|GATHER AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE:
A LOOK BACK AT WESTOVER ALERTS
A 99th Bombardment Wing aircrew runs to their awaiting B-52D Stratofortress parked in the alert area at Westover in this late 1960s
photo. Note the black and green paint scheme on the bombers; this photo was probably taken between the wing's ongoing Arc Light
and Linebacker deployments for the Vietnam War. Also note the 99th BW shield installed in the ground in the left foreground. Almost
any SAC troop I have spoken with will talk about the alerts. They were as common an occurrence as many other events military people
were part of or witnessed. The B-52s sat at the "Christmas tree" ramp area, its nickname derived from the shape of the huge parking
aprons for the giant bombers. These airplanes were fully loaded with weapons designed to obliterate Soviet Union targets.
From retired Lt. Col. Gar Fletcher, former SAC member at
The Christmas tree was a single ramp which had 5 aircraft
pointed toward the runway. The furthest back facing outward
was a single aircraft. While to its right and left at a 45 degree
angle to the centerline were the other four aircraft. From
above, the layout of the aircraft put you in mind of a giant
These five aircraft were assigned to crews that were
assigned to the Mole Hole Facility right next to the Christmas
Tree. This total arrangement allowed for the fastest possible
reaction for these five aircraft.
There was no priority or order for the five to come out.
Whichever aircraft had started their aircraft and copied the
proper taxi or launch message first, went first. The rest of the
alert aircraft and the rest of the alert force were arranged
and located to allow for the total alert aircraft force to be
able to follow right behind the 5 Christmas tree aircraft as
they entered onto the runway for takeoff.
This photo shows B-52Ds on alert at Westover, circa early
1970s. Even though the 99th Bomb Wing was heavily
involved in the Vietnam War, the alert requirement was
still very much a part of the mission.
This shot is from the 1964 Boone Publications base guide. That's B-52D tail #55-052. Note the vintage Ford that the crew is
running from, as well as the location of this alert - certainly away from the "Christmas tree" area. Only recently did I learn that
there were actually MORE B-52s on alert than just in that area. In retrospect, I would surmise that the Soviets certainly had
Westover on their minds! The amount of nuclear firepower capability was awesome - but the 45 C- and D-model bombers
must have put the base high on the Soviets' target list. SAC incorporated this thinking into their dispersal strategy. In 1961, the
Air Force relocated the 347th Bombardment Squadron to McCoy AFB, Fla. Westover never had more than two squadrons of
bombers after that.
A B-52D (left) and a B-52C sit on the "Christmas Tree" in 1971. The BUFFs are part of a "Coco" alert. All of Westover's C-models
were sent to the boneyard that same year, so this might be one of the last glimpses of the aircraft in the foreground, which is
KC-135 #58-0053 is one of three KC-135s parked on the tanker alert ramp in this excellent 1959 Springfield Republican photo.
The 99th Air Refueling Squadron flew 20 of what were then brand new aircraft. Note the SAC "Milky Way" band and "Ramrod"
nose art. Also look to the right of the crew ladder for "LET'S GET IT OFF ON TIME," the slogan for the maintenance team and crew
members. The black and white photo doesn't allow the bright Day-Glo paint to be seen, but the newspaper caption explains its
purpose. It's unknown where these tankers were parked and whether they were in alert status. The Stratotankers and its crews
were the unsung partners with the B-52s. The reality is that the bombers couldn't fulfill the mission without the tankers' support. I
intend to provide plenty of coverage of this aircraft in my upcoming book and on this web site. Time and stellar performances in
the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the two Gulf Wars have proven the value of this airplane. Nearly 50 years later, the KC-135 is
still the backbone of the Air Force tanker fleet.
Holyoke Transcript-Telegram clipping provided by Stan Lukasiewicz)
CHROME DOME - A Westover B-52C soars above the clouds during a Chrome Dome mission, circa early 1960s. Chrome Dome missions sent Westover
aircrews across the globe towards targets in the Soviet Union.
(Photo from 1969 Westover AFB guide, by Boone Publications)
(Photo provided by David Henry, who was stationed at the base in
(1964 base guide provided by ret. USAF Capt Wilton Curtis)
(photo provided by Dennis Thibodeau, Westover B-52D crew chief)
(photo provided by Stan Lukasiewicz)
(photo provided by James E. "Max" Maxson)