Like a small child dismantles a fly, a large crane will pluck the wings and the tail from a historic B-52 bomber Monday at Fairchild Air Force Base.
The plane, named the Cold War Clydesdale, is being put out to pasture in a field about a half-mile from where it has been on display for three years.
Workers started taking off the engine covers Monday. The plane parts will be fenced off and stored for 60 days.
The plane has two possible futures. It could be reassembled elsewhere, courtesy of an interested museum, community or base with deep pockets. Or it could end up in the military’s version of a glue factory: a scrap metal dealership.
Scrap metal dealers will be able to bid on the plane if no one snaps it up in the next 60 days.
A museum in Western Washington and a base in Louisiana showed interest in the bomber this week, Master Sgt. Vivian Hill said. No one is identifying the Louisiana base, but the Seattle Museum of Flight at Boeing Field is rumored to be the interested museum on the West Side, Hill said.
That’s news to Ralph Bufano, director of the museum, which already has a B-52. He said the museum doesn’t have room for another.
The Clydesdale’s wingspan is 180 feet, about the length of two basketball courts. It’s 159.4 feet long.
“They’re so big,” Bufano said. “I could put an office in there. As a matter of fact, I could put several offices in there. I’m just trying to think: Who has room for a B-52?”
Not Fairchild, which also displays another B-52. The bomber must be moved because the area behind it will be redeveloped with a gymnasium and swimming pool.
Fairchild is one of only two bases in the country with two B-52s on display. The main Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has only one.
The Clydesdale arrived at the base three years ago after Fairchild requested the plane. The 36-year-old bomber had served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. It was turned into an unofficial memorial to the four men killed in last year’s B-52 crash at Fairchild when someone painted the men’s names on the plane.
The B-52 that will stay at Fairchild is an older model, one of only two B-52s to shoot down a Russian MiG fighter during the Vietnam War.
Jerry Kolstee, a retired Air Force major who helped bring the Clydesdale to Fairchild, said he wishes it would stay put.
“We made a commitment to accept this,” he said. “When you do that, you make a commitment to maintain it. I kind of feel we reneged on that.”
Kolstee hopes the plane, if it must be moved, will be displayed elsewhere.
“I don’t want to see a display of that magnitude and historical impact be destroyed,” he said.
This particular B-52 is governed by the rules of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It’s one of 20 such bombers listed as “counters.” As the United States and the former Soviet Union dismantle their bomber fleets, the treaty allows each to set aside 20 planes for display.
If the plane is sent to a new home, the Russians must be told where it’s going.
But a new taker may be hard to find. Private citizens cannot buy it. The plane itself would be free to a government body or a museum, but moving the plane could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.