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Mon, May 22, 2023

USAF B-2 Safety Pause Lifted

Stealth Bomber Flights to Resume

The United States Air Force’s fleet of B-2 Spirit strategic stealth bombers will presently return to service following a 163-day safety pause ordered by U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command in the wake of a December 2022 mishap at Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base.

The model’s return to flight-status was approved by Air Force Global Strike Command head General Thomas A. Bussiere.

USAF 8th Air Force commander Major General Andrew J. Gebara stated: “The B-2 fleet safety pause is officially lifted. General Bussiere, at my recommendation, made a final determination on the necessary actions taken and approved a return to flight.”

General Gebara continued: “I wish that the safety pause was not necessary, but I think that it was really important that we find out what happened and make sure that was all mitigated before you start flying again, and that’s what we did.”

Gebara set forth the service would impose no onerous restrictions on future B-2 missions, stating: “I want them to come back in a disciplined, deliberate manner, but we will do full operational missions. So you’re not going to see one loop around and land kind of sorties. It’ll be a normal sortie. I actually am not concerned at all about the mission aspects of the force.”

General Gebara explained the Air Force’s B-2 fleet will return to service by way of a “phased approach” in which initial post-safety-pause sorties will be flown by senior pilots with extensive time in type. Provided early flights prove uneventful, the larger B-2 pilot cadre will return to the air over a period of time measurable in weeks.

Gebara concluded with a tacit cautionary message to America’s enemies, remarking: “That [phased approach] is distinct, though, from having enough pilots for whatever mission is required if there was a crisis.”

To date, Air Force officials have declined to disclose the nature and extent of the safety issue by which the B-2 fleet was grounded.

On Saturday, 10 December 2022, a B-2 Spirit bomber of the United States Air Force’s 509th Bomb Wing suffered damage when an in-flight malfunction forced the aircraft’s crew to make an emergency landing at Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base.

Photos from the scene revealed the bomber on the runway, more or less, with its portside wing conspicuously low—after the fashion of a main-landing-gear collapse.

A post-landing fire—the location and scale of which suggested an overheated wheel-brake assembly—was extinguished by base firefighters.

In a subsequent public statement, the 509th Bomb Wing set forth: “A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit experienced an in-flight malfunction during routine operations today and was damaged on the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base after it successfully completed an emergency landing.”

509th Bomb Wing spokesperson Staff Sergeant Alexandria Lee confirmed the bomber’s two pilots walked away from the incident unhurt.

Missouri’s Whiteman AFB is home to both the Air Force’s 509th Bomb Wing and the Air National Guard’s 131st Bomb Wing—both of which operate the enigmatic B-2 Spirit tactical bomber.

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 later attributed to faulty landing gear springs and microscopic cracks in key hydraulic connections. The bomber’s landing-gear lock link springs—which were determined to have not been replaced in at least a decade—demonstrated approximately 11% less tension than their design specifications. The weakened springs in conjunction with the disconnection of a hydraulic tube resulted in the collapse of the B-2’s landing-gear assembly upon touchdown.

Speaking to the subject of the safety pause, General Bussiere—himself a B-2 pilot and former 509th Bomb Wing commander—stated: “The B-2 fleet could still fly missions if so required. Our ability to provide nuclear deterrence never stopped.”

During the safety pause, B-2 pilots underwent remedial training in both B-2 simulators and T-38 Talon aircraft.

Northrop Grumman produced only 21 specimens of its B-2 strategic bomber—each of which cost U.S. taxpayers in excess of $1-billion.

On 23 February 2008, a B-2 dubbed Spirit of Kansas was lost in a post-takeoff accident at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base. Notwithstanding its two-man crew having ejected safely, the $1.4-billion bomber was destroyed utterly. Then, as now, the accident compelled USAF brass to suspend B-2 operations, which resumed on 15 April—after a 53-day stand-down. USAF investigators ascribed the accident to a moisture-induced malfunction of the aircraft’s port transducer, which resulted, ultimately, in the bomber’s flight control computers erroneously commanding a thirty-degree nose-high pitch-attitude immediately after rotation.

Of the remaining twenty B-2s, all but one—a test platform based at California’s Edwards Air Force Base—are at Whiteman.

One combat B-2 has been parked at Hawaii’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam since the safety pause went into effect.

The USAF has yet to make the public details of its investigation of the December 2022 Whiteman AFB B-2 incident.

FMI: www.af.mil

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