92nd BW pioneer, WWII veteran turns 90, visits Fairchild

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Earlandez Young
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Francis Leslie, a former B-52D Stratofortress radar operator with the 325th Bomb Squadron, turned 90 years old Feb. 28. He decided to celebrate by traveling to Fairchild where he once served as an Airman.

"The static display at Heritage Park of the B-52 aircraft looks pretty familiar - I don't know if I flew in it or not...maybe...after all, I did fly in B-52s for nine years and spent more than 3,000 hours in them...we flew a lot of missions," said the 90-year-old retired lieutenant colonel.

The retired lieutenant colonel said the base is vastly different than the one he drove through from 1956 to 1965. He still remembers his most memorable moment here -- the international bombing competition in England.

"I was in one of the six crews from Fairchild that were chosen to attend the competition at Brize Norton Royal Air Force Base," said Leslie. "They hosted the competitions often and sent B-52s there to perform. We felt pretty good after placing in the top five."

Before his Fairchild assignment, Leslie was a navigator on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber crew in Italy during World War II history.
The first bombers flying out of England had the life expectancy of only eight missions and some never reached that number, Leslie explained. "It wasn't until there was good fighter coverage when they made the life expectancy of 25 missions."

Leslie flew 33 missions until the war ended in 1945.

"A lot of people aren't aware that the bomber crews in Europe had a fixed duty tour then they were sent home -- no one else in the war had that," Leslie explained. "The reason why is because the casualty rate was so high and they didn't expect anyone to outlive it."

Silver oak leafs float throughout the Leslie family. Francis followed in his father's footsteps by retiring as a lieutenant colonel as did Francis's son William. His oldest son, Thomas, however, retired a grade higher as a colonel and flew the B-52 on missions over Vietnam from 1970 until 1973.

"Growing up in our family, military service was expected," said William who accompanied his father on the trip to Fairchild. "Our commitment goes back several generations. My father was a great mentor to seeking a military career. When he approached the display of the B-52, you could see the young flame appear on his face - to that I would say many thanks for a job well done."

The WWII veteran had the privilege to tour a KC-135 Stratotanker -- the aircraft that joined the B-52 Stratofortress at Fairchild in 1958.

"That airplane is so much different than the ones we used to look at," he said. "It has a lot more gadgets and doesn't even carry a navigator anymore because they have global positioning system capability and the pilot knows where he or she is within three or four feet all the time - we'd maybe know within half a mile where we were."

Francis also had some advice he wanted to share with Airmen.

"The Air Force is a greater organization today, so many things have changed for the better," he said. "Airmen control their own destiny and they're the people who are the face of the Air Force."