The Story of a B-52

Midnight Express

Bob Bogash

by Bob Bogash      
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The B-52 is an amazing airplane.  Famously designed over a weekend in a Dayton hotel room by a handful of Boeing company engineering legends, the airplane went on to see decades of service in myriad roles.  If current USAF plans become reality, the airplane will remain in front line combat service for 90 years.... maybe even 100!  In the many tours I have given, I liken that to WW I Spads and Nieuports flying combat in today's mid-East conflicts.  Her pilots are literally flying the same airplanes, by tail number, that their fathers and grandfathers flew, and likely, one or two more generations will gain that honor as well.  Little disputing that it is the greatest combat airplane of all time - perhaps the greatest war machine.  In a time of incredible technological change, that is all the more remarkable.


2584 in SAC service - shown in the U.K.


Boeing built 744 of these giant 8-engine bombers over a 10 year period from 1954 to 1964.  Production was split between Seattle and Wichita.  193 were "G" Models built in Boeing's Wichita factory.  Almost all were destined to be scrapped, but ..... not all.  One found its way to Seattle, where Boeing was founded, and where the B-52 was first built and flown.  Tail Number 59-2584, and named Midnight Express, she was built in September 1960 and served with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) for 31 years until September 1991 when she was retired and placed with the Museum of Flight in Seattle.  From 1991 to 2012, she languished in "temporary" storage at nearby Paine Field in Everett, Washington - awaiting orders for her next Mission. 

What enemy airplanes couldn't do, it appeared that the ravages of time, weather, shortages of money, and lack of enthusiasm might accomplish - as she faced the hardest battle of her long life - the battle to survive.  But, like other airplanes in the Museum of Flight's collection, she turned the corner, and is on the road to glory.  In some ways, they are all Miracle airplanes.

This is her Museum story.

Souls and Ghosts

My name is Bob Bogash, and my mission, in retirement (and before), is to save Souls - Airplane Souls.

    On board 2584

Airplanes are not inanimate objects and surely not mere machines, -  they are living, breathing things. Anybody who has built, flown, or worked on one knows that.   I can't save them all, but I can save some.  They will stand for their departed brethren.  As living things, of course they have Souls.  And these living flying machines are accompanied by Soul mates who have shared their lives with them.  I call them Ghosts.  They are the people at every level who worked on them and flew in them.  One of my jobs is to reconnect these Ghosts to their airplane Soul mates, and thus bring alive, for them, the airplanes - and for the rest of us -  the human dimension of their joint adventures.  Lest we forget.

This airplane's current story began on 31 July 1991, when the U.S. and the former USSR signed an arms reduction treaty known as START I - details here.  (Details of her life before the Museum are detailed elsewhere in this web-section.)  One immediate result of this Treaty was that 365 B-52s were flown to Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona - the Boneyard - for destruction.

   

As part of the Treaty, a small number could be retained for display purposes - in this case 10 "G" Models.

A large wing-to-body fairing was installed on the wing leading edge of airplanes capable of carrying cruise missiles.  This included our airplane.  It enabled the Russians to track those airplanes by satellite and ensure U.S. compliance with the terms of the Treaty.




 For many years thereafter, we had to call a contact in the Pentagon every time we moved the airplane.  He would relay the info to his counterpart in Russia.


For me, that was like honey to a bear.  Active in Seattle's Museum of Flight (MOF) since 1965, I determined to get one of them.  We needed one - we needed it to round out our collection of the four great Boeing bombers - the B-17, B-29, B-47, and B-52 - each magnificent in its own right.  An airplane at Castle AFB in California was selected for us, and on 21 Sept 1991, she was flown to Paine Field in Everett, Washington, for "temporary" storage.  Capt.  Bill Stimson was her pilot; S. Sgt. T. Rogers was her Crew Chief.

  

  Her Tail Number was 59-2584, and she had a name - Midnight Express - along with accompanying nose art.


 She had a 31 year history of service with USAF, including, it turned out later, a tour of combat duty in the Viet Nam War.

She didn't know it, I didn't know it, nobody knew it - but her destiny was to memorialize that tragic conflict.  Right now, all she knew was that she had been saved from the fate that befell her siblings down in the desert.  Great things can come to those who wait.

  
 On Boeing Everett Flight Line 23 Feb 1997

When she arrived, she was parked on the Flight Line of Boeing's Everett factory.  Over the next 26 years, when that space became unavailable, she was moved around the airfield until she wound up rather forlorn on the grass near the Control Tower.

 
 Paine Field South Ramp  6 Mar 2004

  
Paine Field Inner Ramp 19 May 2005





Next, she was moved to the edge of the ramp - right next to the grass

24 May 2005

And finally, when Boeing wanted even that space, she got moved again - onto the grass - the only place left.

 
 Forlorn  30 Sept 2008

Down for the count - but the referee has not yet reached "10"......

Bill Wilkens  
Bill Wilkens - dedicated Museum Volunteer who took the B-52 under his wing and devoted many hours to her care and keeping.

   Lonesome
If Boeing goes for the grass, It may be Game Over......
(The "12" is for the Seattle Seahawks trip to the Super Bowl)

Plans were made for her permanent display, but those plans came and went as time and circumstance intervened.  Then things turned ominous as new plans had her destined for the scrap heap, turned into beer cans - maybe with some parts saved for display.  Maybe with no parts saved.

Bleak days - a lot of work - and a lot of wheel-spinning.

To accomplish anything, you must start with a vision.  I had a vision, but my vision was not necessarily shared by all - perhaps not even by any. From 2007 to 2009, I had been involved restoring the museum's Super Constellation at an overhaul base located on the former Griffiss AFB in Rome, New York.  That old SAC base had a war memorial gate guard - it was a B-52G named the Mohawk Valley.  One of the ten saved G models.  It's care keepers were local vets.  It was impressive.  That was to be my vision for Midnight Express.  And vets would be my foot soldiers to make it happen.  But how?  And when?

  
Sunrise on the B-52G Mohawk Valley in Rome, NY

  

Time was on my side..... but Time was also my enemy.  Time had allowed me to solve many past seemingly unsolvable problems.  Would she again?

Unable to fly again, disassembly and relocation to the Museum's Main Campus on Boeing Field seemed unlikely and cost prohibitive.  Plans were made to preserve it permanently at the new, yet unbuilt Future of Flight Museum, located in the NW corner of Paine Field.  Drawings were made and dirt was moved, but that plan became stillborn in mid-stream when the project was redirected by Boeing.

On June 20, 2008, I wrote a long email to Bonnie Dunbar, then CEO of the Museum, and many of the top managers and Board members. It was one of more than 300 emails I sent out trying to save this airplane.

It started with:

Bonnie,

On June 4, I had a meeting with Dave Waggoner, Airport Manager at Paine Field.  We had a follow-up telephone conversation on June 11.  One of the subjects brought up was the status of our B-52G.  There have been various scenarios floated over the past year or so as to its disposition.  These have included scrapping, or cutting off the nose for display, etc.  The problem was made worse when the Future of Flight was re-oriented in mid-course, and the B-52 lost its intended home.  There is a lot of development work going on at PAE, and the B-52 is a large airplane, making an honorable disposition challenging.  Of course, this airplane still belongs to USAF, who, it is surmised, would be none too happy with a scrapping solution.

At the end of the meeting, Dave and I agreed that the B-52 was an extraordinarily important airplane, and in a subsequent email exchange, reiterated our reverence for the airplane.  I came away from the meeting with two assignments (funny how I keep collecting those!)  One was to try to come up with a satisfactory location on airport property, in view of the extensive development, etc.  I am working on this item.  We both agreed it would be premature for me to lie down in front of a bulldozer.

The other assignment was to create a "promo" piece that could be used to sell a display location to the "powers that be."  This, I have done.  It is based on the B-52G Gate Guard located at the ex-Griffiss AFB, where the Connie is being repaired and repainted.  That airplane is very dramatically displayed at the entrance to the field.  You can see it here:

http://www.rbogash.com/Griffiss/griff_b52.html

....and, after much additional verbiage, and discussion of the B-52 combat losses in SEA, it ended with the following B-52 story:

The story of Ash 1 and her brave crew

Ash 1              B52D    12-26-72 U-Tapao, Thailand  Crashed at U-Tapao.

 Attempted go-around with 4 engines out on same side.  4 KIA.  Co-Pilot, 1st Lt Bob Hymel & Gunner, TSgt  Spencer Grippen were rescued.  No. 56-0584.  The Aircraft Commander made a determination that they should bailout before the crash, but since the gunner was wounded and they felt he might not be able to physically execute the bailout, they decided as a crew to try and bring the plane in.  Ironically, the only survivors of the crash were the C/P and the wounded gunner.  In addition, the C/P would not have survived had he not been rescued by a crewmember from another BUFF who watched the crash, and rushed into the wreck to pull the C/P out before the plane burned up.  Lord, that we could have more men like these.

On  September 11, 2001, Lt Col Hymel, Retired, Co-Pilot of Ash 1, was sitting at his desk as a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst in the Pentagon. He was one of the thousands of Americans killed that day - a KIA 29 years after the rest of his crew.




Next came about two years of researching every square inch of Paine Field, looking for a location.  Studies and coordinations were held with Boeing, Paine Field airport management, the Washington Air National Guard, and the Historic Flight Foundation.  There were promising doors that opened, but ultimately they were all closed.  Discussions were held with the Air Force (the legal owner) about dismantling.  It was getting more than a little bleak, but I still had some arrows in my quiver, and was hoping I wouldn't have to throw my body in front of the train......again.  This airplane was not going to be cut up!  I wrote emotional letters and emails.  Everybody nodded, but the wheels kept turning.  And then....... and then I got an important email.

Over the years, I had received many emails from former USAF people who had been involved with this airplane.  I had created a web page way back in 1995, asking for volunteers to help out - to Adopt this B-52.



An early web adopter, the internet has long been one of my main weapons for moving mountains, and so it was to be once more.  People had come across my page while surfing for their old loves - in this case, an airplane known as 2584.  I even got an email from Bill Stimson, who had made the last flight into Paine Field.  All were supportive, and all were interested, but ultimately not much came from it.

Meet Bob Gee.  He was a former crew member on this airplane.  On 30 March 2012, he wrote me a letter:

Bob,

I don’t know if you remember me contacting you a couple of years ago, but I am a C-17 pilot instructor in the simulator at March ARB, CA. I’m sorry to say, I didn’t follow up after our initial contact.

....... recently got interested again and found the aircraft commander and the radar navigator after 40 years. We/they are very excited to discover our aircraft and renew our relationships. I am now working on locating the navigator, copilot and gunner and we are talking about a possible crew reunion.

Since this year is the 40
th anniversary of our involvement in Vietnam and Linebacker II, we are contemplating the possibility of having a reunion in Seattle this year where we hope we could tour the airplane together. I think it might be a great publicity opportunity for you toward interest the restoration effort as well. Let me know what you think.

Bob Gee
30 Mar 2012




Bob, I think your idea of a Seattle reunion and revisit to the airplane is terrific.  Everything you described, in the way of P.R. etc is possible.  I'd love to host it myself and take you on-board the airplane personally. We may need this sort of coverage to save this airplane from the scrappers at some point.  I haven't thrown my body in front of the train yet, but I can hear the whistle.....

Thanks very much for writing, and let's not let this re-connection die.

Bob Bogash



Bob,

Thanks for the quick response.....  We are as excited as school kids about this thing. I can’t believe we let 40 years go by, but I am on a mission to get us all back together again. I will send you more information as soon as I can get it together, but I love the idea of you hosting a reunion and letting us crawl around in the old girl.

Bob Gee



Well, Bob, I have been on a quest to find all of my crewmembers since this year is the 40th anniversary of Bullet Shot and Linebacker II. I have finally succeeded; we are all alive and healthy and have all agreed to have a reunion in the Seattle area centered around the old girl that got us home unscathed on that history-making mission.

Bob Gee
1 May 2012



Well, this exciting exchange led to our indeed holding a reunion for the crew of 2584.  They, and their families toured the airplane - something many of their family members had never been able to do during their years of service.  I did indeed get to host them, and welcome them aboard their old mount.  An exciting day.

   28 Sept 2012

We made it a Triple Play - celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the First Flight of the B-52 in 1952, the 50th Anniversary of the Delivery of the last B-52 in 1962, and the 40th Anniversary of Operation Linebacker II that led to the Paris Peace Accords ending the Viet Nam War.

   
A show was held in the Museum Theater with presentations
 by 2584 crewmember Howard Butcher
 and Boeing Test Pilot Brien Wygle


In a meeting of the 2584 crew and families at the Museum Restoration Center in Everett, I gave them a status report about the airplane, and gave them my best "body in front of the train" sad story about how the airplane was in real and imminent danger of being cut up.  Sensing this crew were "my vets", my yearned for instrument for saving the airplane, I told them I had done what I could - I needed them to pick up the baton and help me move forward.  I sensed their presence and the war stories about this airplane were the magic keys I had been looking for -  to turn the lock and finally save Midnight Express. Time had been on my side.  As was the Internet.  Now - if they would just pick up that baton......

Bob,

I can’t tell you how much that reunion and the visit to 2584 meant to me. To see the guys again after nearly 40 years and actually visit the old girl that took us downtown and safely home on the night of December 18th, 1972 was incredible and a little eerie. None of this would have happened without your help and I will be honored to do anything in my power to move the restoration along....... I wasn’t the driver or the bomb dropper, but I was definitely there in Harm’s Way and have all of the mission details from our participation in LB II… dealing with the SAMs from a perspective that no one else on the crew had. ......thanks again for your support.

Best regards,

Bob Gee

3 Oct 2012


Bob

Our job going forward is to preserve her and we will need to coordinate and work on that diligently.

I would like to thank you for your kind comments, and especially that wonderful plaque you had made for me.  I will have it mounted appropriately and displayed proudly for the rest of my life.  It means a lot....

All the best, be well, pass this on to the other crew, and God Bless,

Bob Bogash





.... as they had picked up the baton for our Country, so these great men would do so for our airplane......


My Prince

Someday, your Prince will come.....  Along the way, at the reunion, I discovered my "Prince".



 His name is Jim Farmer.

Jim is a MOF Trustee and former B-52 pilot.  Actually, the B-52 he was flying was shot down over North Viet Nam, and he was rescued.  Being local, and a Museum muckee-muck, Jim was in a position to be my main vehicle for getting up off those tracks.  Just in time too - that train whistle was getting louder and louder!   My new horse - Jim - picked up the baton.  And, he has not looked back.

Working with the Museum management, the Board of Trustees, and the 2584 crew members, Jim has been the bulldog needed to make this happen.  Poor guy!  It's not like I didn't warn him.....

 
 He even found the nose of a sistership down in Utah and tried to convince folks that it might be a substitute.

But - the main thing - he worked the problem of location.  Paine Field was out - Boeing Field was in. Don't know how he did it.   Now - where to put it?  Money? - he'd started working that too.

He's been squeezed, sometimes mercilessly between the Museum management, me, and the 2584 crew, as various schemes were created, presented, promoted, torn apart, (blown up?) and then discarded. 


Putting it on the Berm ran into a slew of dimensional problems.




Here's another idea.



It didn't "fly."



Some involved cutting up the airplane - maybe just saving the cockpit, or forward fuselage.

Happy to report - this one too "crashed and burned!"



Yikes!  How gruesome is this?



 In the end, we (he) created a solution, acceptable to all stakeholders, allowing us to move forward.  I'm happy to say it will closely match my long time vision - the airplane will be the centerpiece in a Viet Nam Air War Memorial Park, on the Museum's Main Campus on Boeing Field, representing all air and ground crews, and the various aircraft, that served in the conflict.  The project has been dubbed Welcome Home!


The location will be between the new Aviation Pavilion and the Duwamish River

Now -  we need to raise funds and have already made a fast start.
If you worked on, flew, or have a love for this magnificent airplane - then click here.

I'd like to think if one million people read this and each give just $1, we'd have $1 million.
Or 100,000 -  who give just $10.
There ARE that many people who have been involved with this airplane over the last 65 years.
Or with the War in Viet Nam.
Many hands make light work.


2584 served our country and the brave men who flew her.
Now, she's counting on you to help save her.

Welcome Home - click Here



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