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Utapao Royal Thai Airbase mid-summer 1971

Copper Cell prepping for and enroute to Skyline Ridge in Laos.

A 'cell' by this time period consisted of 3 B52's. Copper 1 would be lead. Copper 2 would follow in trail by 1 or 2 miles, the distance determined by threat level; 500 feet higher than Copper 1, and tracking 500 feet to the right of Copper 1. Copper 3 trailed Copper 2 and would be 500 feet higher than Copper 2 and 500 feet to the left of Copper 1's track. These were high altitude missions, generally between 33,000 and 38,000 feet; occasionally a bit higher.

The Skyspot site was responsible for placing the cell leader's bombs. The other two aircraft maintained their positions relative to lead, and dropped by time after the site's hack, based on factors such as distance from lead at the hack and ground speed.

If the following aircraft could not maintain position due to failure in the BNS (Bombing/Navigation System) the mission could sometimes be salvaged through a BONUS DEAL. In a BONUS DEAL, the gunner in the leading aircraft would lock onto the following aircraft, and the gunner would call range and angle data to help the following aircraft stay on station.

Copper cell enroute to strike against Skyline Ridge and Long Tieng, 1971.

See:

"The CIA and the 'Secret War' in Laos: The Battle for Skyline
Ridge, 1971-1972.", William M. Leary


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