a B-52 flying a little heritage flight with the CAF’s Minnesota Wing’s B-25 “Miss Mitchell” in Minot in 2009. The B-52 was introduced in 1960, just 20 years after the B-25 took its first flight – so much change in so little time.
New York, New York
The Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are at the Geneseo (NY) Air Show – “The Greatest Show On Turf” – this weekend. We’re hoping for cool, dry weather.
COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION DAY: 3 months 24 days
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.