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Return to Sender: Original Aircrew Returns to Minot

Return to Sender: Original Aircrew Returns to Minot

Bradley Foote, left, and Bill Sims, right, pose for a photo during the 2018 Northern Neighbors Day Air and Space Show at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Aug. 4, 2018. Both Foote and Sims flew the B-52H Stratofortress more than 60 years ago.

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --

Brad Foote and Bill Sims, retired Lieutenant Colonels and, respectively, radar navigator and electronic warfare officers, flew one of the first B-52H Stratofortress bomber’s into Minot Air Force Base in 1961. Now, nearly 57 years after their initial flight to Minot, Foote and Sims return to see the 2018 Northern Neighbors Day Air and Space Show on August 4th.

While aircraft were the main attraction during the show, Foote and Sims also wanted to see how the based had changed.

“For me, it was like coming back into a candy store. I just enjoyed everything that I saw,” said Sims.

While the base was newer and more developed, they were especially surprised to see how large it had become.

“The big thing, I think, was how large the base has grown. I anticipated (that) I’d just come in, take a right turn, and that’s where I used to live,” said Foote.

Foote and Sims originally arrived at Minot AFB in a B-52 designed as a backup, in case the actual ‘Peace Persuader’, the first B-52 to arrive at Minot AFB, couldn’t make it. Back then, Minot AFB consisted mostly of dirt fields and thinly spread buildings.

Today, the base is filled to the brim with structures, both new and old, and 64-year-old B-52s packed with new equipment and technologies.

“I looked at (the B-52s), and I was amazed, to start with. It’s so very different than what we did.. Ours was pretty basic,” said Foote.

“Yeah, compared to what it is now!” Sims was quick to add. 

The two gentlemen toured the B-52’s as well as the training facility for the aircraft. They flew a modern B-52 flight simulator. It was a far cry from the flight simulators of old, where pilots practiced on wooden sets with little mechanical feedback.

“When I was sitting in that simulator, in the pilot’s compartment, I felt like I was back in Disneyland,” said Sims. “It was a great experience for me.”

It was an experience they shared with current B-52 aircrews, who fly the same airframe as Foote and Sims did many years ago.

“It blows my mind,” said Sims. “We were here 57 years ago, when we acquired the H-model, and they’re still flying the same damned plane!”

There’s good reason for this too. The B-52 has performed admirably throughout the years. Foote and Sims gave praise to the reliability of the aircraft, and recounted the many hours they spent flying. Due to the Cold War, B-52 pilots could expect long flight hours and missions back-to-back. Sometimes Foote and Sims’ flight crew would land, only to touch-and-go back into the sky.

“If we had anything less than ten hours, that was a piece of cake,” said Sims.

There was a genuine effort to do the best every single day, even with these long hours, because of the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union at the time. To Foote, it felt like “you could go to war at any moment.”

“The entire base believed the war could start. We tried to do the best job we possibly could; especially flying airborne,” said Sims. “It was a very scary time.”

The most harrowing of these missions took place during the time surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“We took off on this airborne alert. We were told there was not going to be any more practice messages put out at all. If you got the next message, you could count on you were going to war,” said Sims. “We were coasting down over Alaska. All of a sudden the bell starts ringing; we were in a two ship formation, and I remember everything got deathly quiet. We thought we were on our way at that time. Then when we decoded that darn message, and it was just a change of things, you could feel the relaxation that came over us at that time.”

Listening to Sims recount the story caste a serious look over Foote’s face.

“We were trained robots,” he said. “They taught you to do this, and you did this and you did it on time. The pressure was always there.”

“You just live with it,” said Foote.

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