Whiteman Air Force Base celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first flight of the famous B-2 Spirit stealth bomber on Thursday, marking a quarter-century of flight for the visually unmistakable aircraft.
Although the first B-2 mission took place July 17, 1989 in the skies above California, Whiteman AFB is the current home of the aircraft, which is operated and maintained by the 509th Bomb Wing, assigned to the Eighth Air Force of the Air Force Global Strike Command.
“The B-2 is our plane,” said Public Affairs Specialist Candy Knight, 509th Bomb Wing Office of Public Affairs. “It’s here at Whiteman. It takes off from Whiteman. It comes back to Whiteman. If you think about all the people and technology involved from day one to get this plane up in the air and for it to be the formidable plane it is, and still the most technologically advanced long-range bomber 25 years later, it’s amazing.”
Amazing is a word often used to describe the B-2. The B-2’s low-observable, or “stealth,” characteristics give it the unique ability to penetrate an enemy’s most sophisticated defenses and threaten its most valued, and heavily defended, targets. When it was first unveiled Nov. 22, 1988 at Air Force Plant 52 in Palmdale, Calif., it seemed like something out of a science-fiction movie with its bat wing-shaped design, ominous stance and black paint job. The plane would continue to prove itself repeatedly.
After its creation, the B-2 flew its first combat mission in Operation Allied Force. The aircraft flew more than 31 hours from Whiteman Air Force Base, attacked multiple targets and flew directly back. The aircraft has also served in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
“When we have these historic milestones, it’s something that we should take note of. It’s amazing how far we’ve come, for something to be that technically advanced back then and it’s still here today and getting better,” Knight said.
With media reports surfacing on a new unmanned stealth bomber in the works, what is the future of the B-2 Spirit? The plane had several software upgrades performed in April that were designed to replace the 1980s style weapons management systems. Knight said she believes the plane will continue to fly the friendly, or not so friendly, skies for some time.
“I hope as technology gets better we stay at the forefront of that advancement and continue to improve, not just the B-2, but also all our aircraft and all our assets. Our mission is to protect and defend the United States and as long as we stay ahead and continue to get better, we will be OK,” Knight said.
Advancements in technology are undoubtedly important in the B-2 keeping its status as one America’s most formidable weapons. However, as Knight mentioned, it is the people — the maintainers, the pilots and the support staff — that keep the plane aloft and at the ready on a daily basis.
Staff Sgt. Tyler Gainey, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, is a Dedicated Crew Chief for the “Spirit of Arizona.” He said crews work in a rotation of four shifts to ensure someone is there to keep the plane in top working order. He also said that it takes many people to maintain the aircraft on a daily basis.
“It takes a lot more (people) than we have on our crew — it’s a huge broad spectrum,” Gainey said. “I have three crew chiefs that work under me that work on the aircraft, but we also have to have all kinds of assistants in specialized fields, such as environmental or electrical troubleshooting. We have hydraulic technicians that help with hydraulic troubleshooting, jet engine technicians, just to name a few.”
One of those people with their “hands on” the plane is Technical Sgt. Ronda Bollinger, 131st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron of the Missouri Air National Guard. She maintains a B-2 and said what it takes to keep it ready to defend the nation at a moment’s notice.
“Our biggest amount of time is spent on inspections, making sure that when the plane lands everything is still in one piece where it’s supposed to be,” Bollinger said. “So, we inspect all the systems to make sure they are functioning properly, the tires, the brakes, making sure all that stuff is still serviceable. Then we put gas in it, or oil in the engines, or whatever needs to be done. Then, prior to launching the jet again, we check it all over one more time.”
According to manufacturer Northrop Grumman, the B-2 is the only aircraft that combines stealth, long range, large payload and precision weapons delivery in a single platform. It can fly more than 6,000 nautical miles unrefueled and more than 10,000 nautical miles with just one aerial refueling, giving it the ability to fly to any point on the globe within hours.
Whiteman Air Force Base is the joint-service home of the 509th Bomb Wing, the world’s only B-2 Spirit stealth bomber unit. For more information on the B-2 and Whiteman Air Force Base visit whiteman.af.mil.