Air Drive leaders in control of the nation’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber fleet say they’ve been working behind the scenes to maintain the plane prepared—whilst a “security pause” on flying approaches six months in size.
1 / 4-century after its introduction, the B-2 program remains to be shrouded in secrecy. However officers make clear the steps they’re taking to maintain the plane, aircrews, maintainers, and weapons personnel on top of things because the service works to repair the issue that has led to a suspension of battle operations.
“We’re making certain that we’re getting after readiness and that when the fleet security pause is over, that we’re in a position to carry this hen again within the air in a way commensurate with what the American public would anticipate from us,” Col. Daniel Diehl, 509th Bomb Wing commander at Whiteman Air Drive Base, Mo., advised Air & House Forces Journal.
The pause started in December on the order of Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, the commander of Air Drive World Strike Command, after a B-2 was broken after an emergency touchdown at Whiteman—the one base to host fight B-2s, that are assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing and the Air Nationwide Guard’s 131st Bomb Wing.
That incident, which briefly shut down the lone runway on the base, was the second B-2 mishap in a little bit over a 12 months.
In September 2021, a B-2 at Whiteman had a runway tour after an element in its touchdown gear failed. The plane was despatched for repairs to Northrop Grumman’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., the place it was manufactured. Air Drive officers haven’t publicly disclosed what brought about the newest incident or the extent of the injury to the B-2.
The pause in flight operations left one B-2 parked at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, which shares runways with Daniel Ok. Inouye Worldwide Airport in Honolulu. An AFGSC spokesman stated the remaining 19 B-2s are at the moment at Whiteman, one among which is a check plane usually primarily based at Edwards Air Drive Base, Calif.
Leaders say the plane are nonetheless flyable ought to the bomber be referred to as upon to satisfy an pressing want. And the B-2’s fundamental mission is an existential one: nuclear deterrence. However Bussiere’s aim is to search out out what brought about the incident with one of many navy’s priciest platforms and guarantee it doesn’t occur once more.
Within the meantime, the Air Drive is getting after readiness whereas air crews are working to keep up their proficiency.
With plane not flying, the bottom crew has had extra time to spend with the airframe and carry out checks, together with of their low-observable stealth coating. Some B-2s have already had elements changed because of the checks that aren’t straight associated to the explanations for the security pause.
“All navy plane have an inventory of discrepancies upkeep gadgets that sometimes don’t have the capability to care for,” stated Col. Bruce T. Visitor, commander of the 509th Upkeep Group. ”The B-2 isn’t any exception, and so we’ve been in a position to intentionally deal with and whittle down our record of discrepancies. It’s no small feat that improves issues like reliability.”
B-2 aircrews, for his or her half, have been flying in T-38 trainers and spending extra time in simulators. Even earlier than the pause, pilots stored up their flying chops in T-38 trainers and used simulators. However the variety of repetitions on each has elevated.
“We’re lucky right here at Whiteman to have very sensible simulators, which permit us to duplicate the flight setting very nicely,” stated Col. Geoffrey M. Steeves, the commander of the 509th Operations Group.
“We’ve received an artificial setting that we’re in a position to practice, and that permits us to truly put an air refueling tanker in entrance of a B-2 and go do our air refueling in a really sensible setting.” Steeves added. “These simulators are all wired collectively throughout the nation, so it’s not unusual for us to have the ability to be working with an artificial AWACS, for instance, or artificial fighters which might be elsewhere.”
Simulated B-2 missions have prolonged to a few of the Air Drive’s most essential workout routines equivalent to Crimson Flag, used for fight coaching, and the U.S. Strategic Command’s annual World Thunder nuclear readiness train.
“Regardless that we didn’t see airplanes flying on the finish of that you simply usually would see, we nonetheless participated absolutely in that train—every little thing each different base was carrying out,” Diehl stated of World Thunder. He added that Whiteman was concerned in different workout routines.
Because the first B-21 was unveiled in 1988, 21 plane have been produced. One was destroyed in a crash at Anderson Air Drive Base, Guam in 2008, and the service has gone to nice lengths to restore beforehand broken B-2s. It’s unclear what’s going to occur to the B-2 broken in December.
With solely 20 B-2s within the fleet and a smaller quantity accessible to fly at a given time, the operational tempo of the fleet was demanding. Now officers say they’ve extra time to take care of upkeep and readiness points. However they nonetheless wish to get again within the air.
“Readiness for us is absolutely twofold: the flexibility of the pilots to conduct the mission and the flexibility of the airplane to conduct the mission,” Diehl stated. “It’s not that the pilots have been sitting on their fingers.”
Finally, the B-2 fleet will return to skies, officers stated—conducting all of its missions from flyovers of the Rose Bowl to nuclear deterrence. However Diehl acknowledged the pause, even when it can in the end result in a safer fleet, was not a risk-free endeavor.
“There’s a subjective piece,” Diehl stated. “I’d argue we’re simply as prepared, if no more prepared than regular, to conduct the nation’s enterprise. However there’s nonetheless danger related to returning to fly. I feel you’d be stunned if I stated there was no danger with placing pilots again in an airplane that they haven’t flown for 5 months.”