USAFA — The Air Force football team is honoring the B-52 Stratofortress with the 2021 edition of the Air Power Legacy Series uniform.
The Falcons will debut the uniform for the Navy game on Sept. 11, the 20-year anniversary of 9-11.
The helmet is designed after the B-52s that flew in Operation Linebacker II and are painted in the Air Force SEA (Southeast Asia) camo, with USAF on one wing and the roundel on the other. The Strategic Air Command adorns the front right chest of the uniform while the name plate uses the orange outline with the airport codes for Andersen AFB, U Tapo and the 7th Bomber Wing patch to represent all former B-52 units. The left pant leg features 11 B-52 plane silhouettes representing the 11 days of bombing during the conflict. The right side pant leg has the tail flash of the plane and the number on each player’s pant leg matches their uniform number for the first time in the history of the series.
The B-52 was prominently featured in the Linebacker II conflict which was the operational nickname for the resumption of full-scale bombing and mining of North Vietnam. In 1972, the enemy had grown stronger and the outlook for American forces was extremely bleak. Supplied by the Soviet Union and China, the North Vietnamese had built up one of the strongest and most extensive air defense systems in the world. The US ground presence had been reduced to roughly 26,000 troops. Attempts at diplomacy were failing and it was becoming increasingly clear that the North Vietnamese were stalling at the negotiation table.
In December of 1972, the president gave the order to commence a three-day “maximum effort” campaign against the North Vietnamese forces. This was the first time in conflict that the Air Force was allowed to bomb strategic targets in a concentrated effort. Under the command of the Strategic Air Command and executed by the 7th Air Force, Linebacker II was a concerted team effort. During the day, F-111s and other Air Force aircraft flew preemptive strikes against air defenses including SAM sites and air fields, while at night the B-52s would fly to drop their payloads on targets in Hanoi and Haiphong.
The United States paid a price for the accomplishments of Linebacker II. During the bombing raids, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy aircraft encountered intense enemy defensive actions that resulted in the loss of 26 aircraft in the 12-day period. Air Force losses included 15 B-52s, two F-4s, two F-111s and one HH-53 search and rescue helicopter. Navy losses included two A-7s, two A-6s, one RA-5 and one F-4. Seventeen of these losses were attributed to the SA-2 missiles, three of daytime MiG attacks, three to antiaircraft artillery and three to unknown causes.
A new strategy was conceived in which the bombers would fly to targets at different altitudes from different headings. The change in strategy and intensity of the assault was extremely successful and provided a boost in morale for American POWs in Vietnam who heard the booms and knew freedom was coming. Linebacker II directly led to the return of POWs.
The eighth day of the bombings on Dec. 26th proved to be one of the most successful with 78 B-52s in four waves attacking Hanoi simultaneously from four different directions, while 42 bombers in three waves struck Haiphong. Nearly 10,000 bombs were dropped in a matter of minutes by the largest single wave of B-52s ever amassed.
The Air Power Legacy Series began in the 2016 season with the football team wearing an alternate uniform to celebrate the history of the United State Air Force. The Falcons honored the Tuskegee Airmen with the 2020 edition.