Spirit of Fairford by Mike Kerr
A first B2A Spirit 'Global Power' mission for RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire occurred on 10 March when 21067 'Spirit of Arizona' broke through the low cloud and mist to land on runway zero-nine. Although not the first time that a Spirit had been seen at Fairford, as one ('Spirit of Kansas') briefly appeared at RIAT '97, this was the first time that a mission 'proper' had been staged through the Cotswold countryside. As it flew across the threshold to the runway, it was noticeably much quieter and muted than the B1s and B52s that normally grace the skies over Lechlade.
Calling CZAR 11 on arrival, it was escorted through British airspace by two F15 Eagles from the 48th FW at Lakenheath, for reasons yet unknown. Touchdown was made at 9:55Z, but engines left running as the crew change was made. Approximately forty minutes later departure for Whiteman AFB in Missouri was made, again from runway zero-nine, this time callsign being CZAR 12. 21067 is one of only 21 aircraft in service, the B2 has recently seen operational duties in the crisis affecting the former Yugoslavia. For more information on the B2A click here.
Meanwhile, Fairford has understandably become a focal point for the media and enthusiasts as B52Hs have been deployed since late February for action against the Serbs. Local information suggests the B52s have been routing west of France and transiting along the Mediterranean to the heel of Italy, refuelled by KC135s from the 100th ARW at RAF Mildenhall and detachments from Moron AFB in southern Spain on the way.
The press is out in force at Fairford, BBC and Sky mobile units locating at the Marston Meysey end of the airfield. All parking near the base is now restricted and a heavy police presence is making itself felt to deter the army of interested onlookers swamping the narrow lanes in the vicinity. Security on the base itself is obviously high, regular MP patrols check the wire but at the moment they are quite friendly and tolerant to the hordes of spotters. A strange atmosphere surrounds the whole situation at present, an air of expectation exists amongst the gathering and something about seeing the giant bombers return in darkness from their missions reminds one that these dedicated and professional crews are risking their lives.
The Buffs have been joined by B1Bs in the past week, a large part of the USAF bomber arsenal is now parked in a small corner of England. As of 31st March the B52H's comprised 60-009/MT, 60-044/MT, 60-051/MT all 5 BW, 60-020/LA, 60-052/LA, 61-016/(LA), 61-023/LA, 60-059/LA, 61-020/LA all 2 BW and the B1s were 50091/EL, 50083/EL, 50073/EL, 50075/EL & 60102/EL.