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The Dragon Is Alive

The five-person crew of a B-52 Stratofortress is responsible for flying the 55-year old “dragon” for 24 hours at a time above some of the world’s most dangerous countries at 650 miles per hour—without navigation displays, modern computers, or a flushing toilet. And they like it.
December 1, 2016
The Dragon Is Alive

Known officially as the Stratofortress, the mighty B-52 is sometimes referred to as a dragon for its size, dominance, and relentlessness. The B-52 is also affectionately called a BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fellow—or F*****, depending on the company you keep) for its ungainly appearance. The B-52 model H (B-52H) is the only model of the plane that is capable of carrying nuclear weapons.


  • Managing Editor
  • Clay Dillingham
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I am in an ancient plane, hurling in the heavens with less than an eighth-inch sheet of aluminum between myself and certain demise.

I run my finger down the schedule until I reach my name and assignment: Major Brad Haynes, Korean Peninsula. In 35 hours, I will board a 1961 B-52H Stratofortress—the backbone of the U.S. strategic bomber force—as part of a standard 24-hour Air Force strategic deterrence mission in response to a nuclear test in North Hamgyong Province. It’s time to show North Korea who’s the boss. 

But first, my crew—call sign Havoc 92—has to understand every detail of our assignment, which will cover 9,600 nautical miles, cost millions of dollars, and involve multiple countries. Although the purpose of this mission is to be seen and heard by North Koreans—not to actually attack them—our first step is still to select a target. In this case, the target is to fly to the southern border of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the 2.5-mile-wide buffer between North and South Korea, to make our presence known to our adversary—and to our allies (Japan and South Korea).