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ISSUE 160 - March 2011
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By David Rose, Contributing Editor
San Diego, California

Algeria had been in the throws of revolt for eight years the first time I saw it. The French had just about exhausted all efforts to keep the Algerian people under French rule and were in the last stages of control over them. In 1954, The National Liberation (FLN) had launched attacks across Algeria against military, police and public utilities.

From Cairo, the FLN broadcasted a call to Muslims in Algeria to join in a national struggle for the "restoration of the Algerian state, sovereign, democratic, and social, within the framework of the principles of Islam." The then French minister of interior François Mitterrand responded that "the only possible negotiation is war" and thus set French policy for the next five years.

In the end France learned what all governments eventually learn when their policies conflict with those of the populace. On July 1, 1962, 6 million of a total Algerian electorate of 6.5 million cast their ballots in the referendum on independence. The vote was nearly unanimous. President De Gaulle pronounced Algeria an independent country on July 3. But in 1961 the battle still waged and from my vantage point in the cockpit of a B-52 at 45,000 feet, the flames of Alger and Annabah along the Northern coast were clearly visible.

Now, with neighboring Libya so dominating the news, I can’t help but recall those nights over the Med and reflect on what I was doing there.

They had grounded all the F-86’s and shipped us pilots off to SAC. I guess it was in the interest of domestic tranquility that they did give us our choice of assignments; but only to the KC-135, B-47 or B-52. I chose U-2’s in the 4080th Strat Wing at Laughlin AFB, Del Rio, Texas.
I guess they didn’t get my request, or simply ignored it, because I ended up in the 342nd Bomb Wing, Warner Robbins GA. B-52-G’s.

Finally becoming “combat ready,” as they liked to say, I began pulling alert. In those days your crew would head for the alert shack and spend anywhere from three to five days “on alert”. Your B-52 was “cocked and ready” to start in a minute and be airborne in less than five. The other ‘alert’ was airborne alert. We would brief, load up, take off and head out to spent 24 hours waiting for WW 3 (the REALLY BIG ONE) to break out. If it had, we would have been nearly invulnerable to being stopped before attacking our designated target. At any time in those days no fewer than twelve B-52’s were airborne, ‘on alert’. In the early days of the airborne alert sorties we either carried two of the enormous 15 megaton Mk - 17’s or a rack of the smaller Mk - 28’s. We also carried a pair of Hound Dog AGM-77 stand off missiles under the wings and used their air breathing J-85 engines to help stagger this half a million pound arsenal into the air.
The 342nd was tasked with two routes; one would take you to the North Pole to fly a racetrack pattern there for the 24 hours and the other took you to the Med to fly back and forth there for around 12 hours. Whatever the route, the time was always going to be about 24 hours.

Back and forth through the Med would take us just North of the coasts of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt; turn around and head back West to a refueling track over Spain, gas up and do it all over again. Sounds easy enough, but a B-52 cockpit is amazingly small compared to the plane itself. And it’s cold. No insulation wasted on bomber crews; save the weight for payload. And LOAD; no sound deadening; save the weight for payload. And no galley either, though it didn’t take long for us to start bringing a fry pan, groceries and our own coffee.

I know the fires in Tripoli would be visible to another bomber crew tonight. So what has changed since 1962? For the Algerians everything has changed; as it will for the Libyans; and as it has for the citizens of a dozen countries whose populations have risen up in protest of their government’s oppressions since 1962. We’ll have to wait a while longer for the North Koreans, Somalis, Maldavians, Uzbekis, Laosians and how many other countries.

But one day they’ll be in the streets teaching their oppressors the lesson the French learned in 1962.

For now the bombers no longer fly the secret “Chrome Dome” airborn alert sorties. And Warner Robbins AFB? It’s still there; hosting a number of Air Force Units ranging from a Combat Communications unit to a Marine Aircraft Group.

But closer to my heart is the Robin's Museum of Aviation. The second largest aviation museum in the USAF with 93 aircraft on 43 acres of both indoor and outdoor exhibits

They have a B-52, SR-71, a Marietta, Georgia-built B-29, and one of the specially modified C-130 Hercules that were used in the failed Iran-hostage rescue mission.

The Museum of Aviation is located only seven miles east of I-75, near Robins Air Force Base. It's open 9am to 5pm Daily and admission is free.

By David Rose, Contributing Editor

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