2 B2 or not 2 B2

Whilst most of the UK were running around chasing B-52s and B-2s that were flying out of Fairford, more on which later, the USAF and USN over in the States were preparing for yet another large combined exercise involving multiple assets, including more B-52s and B-2s, as well as E-6s and KC-135s

Early heads up that something was going to take place was given when various airspace reservations were spotted by “Magnum” on the USAFs own NOTAM website. This was re-enforced when four KC-135s were positioned in Nova Scotia on the 10th of June

Sure enough, as predicted, on the afternoon of the 11th 11175kHz of the HF-GCS network started to come alive with calls from various assets involved in the exercise

I was preoccupied for the first few hours, but plenty of calls were coming through and picked up by the small group of us that regularly follow these missions. A couple of us do live in the USA so follow the action with their own gear, but in the majority Live ATC is a necessity for us in Europe; that is until a bit later and conditions let us follow the aircraft that are the furthest east

At around 1830z a long EAM (Emergency Action Message) of 147 characters was sent by GOALPOST, an E-6B operating over the USA:

1833z GOALPOST ET75CD – BP7BPFFJAT5QBNJDRENN662OQ47RN4OZZ55XIWU6ISZCG3GSMKMCSSUCND6I4W
WTTIRR5HJOPVAZ4FEBITCJ655OOORV4HJZ4PCXX662GSQTWM6JWFKH677GKTTNIH
FLFWHVGGIG2V62K

This is significantly longer than the standard EAMs of 30 characters, and this EAM was repeated on quite few occasions over the next hour or so

By 1900z the callsign tally was quite large:
SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
RIPPERxx B52s
BEAKxx B2s
ALOE VERA E6
GOALPOST E6
ROUNDHAT E6
FIREDOME E6

The operating areas of these flights had been pretty much worked out by those monitoring too, but I’ll leave those out except for one portion a bit later on

The sheer number of messages, such as the 4 group status messages used by the B2s in previous missions I’ve mentioned, and EAMs were overwhelming. There were so many they were stepping all over each other making it nigh on impossible to make them all out. It does make you wonder just how things would pan out should this all happen for real

Saying that though, the Russian CW networks I also listen too aren’t any better and do exactly the same thing.

I joined the action properly at around 2130z when I got a SkyKing message using my WinRadio Excalibur on 11175kHz. With the way the bandwidth was set up with the Excalibur I could see that Gander on 11279kHz was coming in strong which gave me hope that conditions would be good enough to pick some of the exercise up on 11175. I decided to set one of the other channels available on Gander as it’s always interesting listening to them sometimes

As it was, whilst monitoring 11175, I saw a really strong signal come in on Gander so I changed channels quickly and heard what I thought was SPEED20 calling with a position report. There was a distinct burn to the background call which showed it as a military flight.

A quick check through my old notes showed SPEED as a 97AMW callsign so I thought this would be one of the tankers. But, one of the US monitors then said he’d not heard a tanker using SPEED before, which made me doubt the call. Magnum then queried whether it may have been BEAK20 so I waited until the next position report about 20 mins later to confirm. It was indeed BEAK20, probably a B-2A from Whiteman AFB. The two B-2s were not that far from the boundary between Gander and Shanwick, and were now heading south

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

Route over the Atlantic by BEAK20/21

A bit of further delving through my old bits of papers that I call logs showed that I’d written down SPEED as a 97BW callsign in the early 90s. I’d tie this down to the fact that the 97th flew B-52s to Fairford for Desert Storm, and I visited the base then on a few occasions whilst stationed at Lyneham. Obviously, when the 97th transitioned to their new role of transports and tankers from Altus AFB, I’d just copied over the callsigns

As I’d not picked up much on 11175 on my own gear I decided to make Gander my primary on the Excalibur with 11175 on channel 2, along with 11175 on my Icom IC-R8500; and just to top that off, have Live ATC going on the PC too. It takes a lot of effort to listen to all this at once especially when there’s a time lag through Live ATC; it makes logging it all very difficult – I still feel like I’m cheating when listening to alive ATC too

Another position report followed with Gander telling BEAK20 to switch to 8891 as the new primary frequency. I followed them over as I was getting a good plot of their route using Skyvector. Again, with the bandwidth setup that I use on the Excalibur I was able to see other surrounding frequencies, and I noted that the Russian network on 8847kHz was also very busy. A quick listen showed these to be transports, but I was busy elsewhere so dumped the freq

I followed BEAK20 back to the Canadian domestic airspace at waypoint ELSIR, but before that at 2350z he asked Gander if they could go off frequency at midnight Zulu to monitor 11175 for approx 10 minutes. Gander said standby but never did get back to them, well not that I heard

At 0010z a new EAM was sent, this time by new callsign and an E-6B, OUTCROP. The Pool callsigns for the E-6s always change at midnight Zulu, so we were to expect a few new ones in the next half an hour or so, another one being LEGALITY.

With BEAK20 pretty much being back on Canadian domestic I was back to 11175 on the Excalibur and OUTCROP was quite clearly audible on it, whilst LEGALITY wasn’t.

Things had really started picking up again, with lots of stepped on calls again as everyone came back up on frequency, a pattern that is common with these – busy (all checking in) – quiet (flying the mission) – busy (checking back in). A couple of new callsigns also followed along with new groups of EAMs

This continued on for the next few hours, with myself calling it a day around 0130z when it had mostly died down. The final callsign list for the night was:

SPURxx KC135s
NARESxx KC135s
RIPPERxx B52s
BEAKxx B2s
ALOE VERA E6
GOALPOST E6
ROUNDHAT E6
FIREDOME E6
AMBAY B52
BURNTxx ?
GLUExx ?
AREA ?
HALLxx ?
SUMACxx KC135s
HISTO possibly B52s
MESSHALL E6
INSUREABLE E6
OUTCROP E6
LEGALITY E6

The last group of E6s were the same ones as earlier but have the midnight callsign change

Interestingly, a new NOTAM has been published that covers at least the next week, and the same airspace as used for this exercise. Is this to be a bigger and better one?

UK B-2s and B-52s

As I mentioned earlier, 2 B-2s and 3 B-52s have deployed to the UK for two exercises; SaberStrike for the B-52s and a FAMEX(Familiarisation Exercise) for the B-2s. They have caused nothing but what I would call a “boy band” over excitement from the UK aviation enthusiasts (of which I am one, though I’ve not got that excited)

It is great to see them over here again, and I did manage a glimpse of two B-52s as they left the Turnberry VOR tracking NW, but the commotion and excitement they have caused is amazing. Maybe I got too used to them 20 years ago (the B-52s) and I’ve seen a few B-2s in the USA so maybe I’ve been nulled by that.

As I live a good 300 miles away from Fairford, and with a holiday during the same period, I was never really going to see them, but I thought the radio may be a bit interesting. In the end it wasn’t. Daily round-robin tours of the UK for training purposes gave mainly route information. The B-2s tended to fly as singletons, but the B-52s did fly in pairs so there was some inter-plane chat between them – at the time of going on holiday this was on
226.875MHz and 300.125MHz

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

One of the routes flown as plotted by Chris Globe

With the flights there seemed to be a regular pattern of one in the morning, one in the afternoon (of both types); and after a while it was noticeable that they used the same waypoints or FRDs (fix/radial/distance) but maybe in a different order. After two days, once they were used to being here, air to air refuelling also was incorporated into the missions with 100ARW from RAF Mildenhall

Callsigns used for the UK flights were:

EXULT11-13 B-52s on the 7th for flights from USA to Fairford
CORE11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM11/12 B-52 UK flights
DOOM20 B-52 UK flights
DEATH11/12 B-2 for flights from USA to Fairford
SPIRIT01/02 B-2UK flights
SPIRIT11 B-2 UK flights
ICOSA11/12 B-2 flight to Ascension

At the time of this blog the B-52s are yet to take part in Exercise SaberStrike except for one fly past at the beginning of the exercise

As I’ve said, I went away on holiday so missed some of it, but on the 11th the B-2s made a trip to Ascension Island (where I was posted to in the 90s) as ICOSA11/12 flight and they were monitored again by the small group of us. They were met by four to six KC135s that flew from Lajes in the Azores. This was part of an Out-of-Area operation to prove they can carry out Global Power flights outside of operating from Whiteman AFB

Although I believe they were due to land at Ascension, they didn’t and they returned to Fairford that night following a very long mission

Let’s hope these exercises are repeated next year, and maybe I’ll be able to head down to Fairford to see them

Logs from CONUS exercise:

10/6/14

11175[LATC]

1833z GOALPOST ET75CD – BP7BPFFJAT5QBNJDRENN662OQ47RN4OZZ55XIWU6ISZCG3GSMKMCSSUCND6I4W
WTTIRR5HJOPVAZ4FEBITCJ655OOORV4HJZ4PCXX662GSQTWM6JWFKH677GKTTNIH
FLFWHVGGIG2V62K

1842z NARES42 calls SkyMaster, no response

11175

2128z SkyKing PP3 T28 Auth RJ

Gander 11279

2220z BEAK20 (B-2A)
5442N 38W @ 2200 FL250
Est 5448N 3338W @ 2220
5245N 3339W next

2225z BEAK20
5448N 3338W @ 2220
Est 5245N 3339W @2238
5012N 3340W next
asked by Gander to do a radio check on 8891, then told that this was the new primary. 5616 is back up

Gander 8891

2240z BEAK20
5245N 3339W @ 2239 FL250
est 5012N 3340W @ 2301
5018N 38W next

2300z BEAK20
5012N 3340W @ 2259 FL250
est 5018N 38W @ 2324
5015N 42W next, Req FL280 (approved at 2304)

2323z BEAK20
5018N 38W @ 2324 (note being sent before this time) FL280
est 5015N 42W @ 2342
5007N 45W next

2345z BEAK20
5015N 42W @ 2342 FL280
est 5007N 45W @ 2359
50N 50W next

2351z beak20 Requesting to go off freq at midnight to monitor 11175

11/6/14

Gander 8891

0002z BEAK20
5007N 45W @ 2359 FL280
est 50N 50W @ 0023
ELSIR next

At 50W call Gander on 122.375

11175

0010z OUTCROP GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0012z OUTCROP GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

0015 BEAK21 1msg 4grps TL5T

11175[LATC]

0020z SPUR44 1 msg 4 grps 1YCK

0030z LEGALITY GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0032z LEGALITY GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

0035z HALL33 1msg 4grps KIW2

0039z SPUR23 calling

11175

0040z OUTCROP GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0042z OUTCROP GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

11175[LATC]

0045z SUMAC24 1msg 4grps TPUW

0054z GH342C – RXS6IC2H46TKBC4E2UOLRSOF

11175

0055z OUTCROP GH342C – RXS6IC2H46TKBC4E2UOLRSOF

11175[LATC]

0100z LEGALITY GH342C – RXS6IC2H46TKBC4E2UOLRSOF

0102z LEGALITY GHTYMC – ZFFA2APJV2XXC7NNWS5DMNLK

0105z LEGALITY GH3GMH – 36QUIMUTJSLUWLFD6MQ23DJJ

0107z BEAK20 1msg 4grps HG2W

0109z DOOM92 with REDRIVER radio check

11175

0116z BURNT15 1msg 4grps 6SX6 (only OUTCROP heard)

0120Z SUMAC42 1msg 4grps YUWI (only OUTCROP heard)

All information, callsigns and data has no connection to my employers and is obtained from my own radio logs, personal knowledge and public information

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