One Last Battle For B-52 Fairchild Plan To Remove, Possibly Scrap Monument Draws Fire
Free to good home: B-52, buffed Cold War paint job. Must be willing to relocate. Some assembly required. May need Kremlin OK.
A year ago today, Fairchild Air Force Base lost its last working B-52 in a crash. Now it wants to get rid of a historic bomber it has on display.
Base officials say the plane is unneeded because they have another, more historic B-52 on display near the Fairchild museum. The unwanted bomber, in a small park outside the officers and enlisted club, is in an area to be redeveloped.
Keeping two B-52s doesn’t reflect Fairchild’s new mission as the nation’s largest tanker base, they said.
“We’re trying to build a new culture at Fairchild,” said Lt. Col. Eric Ruffett, who is in charge of moving the plane.
“It’s kind of redundant to have two of the same airplane,” he said.
Retired bomber crews are protesting. Removing the plane known as The Cold War Clydesdale - possibly cutting it up for scrap - is a slap in the face to people who helped erect the plane as a monument to the base’s history just three years ago, they said.
The 36-year-old plane is a veteran of Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and the Cold War and carries the names of four men killed in last year’s B-52 crash.
“There’s a lot of time and sweat and money in that plane,” said Jerry Kolstee, a retired Air Force major who serves on the base museum board. “There’s a lot of people who are very disappointed.”
Ruffett, himself a former B-52 navigator, said the base is sensitive to those concerns. It’s trying to find a new home where the plane will be properly maintained.
“This is in no way a slap in the face to anyone,” he said.
The plane is not an official memorial to the four casualties of last year’s crash, he added. The names of Lt. Col. Arthur “Bud” Holland, Lt. Col. Mark McGeehan, Lt. Col. Kenneth Huston and Col. Robert Wolff were painted on the plane without authorization.
The base will dedicate its official memorial to the victims of the crash and the June 20, 1994, hospital shootings in August, Ruffett said.
The bomber must be moved because the area behind it will be redeveloped with a new gymnasium and swimming pool, he said. Landscaping planned for the sides of the nearby road will hide most of the plane.
Kolstee argued, however, that plans could be redesigned to include the bomber.
An older B-52 is already on display with other planes in Heritage Park, Ruffett said. That plane - one of only two B-52s to shoot down a Russian MiG fighter during the Vietnam War - has other historic ties to Fairchild.
But base officials and everyone else in the Air Force museum system knew Fairchild already had one B-52 on display when they asked for the Cold War Clydesdale in 1991, said Kolstee. At the time, he was a major serving in the base headquarters and handled the paperwork that sent the plane to Fairchild instead of the “bone yard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
“If we were offered a second B-52 now, I’d say we don’t need it. But I don’t see why we should be spending the money to take this one down,” he said.
Fairchild is one of only two bases in the country with two B-52s on display. Even the main Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio only has one, said director Dick Uppstrom.
But when the base and the Strategic Air Command asked that the second bomber be sent to Fairchild in 1991, Uppstrom didn’t object: “I don’t generally tell SAC wing commanders what they do or don’t want.”
Now that Fairchild officials and their new superiors at the Air Mobility Command want to remove the plane, the museum has little choice but to give them the approval, he said.
Fairchild now has two choices, Uppstrom said. Find another base or community that wants the bomber, or sell it for scrap.
Either way, the plane must be cut into several pieces because this particular B-52 is governed by the rules of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
It is one of 20 such bombers listed as “counters.” As the United States and former Soviet Union dismantle their bomber fleets, the treaty allows each to set aside 20 planes for display.
To take it off display, Fairchild must cut it in sections and notify the Russian office that oversees the treaty. Russian inspectors or satellites must verify that it has been cut up.
At that point, Fairchild can ship it to a new home for reassembly. The Russians would have to be told where it was going.
Uppstrom predicted a new taker will be hard to find. Moving an unflyable B-52 - even one that’s in pieces - could cost more than $300,000, museum officials estimated. Federal taxpayers can’t pay the bill.
An air base, a government entity or a museum can have the plane for free, if it pays the freight. Private individuals can’t buy it for any price because it’s classified as “combat material.”
Scrap metal dealers will be able to bid on the plane later this year if no one wants to display it.
That prospect has members of the Air Force retiree community upset enough to contact U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt and military inspectors.
“This is a bird that represents 20 years of continuous nuclear alert at Fairchild,” said Kolstee. “You don’t destroy a relic.”
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