The B-52 bomber was a mainstay of operations at Fairchild Air Force Base for more than 37 years.
They were the nation’s newest strategic bomber when the first B-52s, known as BUFFs to the pilots and crews, arrived in 1957 to replace Fairchild’s B-36s. In the early days, bombers loaded with nuclear weapons flew air alert, part of the nation’s Triad, a three-pronged arsenal that would be used against the Soviet Union in case of an attack.
In 1958, however, the strategy changed to ground alert, keeping the bombers loaded with nuclear weapons on the flight line, with air crews quartered nearby, to be able to launch in less than 15 minutes. During the Vietnam War, some Fairchild B-52s and their crews were sent to Southeast Asia for non-nuclear bombing missions over Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam.
Fairchild was home to the 325th Bomb Squadron and 12 to 15 B-52s, depending on assignments from the Pentagon and maintenance schedules. Over the years, several crashed, including two that collided over Airway Heights in 1958 and killed 13 people. One that was loaded with nuclear-tipped, short-range attack missiles caught fire on the runway in 1983, but fire crews doused the flames before the missiles were damaged, and no radiation leaked. No one was injured.
In 1994, the Air Force dramatically reduced its B-52 fleet and sent Fairchild’s bombers to Barksdale, La., and Minot, N.D. The last B-52 to fly out of Fairchild left on May 25, 1994. Designated 61-040, it was the youngest B-52 in the fleet and the last to come off the Boeing assembly line in Wichita, Kan.
Fairchild had one remaining working bomber. It crashed one month later while practicing maneuvers for an upcoming base air show, killing four. The base has an older model on display in its heritage park; it carries a red star on its fuselage, signifying it’s one of only two B-52s that shot down a MiG-21 during the Vietnam War.