An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Innovative training effort brings B-52 veteran back into the cockpit

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Ted Daigle

William "Bill" Pedeaux gazed around the cockpit of the B-52 H Stratofortress in May at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, a steely glint flashing in his eyes.

It was a look that hadn't come across his face in more than 28 years — the last time Pedeaux had flown in the jet while on active duty at now-defunct Castle Air Force Base, California.

As a contracted B-52 Stratofortress academic instructor, Pedeaux spends much of his time in a flight simulator teaching students assigned to the jet's Formal Training Unit.

But an innovative effort by FTU leadership is bringing the contract instructors on B-52 sorties to improve student pilot training.

One of these FTU leaders is Lt. Col. Michael DeVita, 11th Bomb Squadron commander. DeVita oversees the active-duty squadron that works with the Air Force Reserve's 93rd Bomb Squadron to run the FTU. He said the move to bring academic instructors on training sorties stems from past and upcoming improvements to the B-52.

Those improvements have created a gap between what instructors can teach in the simulator and what student pilots encounter when they initially fly the jet.

"Modifications have been made to the B-52, but not the simulator," he said. "So we constantly focus on how to make up for the differences between what students can learn in the simulator versus what they experience in reality," he said.

For Pedeaux, bridging that gap in the simulator requires a mix of practical experience and theory.

"The fundamentals of flying the B-52 are the same, but the mission has changed so much," said Pedeaux.

During the New Orleans native's flying days, the B-52 routinely conducted in-your-face bombing runs at 800 feet while flying in formation.

Today, the B-52 still has the capacity for stand-in weapons attacks, but technological advances have enabled it to be a solitary standoff predator too.  

A  B-52 crew can now receive digital target taskings via satellite from Air Operations Centers around the globe. The crew can seamlessly plug the target coordinates into the aircraft and fire a precision missile hundreds of miles away or drop a bomb below without ever talking to someone on the radio.

That fundamental change is behind the stark contrast between the simulator and the jet.

DeVita and Pedeaux said the most glaring difference between the simulator and the jet is the Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT). This communications modification came online in 2016 and serves as the digital backbone of the jet.

CONECT allows aircrews to receive digital tasking messages and real-time intelligence and threat data from multiple sources.

"I can't teach CONECT in the simulator simply because it isn't available," said Pedeaux.

To compensate, students use computer-based testing to learn about CONECT while in the simulator. They only get to use it when flying the B-52, taking valuable training time from other important training items like aerial refueling.

"It's frustrating for us and the military, but that's the nature of the beast," said Pedeaux.

The immersion flights are designed to alleviate that frustration by letting academic instructors see CONECT in use during an actual sortie.

DeVita hopes the firsthand knowledge will translate to the students and increase the academic instructors' credibility when they teach CONECT.

"You have these great instructors with all this knowledge about the jet, but when it comes to CONECT, until now, they've received the same training their students have," said DeVita

These outside-the-box training ideas have become almost routine for the 93rd and 11th BS, whose laundry list of recent innovative ideas includes virtual reality trainers to teach in-air refueling and cockpit checklists.

"We've gotten really good at keeping the train rolling down the tracks no matter what happens with upgrades," said DeVita. "As the jet becomes more software-centric, we have to meet those challenges to keep up."

DeVita said all contract academic instructors on Pedeaux's team will have the opportunity to fly on the B-52.

Pedeaux insisted on going first, a leadership trait left over from his active-duty days as a pilot and instructor.

Even at age 70, Pedeaux relishes the opportunity to keep learning and stay as relevant as the jet that has dominated his professional career.

He admitted having a bit of trepidation about flying in the B-52 after 28 years. But the worries weren't enough to keep him from the opportunity to learn.

"I may be a dinosaur, but I'm a meat-eating dinosaur," he said with an ear-to-ear grin.

Last week's flight was just another unique chapter in a history that saw Pedeaux move the FTU from Castle AFB to Barksdale AFB in 1997.

He hopes the push for academic instructors to fly sorties is as effective as the myriad of other syllabi changes made to improve the B-52 flying curriculum.

Those changes have Pedeaux's fingerprints all over them, and he shows no signs of stopping now.

"I always said I'd stop doing this when it became work," said Pedeaux, shrugging his shoulders.

Until that day arrives, Pedeaux plans to remain part of the innovative training process that has become the hallmark of the B-52 FTU.

(Daigle is assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing public affairs office.)