B-52 Crash (Guam)

[originally published back in… I don’t know, when it happened (?) July 2008?]

This is a video of the last crash 15 years ago in 1994 in West Virginia

B-52 crash first since 1994
The crash Monday of a Boeing B-52 off the coast of Guam was the first for the giant Cold War bomber since one went down at Fairchild AFB near Spokane in 1994. Ironically, both planes were supposed to take part in air show events.

In Monday’s crash, Air Force officials have said only that two bodies of the six crewmen on the plane have been recovered. The four-engine bomber had just taken off when it crashed. It was supposed to perform a flyover as part of Guam’s Liberation Day.

It was the first major crash of a B-52, and the first loss of life, since the 1994 crash at Fairchild AFB. In that accident, pilot error was to blame. The Air Force found that the pilot flew the bomber into a stall while making a steep 360-degree bank around the Fairchild tower about 250 feet off the ground. That was twice as steep, and twice as low, as allowed by Air Force regulations. The bomber was preparing for a weekend air show at the base. The copilot had filed a complaint against the pilot previously for what he considered an unsafe maneuver. All four officers on the B-52 died when it hit the ground and exploded.

James Wallace, July 21st

The B-52 has 8 engines as we all know.

When I saw this the first thing I thought of was Major “King Kong” starring Slim Pickens. I’m reading a biography of Kubrick right now. Factoid: Kubrick had originally slated Peter Sellers to play “king Kong” as well as the other three characters – The President Muffly, Col. Mandrake, and Strangelove. But sellers couldn’t handle the Major Kong character. Kubrick wouldn’t accept this, so Sellers actually scammed his way out of it.

There is also considerable evidence that Sellers was scared shit of one of the fianl scenes where Kong actually had to drop about 20 feet out of the bomb-bay on the nucular warhead.

Kubrick, in typical style, couldn’t replace Sellers (in his head) with another actor. He had to have a “real” person. So he went with a real cowboy – Pickens.

The loss of 6 lives is tragic, but what’s rather disturbing is that the article says crew of six, then 4 officers. I guess the other two don’t count.

Hate to nitpick but B-52s have eight engines on four pylons (two to each). Although there are a couple in Atlanta Georgia that sported beehive hairdo’s.

      – first comment on Seattle Aerospace by “unregistered user”

[originally posted sometime in late July, I think]

32 Replies to “B-52 Crash (Guam)”

  1. Yes, 8 engines on 4 wing pods, so easy to understand the confusion. The caption says West Virginia, Spokane is in Washington state. The pilot was an idiot for trying that sharp turn. You can see the plane flex and stall in the steep bank. It practically slid to the ground.

  2. I think the B-52 has ejection seats, but they have to first blow off the hatches. Too bad they didn’t get to use them. Flying too low and no time to make it happen. Poor dudes. Tragic.

  3. Apparently the B-52 has ejection seats for the pilot and co-pilot, as well as all four crewmen. The pilots and two crewmen go out the top, the radarman and navigator go out the belly.


    There is a sequence and delay for preparing one’s self, blowing the hatches, and then the actual ejection from the aircraft. This system is no doubt built around the assumption that you’d be at altitude and have at least several seconds or minutes to prepare for the process of egress.

    In the 1994 accident you can see an ejection hatch has been blown free but there is not enough altitude, or time, for a crewman to fully complete the ejection sequence.

    Neither of the crews in Washington or Guam were able to eject. Aside from the loss of life, a B-52 costs around $1Billion. [Correcton, value is/was reportedly more like $53Million for a B-52H (in 1998) according to an AF web site, and $65M and $85M numbers have been suggested by other commenters here. My excuse is that a news article on the Raider21 accident also made reference to a B-2 lost previously on Guam, and that the aircraft was valued at over $1Billion. Hence the confusion on my part. I apologize.]

  4. Great research there, Bif!

    I remember hearing that the Air Force adopted low-altitude maneuvers in the late 70s… not only do you fly under the radar, but it makes a great terror weapon — a B-52 coming over at a couple hundred feet is enough to make anyone dive for cover.

  5. Gentlemen, I’m sorry to muddy the waters of these comments with something as trivial as objective reality. I feel compelled to address some of the comments by earlier posters, St. Bif and FARfetched.

    As to my credentials, I flew in BUFFS from 2001-2005 with deployments for OEF/OIF, and the current rotational “Bomber Presence” in Guam.

    First, the sole reason for lower altitude flight is tactical. There is no benefit to low altitude except for naval mining of radar avoidance. The thought that low altitude flight is intended to frighten enemy troops is ludicrous. B-52, and the professionals that drive them, have no interest in frightening the masses. Our job, to paraphrase a former wing commander of mine is more accounting based. We move people from the “bad guy” column to the “dead guy” column, and anything else is at most a interesting side effect. CZAR 52 and RAIDER 21 both crashed working to put on Air Shows. CZAR in practice and RAIDER waiting for the push time. These events do provide valuable training, but are always combined with a normal training mission.

    Second, in today’s Air Force the “Fighter Mafia” rules. This shift of power away from the Bomber community has led many, especially pilots, to emulate the “Fighter Mentality” for risks. The Fairchild crash was the result of failed leadership, politics, and a lack of integrity up and down the chain of command @ FAFB. It was preventable, and it is my opinion that those who ignored the requests to have the pilot grounded should have been tried for the murders of the rest of this crew. .And don’t make the mistake of thinking that B-52 are flown by anything less than dedicated professionals. The Pilot @ Fairchild was a dangerous idiot, Maj. Cooper was not.

    Third, recent changes in upper level positions are a result of issues with the strategic deterrent role of the USAF. This is the result of years of neglect for this part of the bomber mission and continuing to “do more with less.”

    Fourth, I would sell you B-52’s all day for $1Billion a copy. I only ask for the payment for the first one in advance, so I can build the factory and still turn an un-godly profit. Currently a reasonable valuation is about $85Million per jet.

    Finally, I would request you take time to get your facts straight before condemning the actions of the crew of RAIDER 21. I have seen no information on the cause of the crash, so I am not going to speculate despite trying to figure out how this could have happened for my own edification. I personally knew the Pilot, Copilot, Radar Navigator, and Electronic Warfare Officer that died in this incident. Your speculation isn’t what their families need, but your support and prayers (for those so inclined) could be of use to them. (I would suggest contacting 2BW/PA for ways to help.)

  6. BigShow, I will take your word for it, but you can’t deny that a B-52 at low altitude is seriously scary. During Desert Storm, the Iraqi prisoners were cringing every time one flew overhead, even though they were no longer a threat.

    Thanks for the interesting look into the world of AF pilots, too. I suppose a certain lack of regard for danger is part of the job description, at least for fighter pilots.

  7. I may be mistaken, but didn’t they used to (still?) practice low altitude runs in N. AZ over the Navajo rez? Nothing but sheep to hit.

    “BUFFS” – Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. I remember flocks of them on the tarmac when passing through U-T on the way back to the World.

  8. What about metal fatigue or something else in terms of age of plane as the main factor in this crash?

    Just as the f-15c earlier this year and the F-15 crash just the week? Again old being a suspect. in this new crash.

  9. I have to say that the bank in was not right. I kept waiting for it to stall. Alas, it did so on the turn back… Fugly!

    Big, I’m sure they need peeps to help. So does every kid on the South side of Chicago… Hopefully, the children of the crew will realize that.

  10. Yeah, as Big Show pointed out, the billion dollar number I mentioned appears to be bogus. Although the replacement cost of a B-2 is reportedly over $1.3 billion (according to media accounts on the Guam B-2 incident), the replacement cost of a B-52 is apparently substantially less than that. I tagged that $billion remark on at the end (of my comment) only to make the point that in addition to the loss of life, this is a very expensive piece of equipment to lose at an airshow.

    Big Show, nothing here is intended to condemn the crew of the recent accident. This is a very tragic event, and very little information is available about it. But the worries and concerns expressed here are not unreasonable. The incident does bring back memories of the Fairchild incident which was horrifying and tragic, and has been discussed here. This of course is because both accidents were during preparations for airshows, and it begs questions, especially regarding the safety issues with low level flying in these big jets. I know these guys are pros, but should we expect them to take risks for our entertainment at airshows? Isn’t their main mission risky enough?

    As there is an investigation underway, little has been released to the public regarding the circumstances of the recent Guam incident. The Air Force has said it will make the results of the investigation available to the public when it is completed.

  11. To All,
    I happened upon this website while doing some research on the recent B-52 crash at Guam. I confess I am not a usual reader/participant here, but I was quite puzzled and saddened by some of the comments contained herein. Thus, I pray you will allow me some indulgence….

    I am a former USAF Flight Surgeon and was stationed at Barksdale AFB with the 96th Bomb Squadron for my entire term of service. While I am not a pilot and do not presume to even begin to possess the same fund of knowledge as that of the professionals ( and they ARE professionals) that fly the Buffs, it was my job to fly with many different crews on a regular basis and have an in-depth working knowledge of the air frame to which I was assigned–both for my own well-being as well as that of the crews entrusted to my care. It was also my job to perform as part of an accident investigation team for ANY air frame in the fleet of the USAF…a job which I was required to do more than once.

    I say all that to lend my whole-hearted support to the comments made by BigShow. He is ABSOLUTELY right on the money–not only about the tactical performance and mission of the B-52, but also about the crews that fly them and the incident that occurred at FAFB. The accident that happened in Washington in 1994 is studied at length by, I dare say, probably every crew member that steps foot into the B-52. The events of that horrible tragedy in no way reflect the performance of ANY of the crews with which I had the pleasure to serve during my term.

    When accepting my commission into the USAF, I had my choice of assignments, including several fighter bases. I chose the assignment at Barksdale over any other available “Flight Doc” assignment primarily because of the LACK of “Fighter Machismo” among the crews. The crews, including the maintenance teams, trained hard, worked harder, and deployed for more than their fair share of rotations. The sense of camaraderie and dedication to family and friends was infectious and made me want to be part of their team. They looked out for each other. I personally knew Maj. Cooper. He was a very TRUST-WORTHY pilot, responsible crew member, and just a genuinely good guy.

    With regard to the speculations of what happened, please let me say that until I served on an Accident Investigation Team, I could not even begin to imagine the number of factors and circumstances that must be investigated in an incident such as this…the countless hours of pouring over seemingly insignificant minutia and trivial details. And, very rarely is there a single causal factor. More often, there is a constellation of events/factors, each of which would in their own right would not have such significance, but in their sum have exponential results.
    Thus, any speculation here is relatively uninformed guessing, at best.

    BigShow, whoever you are, thank you again for your comments here regarding the men I was and am proud to call my friends.

  12. One of the things I have learned in my 58+ years on this planet is “shit happens”. Those are amazing planes, I dare say that the B-52 is the near-perfect bomber, witness that it continues to fly to this day. I have always been impressed with the professionalism of the US military pilots that I have had the pleasure to fly with and know. Those planes are complex systems, and I agree with you kpsmd that sometimes a small part, through stress on unseen corrosion, for example, can break at an inopportune time, the effects rapidly cascade, and the situation (like being close to the ground) can be unforgiving. I regret my earlier remark about the pilot. You and BigShow are correct.

  13. As a former “Cold War” Buff Nav/RN (Bombardier) I also anxiously await word on the aftermath of this tragedy. It is unfortunate that the Air Force has degraded to its current state and status of aircraft. Look at the ongoing debacle with the replacement tanker. Politics.

    Unfortunately as I have a tendency to often do, I initally jumped to the conclusion that the pilots had descended through their level off altitude for this event, (the navs missing the altitudes on their altimeters as well) and the pilots realizing the end was upon them, punched just before plowing into the water.

    However, since the aircraft commander and the radar nav were the ones recovered, this threw my theories out the window. How those two would be able to initiate ejection and no one else get out is a real mystery. And one ejected UP, the other DOWN.

    Again I may be jumping to conclusions but my experience tells me B-52 crashes do not leave bodies. I could be wrong again, but the fact that 2 people were found outside in water was definite indication that they knew something up.

    My experience tells me that the two guys found this time would normally be the last two out. And given the fact that when one pilot ejects, the steering column of the aircraft “stows” away means that at that moment there was no more contol, no more flying the machine, so where is the co-pilot?

    The way it “used” to work, the rest of the crew would be directed to eject, —-Navs, Ew, and whoever is in the former gunners station seat if still in the aircraft. Downstairs (with virtually 0 chance of survival) the RN would insure the Nav goes first, then extra crew through the Navs ejection hatch hole, then himself. The pilots last. But this is if there is control to the emergency.

    Something definitely bit them fast, and the fact that anyone downstairs tried to get out would seem to indicate something dramatic enough to cut through the noise (and what I’ll politely term BS) going on to make it absolutely clear to the RN that it was time to go.

    Without throwing out more useless “theories” I just hope and wonder if the OAS system is still in use today. Assuming it was up, and assuming the wreckage can be dredged up from the bottom of the trench (thousands of feet deep as I recall) the data cartridge might (and thats a big maybe) hold some info about their flight and final moments. (from the nav/bombing system point of view)

    Since the AF doesn’t put flight recorders like commercial aircraft have on its aircraft, that cartridge will be as close to a flight recorder read-out as anyone will get out of this.

    Anyway, another tragic loss of a brave flight crew on what I am sure was supposed to be a simple and routine flight.

    My sympathies to the families and the unit.

  14. Two points: (1) The speculated cost of a B-52H is meaningless. They are currently in excess and some will be deactivated. Regardless, a replacement would not, could not, ever be bought. (2) These planes are put through an extensive depot-level inspection and repair every four years at Tinker AFB, OK. Because of this, a major structural failure should not occur.

  15. you all are crazy… the pilot of the one that went down in guam would have never risked his crews life… he was a by the book kind of guy….. and the cost of a buff is 65 million not a billion! i work on them and you dont even know! they are not in excess either… we have been so undermanned that we can no longer keep them all in great shape and need to moth ball them for storage! if something happened it was a major catastrophic failure and nothing could have been done…. enough of this speculation!!! just find out the answer !!!!

  16. guam – “give up and masterbate” (crew chief on a KC-135 told me that, just before we landed – effing great)

  17. Uncle, one of my fav old time bars in Ontario, California was The Bamboo Hut. Used to get our underage booze there, strictly backdoor cash ‘n carry trade.

  18. Geez, I haven’t been in CA in ages – B&B in Laguna Beach I think it was – with the current Ms. Remus. Decadent days.

  19. Ha ha, I’m a tea totaller compared to my high school-college years. And, we abused other compounds, as well. Why, I’m practically straight now (must maintain…).

    Once I was describing all the drugs I’d experienced to some younger German colleagues. They thought I was a hopeless drug fiend. But, it was the late 60s, early 70s. Everyone I knew was high on something most of the time. Hell, Timothy Leary was our college’s special invited speaker. He was very popular.

  20. This post still gets hits every day. I suspect these visits are from folks who are looking for accident investigation results. Here is a link to the official investigation report regarding the Raider21 accident:


  21. In the days/weeks following the Guam accident there was some chastising going on here regarding speculation about the cause. Seems over at Airline Pilots Forum there was similar tendancy to speculate and criticism thereof.


    Following the release of the investigation report there were further discussions about what the report said and didn’t say (see page 2 in the forum beginning in Feb 2009).

    Particularly interesting to me is this comment:

    02-14-09 7:24. “I can tell you what they are saying, they are saying “we conclusively know something went wrong and the airplane crashed”. That’s about the extent to which fact was devoid of speculation on that AIB.

    Because the buff doesn’t have sensor recorders, everybody is dead, and every other private intellectual thought from an individual is apparently gagged by the blanket existence of a privileged information SIB that’s supposed to protect the privacy of the dead who never testified to begin with (I’ve already been accused of divulging privileged information on another forum, for having an opinion while being privy to said SIB) we’ll never know, or be able to discuss the reasons for which this may have happened.

    Since I CAN speak about the AIB, and I post this with a heavy heart and with the most sincere respect and appreciation for RAIDR21’s crew, I can say that in my constitutional right to have a free-thinking opinion, the AIB threw the surviving families a proverbial bone. It is of more political value to spare the families the pilot error jab than of probative value to question the reliability of the B-52’s stab trim system. Look, the Buff is old as dirt. In its history it has had fuel tanks blow up, people overspeed the flaps, over-g it, had partial gear, the tail ripped off, engines fall off the wing, all brakes hydraulics lost, and still landed one to a full stop no problem. Takes a freggin’ Holland or the mother of Vietnam SAM rainshowers to bring one down. Number of documented runaway trim-related mishaps in its history? ZERO, to include this one surprisingly (they won’t even touch the runaway trim option with a ten foot pole in that AIB), as far as my research has turned up.

    Furthermore, no FCIF on the use of stab trim around these halls, no maintenance people running around the ramp doing inspections like they did when the -15s showed bad backs, nothing. So what’s the probative value of all this? I can’t say apparently, because someone might not like my answer and argue it came from an SIB (which is doesn’t). Come to your own conclusion and don’t tell anybody I guess.

    This touched everybody in the community deeply, and I take great exception to the hush hush attitude of this investigation. I can reassure you your sense of confusion after reading that AIB is not unfounded, they in effect said nothing because they can’t factually prove failure of the stab trim. All they can prove is that an airplane crashed into the ocean and don’t know why. As to alternate theories I recluse myself in fear of being accused of divulging privileged information, which it isn’t.

    I can also tell you political correctness doesn’t save people’s lives. I truly believe that and I step into that buff every week with reinforced conviction after reading the AIB. In time we’ll be able to openly talk about what may or may have not happened, I guess I find solace in that I’m not alone in the community for feeling this way and conducting business accordingly. Godspeed and all be safe out there!”

  22. Or we could start our own rock group, and call it the “B-52’s”—oh wait—that’s been done already—-

  23. The B-52H variant is nearly 50 years old. Incredible.

    “The Air Force is replacing Boeing’s current fleet support contract for the USA’s B-52 heavy bomber fleet, with a 10-year, $750 million firm-fixed-price Engineering Sustainment Program contract. All of the USAF’s 94 remaining B-52Hs were built at and delivered from Boeing’s Wichita, KS facility, and the ESP contract will support about 150 Boeing jobs.”


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