Stay Connected. Stay Informed.

The latest news and the greatest photo galleries and videos.

With Two Feet to Spare: Landing the B-52 at Oshkosh

By Frederick A. Johnsen

  • B-52
    The mighty B-52 Stratofortress greets visitors to AirVenture 2015 for the first time.

July 21, 2015When your aircraft has an outrigger landing gear spanning 148 feet and the runway is 150 feet wide, arriving at Oshkosh is a big deal. In so many ways.

This year, following eight months of coordination, the U.S. Air Force, EAA, and Wittman field put to rest the long-standing notion that a giant B-52 Stratofortress bomber could never land here.

The B-52 pilots’ club is an exclusive group. They spend much of their flight time operating out of only three airfields worldwide, all with runways 300 feet wide. When Maj. Jeremy Holt was tapped to bring the B-52 to Oshkosh, he went hunting through flight simulator programs to find a runway 150 feet wide and similar to Wittman field.

He practiced the approach and landing in the B-52 simulator. The runway perspective is quite different for a concrete ribbon only 150 feet wide when a pilot is accustomed to twice that much paved real estate, and Maj. Holt wanted to etch the narrow runway’s perspective into his brain before coming to Oshkosh.

That final 125 mph to touchdown is not the time for initial practice of this.

The B-52’s wings droop when it is on the ground and lift is lost. The outrigger wheels allow, typically, one or the other wing to drop until the wheel supports it. For the Oshkosh landing, Maj. Holt explained, “We had to take all of the fuel out of the wings.” With the wings thus lightened, the outriggers might stay above the surface. 

Working the numbers, Maj. Holt and his crew figured the B-52 would roll out to 6,000 feet on the Oshkosh runway before stopping, thanks to its giant yellow braking parachute. Had the chute failed, that run could have been longer as the B-52’s brakes would take over the important task of stopping 93 tons of bomber.

In that 6,000-foot stretch, the runway lights paralleling the edge of the concrete were taken down to preclude any possibility of contacting the outrigger wheels. Miscellaneous other lights and signs were removed to facilitate towing the half-century-old machine to its display spot on Boeing Plaza.

All that preparation had another consequence—one that Maj. Holt predicted might happen. In its lightened state, the B-52 did a hop back into the air after touchdown on the Oshkosh runway as the landing gear rebounded, to the good-natured amusement of his fellow crew members.

The B-52H at AirVenture 2015 is older than its crew members.

Its cockpit still relies on old-school round instruments, which can add up quickly when a crew needs to monitor eight jet engines. Maj. Holt says, “We’ve put some laptops in there” to give additional capabilities. In today’s electronic warfare era, B-52s can loiter and use their upgraded capabilities to guide other warplanes to specific targets.

B-52 maintainer Tech Sgt. James Beal is one of three Air Force maintenance specialists on hand at AirVenture to tend the B-52H. “It’s a pretty low-maintenance aircraft,” he says. The maintainers monitor the aircraft’s tires and landing gear struts to keep them at proper levels of inflation, and monitor fluids in reservoirs.

Fellow maintainer Master Sgt. Lance Graham says he and the others will conduct FOD checks to ensure no foreign debris gets ingested by the bomber during its sojourn to Oshkosh. FOD is an acronym-turned-word that stands for foreign object damage, while referring to the debris that can cause this as simply “FOD.” “That’s something really important,” Master Sgt. Graham says, since debris can ruin a jet engine.

A crew of fliers, maintainers, and security forces orchestrates the effort to share the B-52 with the AirVenture crowd. Maj. Holt says, “You can tell it’s more aviation-oriented here” than at other air shows. The questions he fields from AirVenture visitors tend to be more specific than questions from the general public.

 So fire away with your aviation-specific questions; crew members are on hand by their bomber to talk with AirVenture visitors.

To provide a better user experience, EAA uses cookies. To review EAA's data privacy policy or adjust your privacy settings please visit: Data and Privacy Policy.