January 27, 2016 - For several years, it was just an idea bantered between EAA members who flew out of the U.S. Air Force’s 307th Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base (BAD) in Louisiana. Col. Rob Burgess, Col. Dave Leedom, and Maj. Jeremy Holt kept asking themselves, “How do we get a BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fellow, otherwise known as a B-52) from Barksdale to Oshkosh?”
Sequestration had put the kibosh on military air shows for 2012 and the idea was shelved, like many dreams and aspirations for up and coming military air shows. It seemed highly unlikely that military air shows had much of a future or that a B-52 would ever get to AirVenture. However, that would change as sequestration loosened and when the EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor landed at the Shreveport Downtown Airport in October 2014.
EAA Chapter 343, located at the Shreveport Downtown Airport (KDTN), enjoys a unique community relationship with its namesake 343rd Bomb Squadron (part of the 307th Bomb Wing) located at Barksdale AFB, just across the river and within the same Class C airspace. The relationship between the chapter and the 343rd is outstanding and is based on each organization serving the community. It works well for both entities.
“The 307th Bomb Wing is committed to the local community and is proud to support the local EAA chapter,” Burgess said. “We believe in committing resources to help young people in all areas from our Starbase Program (which provides support to programs in math and science in the local schools) to the EAA Young Eagles. This support will pay dividends in the future as these kids become adults and pursue their ambitions in life.”
When it was announced that EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor was coming to Shreveport, ideas started surfacing again, including the possibility of a B-52 going to Oshkosh. After the Tri-Motor arrived, its lead pilot Cody Welch was connected with Col. John Ellis, the 307th Wing’s commanding officer. Welch was invaluable in getting the word back to EAA headquarters in Oshkosh. That allowed EAA’s resources, including retired USAF Gen. John Miller, to start working with Air Force offices on the countless logistics involved.
This began to get exciting. As the decision-making process began to move, Maj. Kerry Baker came up with a unique patch for our EAA chapter, which shares a number with the local Bomb Squadron. It shows our shared hometown, mission, and membership, and emerged in time for our October 2014 Young Eagles event!
Our partnership with the 343rd Bomb Squadron continued with the chapter’s spring Young Eagles event in April 2015. Squadron members eagerly jumped in and participated, as those who were EAA member-pilots flew their own aircraft while other bomb wing members supplied logistics, ground support, and safety oversight. This is such a big event for us, so we are happy for all of the help we get from the 343d members. It really makes for a quality event, especially with large number of participants!
As our chapter aims to improve our Young Eagles program from the previous year, the 343rd Bomb Squadron was invaluable there, too. Burgess developed the various routes for the Young Eagles flights and conducted the pilots meeting the night before the event. The fly-in was a tremendous success!
Meanwhile, the waiting game continued with all the arrangements between EAA and the Air Force. Throughout the spring, the indicators kept improving and by June, the B-52 flight to Oshkosh was a go! Naturally, this was a duty for which everyone in the squadron eagerly volunteered. As June ended, it was great news that Holt, a Chapter 343 member and an aerobatic pilot with his own Steen Skybolt, was going to be the aircraft commander. He would be joined by Lt. Col. Scott Bussanmas, Lt. Col. Chris Anderson, Maj. Tim Albrecht, Maj. Warren Carroll, Capt. Chris Cousler, Capt. Patrick Howell, 1st Lt. Edward Rowe III, and Tech, Sgt. James Beal on the historic flight to Oshkosh! These crewmembers represented the 343rd, 93rd, and 11th Bomb Squadron, the 307th Operational Support Squadron, and the 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, all part of the 307th Bomb Wing. Additional ground support was provided by Master Sgt. Lance Graham and Tech. Sgt. James Spencer of the 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
The excitement we had within our local chapter was incredible, given our close connection to the Barksdale AFB crews. It got even better on July 17, when Barksdale extended an invitation to our chapter members to come on base, tour the flight planning process, and tour the plane itself before it took off for Oshkosh with two other Barksdale aircraft.
“It was very gratifying to be a small part of this,” said Chapter 343 Vice President Buddy Camp, who is also the chapter’s liaison for events with Barksdale AFB. “We are all very proud that Barksdale Air Force Base is part of Louisiana, part of our communities, part of EAA Chapter 343, and part of our future!”
Many of you know the rest of the story. The BUFF spent an unforgettable week as the first B-52 on static display at Oshkosh, where it was treated like a rock star. It all started with an idea and a dream. Thanks to a willingness by a civilian and a military organization to support each other, we helped make history by getting a B-52 to Oshkosh. And along the way, it helped some young people become Young Eagles back in Shreveport, gave chapter members the chance to be a part of something really big, and it furthered interest and awe in aviation!