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Wed, Dec 21, 2022

USAF Grounds B-2 Bomber Fleet

Downspirited

The United States Air Force has grounded the entirety of its B-2 Spirit—colloquially Stealth Bomber—fleet, and will inspect all twenty of the enigmatic aircraft in the wake of a 10 December incident in which an in-flight malfunction forced a B-2 crew to make an emergency landing at Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base.

Photos from the scene revealed the stricken bomber on the runway—more or less—with its portside wing conspicuously low—after the fashion of a main-landing-gear collapse, a departure from the runway, or both. A post-landing fire was extinguished by base firefighters. No injuries were reported.

The mishap was eerily evocative of a September 2021 accident in which a B-2 dubbed Spirit of Georgia made an emergency landing at Whiteman AFB, departed the runway, and came to rest on its port side. The occurrence was attributed to faulty landing gear springs and microscopic cracks in key hydraulic components.

The USAF has yet to announce a timeline for the summary B-2 grounding. A spokesperson for the service’s 509th Bomb Wing—which along with the Air National Guard’s 131st Bomb Wing operates the whole of America’s B-2 fleet—remarked: “Every incident is unique, and we are currently evaluating what went wrong and how we can mitigate future risk. We will resume normal operations once a safety investigation has been concluded.”

At a staggering price-tag of $1.2 billion per airframe and a dispatch reliability that allegedly hovers near fifty-percent, the B-2 is a costly and controversial machine. Notwithstanding demonstrable combat effectiveness in conflicts such as the Kosovo War, the Iraq War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Odyssey Dawn, the USAF’s call for a safety stand-down is a blow to a fleet already adumbrated by its B-21 Raider replacement.

FMI: www.af.mil

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