BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. — In the cockpit of “Wise Guy,” a B-52H Stratofortress which had been baking in the Arizona sun at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group since 2008, is a note that reads: “AMARG, this is 60-034, a cold warrior that stood sentinel over America from the darkest days of the Cold War to the global fight against terror. Take good care of her…until we need her again.”
The plea, scrawled on a metal clipboard in black marker, proved to be prophetic when both Reserve and active duty Airmen flew the jet to Barksdale Air Force Base May 14 to begin the next phase of its life protecting U.S. interests at home and abroad.
The note’s unknown author probably knew the bomber’s chances of returning to active service were slim. AMARG, which falls under the Ogden Air Logistics Complex located at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is often referred to as the “Boneyard” because aircraft sent to the desert environment are normally picked over for parts. Most B-52s sent there never fly again.
However, when the Air Force lost one of its bombers in 2016, it started a chain of events that made “Wise Guy” only the second B-52H ever to be taken from the 309th AMARG for active service. The first, nicknamed “Ghost Rider,” was brought to Barksdale AFB in 2015.
Col. Jennifer Barnard, 309th AMARG commander, said “great teamwork” made the effort a success.
“It’s the teamwork between B-52 maintainers and AMARG maintenance. This success came about, in part, because they applied lessons learned during the earlier regeneration of the B-52, “Ghost Rider,” Barnard said.
With more than 17,000 flight hours in its history and more than a decade baking in the desert, getting “Wise Guy” airworthy required help from multiple sources.
A cross organizational team brought together members of the Air Force Global Strike Command, Defense Logistics Agency, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, 2nd Bomb Wing, 5th Bomb Wing, 307th Bomb Wing, Tinker AFB’s Expeditionary Depot Maintenance unit and 309th AMARG to launch this regeneration effort.
The bomber had a team of 13 to 20 maintainers working on it at any given time, said Master Sgt. Steven Sorge, a 307th Maintenance Squadron fuels system mechanic.
“The jet had cracks in the rear landing gear and was missing two engines,” he said. “It also needed all its fuels cells and hoses replaced, as well as its tires.”
“Wise Guy” also needed its egress system overhauled, said Master Sgt. Greg Barnhill, 307th Maintenance Squadron egress shop supervisor. An egress system allows the aircrew to bail out of the aircraft in case of an emergency.
“All of our parts for repairing the ejections seats were basically in a five-gallon bucket,” he said. “It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.”
Fortunately, maintainers like Sorge and Barnhill have a deep well of experience, having worked on B-52s for more than two decades. They also had the advantage of the total force integration system, which combines the experience of Reserve Airmen from the 307th BW with active-duty Airmen from the 2nd BW.
“TFI worked great out there for us,” Barnhill said. “The active-duty Airmen in our shop and those from 2nd BW worked well as a team and were a big help.”
Once the maintainers completed the necessary repairs, they ran multiple tests on the engines, landing gear, fuel and egress systems to ensure the jet was flight worthy.
From there, it was all up to the air crew to get the bomber to Barksdale AFB. The three-man crew, with more than 10,000 flying hours between them, flew the B-52 low and slow all the way to Louisiana.
“It’s a true testament to everyone who worked on the aircraft,” said David Strawderman, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center B-52 program manager. “To be able to pull it from storage and get it sky-worthy in this short amount of time is nothing short of amazing.”
Phase two will bring the aircraft up to the common fleet standard, and will be followed by Programmed Depot Maintenance at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.
Fully restoring the jet will require 550 personnel across multiple maintenance disciplines and cost approximately $30 million, according to guidance released by Air Force Global Strike Command. The aircraft is expected to be completely restored by early 2021.
75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs contributed to this article.