B-52 pilot reconnects with retired aircraft after more than a decade

  • Published
  • By Jamal Sutter
  • 413th Flight Test Group Public Affairs

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- When a Reserve Citizen Airman entered the cockpit to operate a B-52 Stratofortress that hadn’t been flown in nearly 11 years and saw a written message from an old colleague, he knew the moment would be one to cherish.

Lt. Col. Stephen Miracle, 10th Flight Test Squadron B-52 flight commander, recently took part in a mission to fly a regenerated B-52 from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

The feat was only the second time a Stratofortress returned to service from Davis-Monthan's "Boneyard."

“Every time you fly that airplane,” Miracle said, “you feel like you’re flying a piece of history, because it is. But to do something as unique as that, made it special.”

The Boneyard, which is maintained by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), is a storage facility known for housing decommissioned aircraft. This particular B-52, nicknamed “Wise Guy,” had been resting there since 2008, but was called back into duty after another B-52 crashed in 2016 at Andersen AFB, Guam.

The note inside the cockpit read: “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 note’s author was Capt. Aaron Hedrick, who is now a lieutenant colonel with the 96th Bomb Squadron at Barksdale. Miracle and Hedrick flew B-52s alongside each other more than a decade ago at Minot AFB, North Dakota. After seeing his name signed on Wise Guy, Miracle said he reached out to Hedrick to talk about his foretelling call.

“It almost is kind of a prophetic thing that he wrote that on there,” he said. “He wasn’t all that surprised to see one [being restored], and it’s just neat that it happened to be his airplane that he wrote that note on.”

Curious to see if he personally had any flight time with the previously-retired aircraft, Miracle checked his log books and found out he too flew the bomber while at Minot. Miracle last flew Wise Guy on Oct. 29, 2007, about 10 months before the aircraft was originally sent to the desert of Arizona.

According to an article written by the 307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs office, the B-52 had more than 17,000 flight hours before arriving to the Boneyard, and it took a collective effort to make it air worthy again.

“This was a command-wide effort, with reservists and active duty offering a great deal of experience,” said Col. Robert Burgess, 307th Operations Group commander who was also part of the three-person team who flew Wise Guy. “It took four months to get ready, so it was really a small effort on the aircrew side and a major effort on the maintainer side.”

Miracle said he wasn’t shocked by the maintenance work done and also praised AMARG for helping get Wise Guy back in the sky.

“They’ve got it down to a science for sure,” he said. “Regeneration, it’s in the name of AMARG. It’s not uncommon for them to regenerate an aircraft. It probably is uncommon to regenerate one that’s this big and this complex.

“We took off on the very first attempt,” he added. “That’s difficult to do in a B-52 that flies every week, so to have done it with an airplane that sat for almost 11 years in storage—to crank up and get out of there in one shot was pretty impressive.”

The first regenerated B-52, nicknamed “Ghost Rider,” was restored in 2015 and also has ties to Miracle. After maintainers disassembled, inspected and repaired Ghost Rider, Miracle performed functional check flights on the B-52 to ensure its reliability and safety.

Miracle has approximately 2,000 flight hours in the B-52 and has been with the 10th FLTS since 2015. He credited his B-52 counterparts at the 10th FLTS for assisting him throughout the process of the Wise Guy mission and said his crew will be the ones performing functional check flights on the aircraft once required maintenance is complete, similarly to Ghost Rider.

The 10th FLTS is stationed at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, and conducts routine functional check flights and acceptance flights in B1, B-52, E-3 and KC-135 aircraft. The squadron is a geographically-separated unit of the 413th Flight Test Group stationed at Robins AFB, Georgia.