The first of a number of expected US B-52 bombers touched down today at an RAF base in Gloucestershire.
The long-range bomber, expected to be involved in any conflict with Iraq, is the first of around nine believed to be arriving at RAF Fairford, although the Ministry of Defence has not yet given official confirmation that the aircraft will be stationed there.
The B-52 touched down at the base on the Gloucestershire and Wiltshire border this morning but an MoD spokesman insisted that the MoD could not comment on the movement of any US aircraft.
RAF Fairford is a NATO-designated standby base and is shared with the United States Air Force.
It is one of only three forward USAF bases outside the USA and was involved in the Kosovo conflict – with bombers flying from Fairford dropping nearly 50% of all bombs on the country during the war.
Fairford is now capable of housing the B-2 Stealth bombers since undergoing a £100m refurbishment in 2002, the largest single NATO expenditure since the end of the Cold War.
The B-2 capability has doubled the strike force at the base, which also includes the older B-1 and B-52 bombers.
The role of the USAF at the base has always been sensitive and Fairford has recently become the focus of peace protesters concerned about war with Iraq.