The B-52 “Midnight Express” is towed along I-405 while en route from Paine Field in Everett to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle early Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The B-52 “Midnight Express” is towed along I-405 while en route from Paine Field in Everett to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle early Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A B-52 known as ‘Midnight Express’ takes freeways to Seattle

Stored at Paine Field in Everett for 26 years, it now has a permanent home at the Museum of Flight.

EVERETT — With its nose in the air and fresh paint under its chin, a 1959 B-52 bomber took a 40-mile road trip Sunday from Paine Field to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, stopping traffic and startling passersby as it merged onto the I-405 and I-5 freeways.

Retired from service in late 1991, the Boeing B-52G spent the past 26 years stored in the open at Paine Field in Everett.

For the three-hour journey, pilot trucks, police and state troopers fanned across roadways to re-route traffic and safeguard the semi-truck and its cargo, the B-52’s 170-foot fuselage.

Light bulbs hung on either side of the airplane for safety. It was lit up like a parade float.

As the big bomber eased onto the Mukilteo Speedway about 2 a.m., motorists gawked and slowed to a crawl to give the orca-like warbird plenty of rumble room.

As it picked up speed on the straightaway, an astonished teenager watching from the sidewalk shouted: “It’s a damn plane on the damn road!”

This time, no one had to notify the Kremlin that a B-52 was on the move. A Cold War agreement to limit nuclear arms (SALT I and II) once required the United States to alert Soviet or Russian authorities when a B-52, designed to carry nuclear weapons, was moved.

The B-52 “Midnight Express” is towed along Highway 525 from Paine Field en route to Boeing Field in Seattle early Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The B-52 “Midnight Express” is towed along Highway 525 from Paine Field en route to Boeing Field in Seattle early Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The retired B-52G Stratofortress “was tracked like all the other B-52s,” even when it was relocated from one part of the airport to another, said Ted Huetter, Museum of Flight spokesman.

Stripped of military components, the jet-powered, long-range strategic bomber is on permanent loan to the museum from the U.S. Air Force.

It took five large cranes last week to remove the 100-foot wings, which were transported separately by trucks, Huetter said.

Until recently, there was no room at the museum for the 58-year-old B-52, whose nickname, “Midnight Express,” was stenciled near its nose.

“We just have not had a place for it,” Huetter said.

In 2012, the B-52’s crew of 1972 held a reunion at Paine Field and vowed to restore their old friend.

The crew of “Midnight Express” in 1972. (Museum of Flight)

The crew of “Midnight Express” in 1972. (Museum of Flight)

Museum of Flight
                                The crew of “Midnight Express” B-52 in 2012.

Museum of Flight The crew of “Midnight Express” B-52 in 2012.

Armed with conventional weapons, B-52s were used extensively in Vietnam, Huetter said.

With the museum’s backing, the crew and other supporters launched “Project Welcome Home,” raising more than $1 million.

Among the project’s leadership: former Air Force pilot Joe Crecca of North Bend, who spent more than six years as a prisoner of war at the infamous Hoa Lo prison — “The Hanoi Hilton” — after his McDonnell F-4C Phantom was shot down in 1966.

Now, the B-52 is destined to become the centerpiece of a new museum exhibit, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park, opening this fall. The free exhibit will be built around a “little park where people can reflect, remember the aircraft of the Vietnam War and the people who flew them,” Huetter said.

“This will put the capstone on the project,” he said.

The B-52 “Midnight Express” is towed along Highway 525 from Paine Field en route to Boeing Field in Seattle early Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The B-52 “Midnight Express” is towed along Highway 525 from Paine Field en route to Boeing Field in Seattle early Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The B-52 fuselage arrived intact Sunday morning at the museum at Boeing Field, wearing that new coat of camouflage.

At 8 a.m., a crowd gathered at the Museum’s Aviation Pavilion to celebrate the arrival.

“It will require many volunteers and many hours to put the plane back together,” Huetter said. “We figure it’s our summer project.”

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This story was first published in the Everett Herald. Janice Podsada can be reached at jpodsada@heraldnet.com and 425-339-3097.