A B-52H crew was able to land safely after losing power to four of its eight engines, one of the most severe emergencies a “BUFF” aircrew can face,  in a show of airmanship and professionalism that earned them an award from Air Force Global Strike Command

On the evening of Dec. 13, 2022, the crew aboard the bomber Scout 94 were flying from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, a Global Strike Command news release says. Three crew members were aboard: Capt. Charles Powell, the aircraft commander; Capt. Matthew Walls, the copilot; and Lt. Col. John Conway, the radar navigator.

The bomber was avoiding thunderstorms while preparing to land. As the B-52 descended towards the Louisiana airfield, its left-side electrical generators failed, and all four engines on the plane’s left wing went dead. With no thrust coming from the left-side of the plane but all four engines on the right still working, the bomber immediately went into uncontrolled left roll, began to descend and  slowed below normal approach speed.

“The emergency was sudden and caused brief but extreme disorientation to myself and the other crew members,” Walls said in a statement. “All the systems kicked off at once, and the aircraft went completely dark, engines flamed out, and controlling the aircraft became a battle.”

The crew of Scout 94 fought to regain control of their bomber, which was losing altitude over Bossier City, Louisiana. If the plane crashed in a populated area, the results would have been catastrophic.

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As in-flight emergencies go, this was one of the most dire that the crew of Scout 94 could face, said retired Air Force Col. Mark Gunzinger, a former B-52 instructor pilot and flight evaluator.

When a B-52 loses all the engines on one side of the plane — the plane has a total of 8, four on each wing — the crew faces “the worst possible case for an engine-out situation.”  With thrust on just one side, a condition known as ‘asymmetric thrust.’ Having all the power on one side of the plane will put the plane into a spin if corrective action is not taken quickly,  Gunzinger told Task & Purpose.

Making matters even more dangerous, Scout 94 was already descending when it lost the four engines, said Gunzinger, who is currently the director of future concepts and capability assessments at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Roughly three minutes into the emergency, Powell was able to restart two of the engines that had initially failed to come back to life. That helped to stabilize the asymmetrical load on the aircraft.

After declaring an emergency with air traffic control, the bomber’s crew pulled off a non-standard right turn to avoid bad weather as they prepared to land.

“I was very fortunate to have a crew who handled their responsibilities so I could focus on the one thing that mattered in the moment– fly the jet,” Powell said in the news release.

The crew was finally able to regain control of the B-52 at roughly 1,200 feet. That is low altitude for a B-52 to recover, Gunzinger said.

“In my opinion, as a former instructor and an evaluator, you’re approaching an altitude where if I didn’t think I had control at that point, I would tell the crew to eject, because they were right on the line,” Gunzinger said.

With six of the B-52’s engines back, the crew was able to safely land the aircraft. The crew of Scout 94 was recently awarded the Air Force Global Strike Command General Curtis E. LeMay award for the outstanding bomber crew category.

The award recognizes bomber crews for outstanding performance during exceptional circumstances, and it is named for Air Force Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, who oversaw the bombing of Japan in World War II, later led Strategic Air Command and served as Air Force chief of staff.

“I’m very proud of how we handled the situation,” Walls said in the news release. “It was fast and intense, and there wasn’t time for discussion, just action. In my opinion, everyone fell into their role and did what was required.”

Conway credited Powell and Walls for their admirable performance and “immense poise” during the emergency.

“They were quick to respond to the situation, run the appropriate procedures, and fall back on their training,” Conway said in the news release.

While crews train to deal with several types of serious in-flight emergencies, such crises are still very challenging when they happen in real life, said Gunzinger, who added that the crew of Scout 94 was obviously very well trained.

He recalled how he once flew a B-52 that was struck by lightning, which blew a major hole in one of the bomber’s wings as well as its tail while he was flying at night and at a low altitude.

“We did not lose power and we did not lose engines, but the pucker factor, if you will, with just that happening was considerable,” he said. “What [Scout 94] encountered was several steps up from what I’ve experienced, and again one of the worst things that could happen when you’re in the middle of descending to an approach and you’ve got checklists running and other procedures you must execute. This crew did one hell of a job recovering that aircraft.”

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