Exercise Report : Saber Strike / BALTOPS 2015
Exercise Saber Strike and BALTOPS 2015
Photographing USAF B-52 and B-2 bombers deployment to RAF Fairford
Report and photos by Jiun Yap
Exercise Saber Strike and Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) are NATO military exercises that are held annually in the month of June. The United States armed forces participated actively in these exercises and often deployed their military assets to Europe. The US Air Force Strategic Strike Command deployed 3 B-52H Stratofortress bombers from the 5th Bomb Wing of Minot Air Force Base to RAF Fairford. This deployment took place from 5 June to 20 June 2015. In conjunction with this deployment, B-2A Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base also flew to RAF Fairford on 7 and 8 June. These stealth bombers did not stay at the base. Instead they were refueled and flew back to United States on the same day. One of the B-2s that flew in on 7 June had a problem with its navigation system and could only depart RAF Fairford on 9 June.
RAF Fairford is a British air base that is operated by the United States Air Force. It is also the site of the famous Royal International Air Tattoo air show. Besides bomber deployment during exercises, the air base is frequently visited by U-2 reconnaissance plane. The layout of the air base is ideal for photography from outside the fence. There are numerous access roads to different parts of the air base and many of these are excellent spots for photographing aircraft taking off and landing. The security personnel will not bother you as long as you do no intrude into the base or trespass private land.
The following list shows the bombers that took part in these exercises from 5 to 20 June at RAF Fairford.
- B-52H, 60-0018/MT, "POW-MIA", 69th Bomb Squadron 'Knighthawks', 5th Bomb Wing
- B-52H, 60-0047/MT, "Neanderthaul", 69th Bomb Squadron 'Knighthawks', 5th Bomb Wing
- B-52H, 61-0040/MT, "Spirit of Minot", 23rd Bomb Squadron 'Barons', 5th Bomb Wing
- B-2A Spirit 88-0329/WM "Spirit of Missouri”, 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Bomb Wing
- B-2A Spirit 88-1068/WM "Spirit of New York", 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Bomb Wing
- B-2A Spirit 88-1069/WM "Spirit of Indiana", 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Bomb Wing
- B-2A Spirit 90-0040/WM "Spirit of Alaska", 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Bomb Wing
I visited RAF Fairford on 9 and 17 June to photograph the bombers. On 9 June, I went to the north side of the air base where the Rhymes Farm camping ground is. The air base is fenced all round but I could see over the fence if I stand on top of my car. I was very lucky that day. I first saw an U-2 reconnaissance plane callsign “Dragon 86” landing. It was my first time seeing this aircraft. Then a B-52H callsign “ICER11” took off for an exercise. The B-52H 60-0018/MT "POW-MIA" was followed by another U-2 callsign “Dragon 21”. It was really rare to see two U-2 aircraft landing at RAF Fairford on the same day. Later, I saw another B-52H callsign “ICER12” departing the air base, this was 61-0040 "Spirit of Minot", the last of 744 B-52s built. As a bonus, the B-2A “Spirit of New York” that arrived on 7 June departed that day after fixing the problem with the navigation system.
I visited RAF Fairford again on 17 June. I went to the west side in the morning and saw B-52H 60-0018 "POW-MIA" taking off. Then, it was a 6 hours wait for that B-52H to return to base. In the afternoon, I moved to the south side where the Kempsford camping ground is. This location is less ideal for photographing aircraft in the air base because it is located on the low side of a very gentle slope. I did not stand on top of my car but poke my camera lens through the fence to take photographs. The B-52H 60-0018 returned in the late afternoon and conducted two touch-and-goes before landing.
Report and photos by Jiun Yap ( view portfolio )
Last Modified: 28 June 2015