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To The Other Side Of The World In 'The Mighty B-ONE' -- part 2

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Editors note: This is the final part of a 2-part article.

8 p.m. We are somewhere on the eastern side of the Atlantic. It's now dark and will be for the remainder of the flight until just before we land. We've been giving our positions at every longitude and latitude crossing via the high frequency radio to reporting stations located on the east coast since we are out of normal UHF and VHF radio range. The paper charts, a moving map on the laptop computer that's plugged into a global positioning system, and the view out of the windows has been blue ocean for a very long time. It makes you realize how significant Lindberg's flight actually was, by himself, with only a compass and stopwatch. Navigation in the B-1 is much easier with Global Positioning System aiding. I used to worry about position updates and having two inertial navigation systems on the aircraft to make an ocean crossing. Now, our position should never be off by more than 50 to 100 feet with a constant GPS update to the INS. This allows for a little more time to relax in the seat. The defensive systems operator hooked his IPOD up to the aircraft intercom system with a makeshift cord that can be plugged into an extra headphone or microphone jack -I am going to go crazy if I have to listen to this lieutenant's techno rave for a second longer! I toggle it off and start looking at our charts showing the planned route of flight over the Mediterranean.
We have one refueling remaining and two countries that require us to use diplomatic clearance numbers to get through their airspace. This became a big problem for us on the return trip when Turkey denied activation of our DIP clearance. We eventually were forced to turn back to our forward operating location and wait an extra day for the problem to be fixed before returning home.

9.p.m. Everyone back home is winding down for the day, but after 11 hours airborne, we still have 6.5 hours of flight time to get to our destination. We're entering the way points designated as an air-refueling route, and we're now in contact with the two KC-135 tankers from England that will refuel us. They had to send two tankers because of their long flight distance to get to the air refueling point. Each tanker offloads 45,000 pounds of fuel for us. Another short 40 minutes of refueling track time and the co-pilot proves his worth. Ace took on half the fuel as well, but that was just to show off a bit in the bouncy air. Remember I mentioned the thunderstorms? They're starting to build along our route of flight, and we're watching the buildup very closely with the radar so we're prepared for route deviations if needed. Unfortunately, the view outside is hampered by the nighttime and weather, so there's no chance to enjoy the coastlines of Gibraltar, Italy, or the northern coast of Africa.

Midnight. Three hours to go as we depart Turkey's airspace for a friendlier environment - Iraqi airspace. That may sound weird considering just over four years ago it was one of the most well-defended areas in the world. Apart from some UHF radio interference on our assigned frequency, we're able to understand the American controller as we proceeded southbound to get to the Persian Gulf and ultimately our destination. This final three hours of flying will definitely be the most exciting. We're all awake, alert and thinking about the significance of our destination. The sun is rising as we see the Tigris River running through Baghdad. The lights of the city, although not as brilliant as cities like Denver and Salt Lake City, are still on. It's significant that I'm in my long-range bomber flying over Iraq with no worries. We're not loaded munitions for this sortie, but I can see through the laptop data link feed that two other 34th Bomb Squadron B-1s are flying combat missions providing air support for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Most of my 34th BS Thunderbird squadron mates are deployed, and I was one of the small group left behind. It's easy to be professional and serious about your job flying combat aircraft when you know that your buddies and many others are working so hard supporting the troops on the ground and the combatant commander.

3:00 a.m. Seventeen hours in the air now and the last 1.5 hours were over water in the Persian Gulf. We're preparing to land by finishing the cockpit paperwork, running equipment and landing checklists, and reviewing approach to landing way point and altitude procedures. This all happens quickly as we start to descend almost 100 miles away from the destination. The approach controllers are once again easy to follow, and within 20 minutes from the start of our descent, we're on short final for landing. After touchdown, we tail the follow-me vehicle to the B-1 section of the ramp and get ready to shut down engines. Just as when we left Ellsworth 18 hours ago, the flightline is extremely busy, but this time with many different types of aircraft and the vehicles are tan instead of Air Force blue. As soon as the crew chief catching our aircraft plugs into the intercom system from his ground cord, he yells for us to shut down the engines - we have a broken hydrogen line. After such a long sortie, this news has a shock and wake-up factor as we quickly comply and scurry down the ladder to get away from a potential fire hazard. After all the hydrogen finally sprays out of the broken fitting in the brake line, things begin to settle down. We download our gear into crew trucks, shake hands with the commander, director of operations and our fellow T-birds there to meet us, and prepare for more debriefs and base check-in procedures before we can make it to the dining facility.

8:00 a.m. The four of us finally make it to our rooms to get some much needed sleep nearly 24 hours after I woke up to my son asking for breakfast. It's a completely different world out here now, one with no children and a lot of combat-hardened Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. It is a bit of a culture shock to do a swap out sortie because you never really prepare to deploy or plan to be gone very long. Nevertheless, the experience is important. It's a reminder of how far away, yet how close the war on terror is to each one of us here at Ellsworth. Thirty-six hours later, our crew says goodbye to the FOL, and we jump in a different jet that needs to come home for periodic maintenance, and we embark on the return - this time with three air refuelings to make up for the strong westerly head-winds and longer sortie. 

From just reading this article, this flight may not seem like the monumental accomplishment it is. The reality is hundreds of people spent hundreds of hours preparing me and other B-1 crew members to jump into our aircraft and make the journey. The Ellsworth Team is second to none, and the B-1 has more than earned its place in history as a most valuable player of the global war on terror.