The first Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit aircraft arrived at Whiteman Air Force Base on Dec. 17, 1993. The first plane of the fleet carried the highly appropriate designation “Spirit of Missouri.”
The B-2 was imagined as a tool that could be used against the Soviet Union in the event that the Cold War suddenly got hot. The original order was for 132 of the bombers with the distinct sky silouette, but the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics caused that number to plummet.
George H.W. Bush’s 1992 State of the Union Address included an announcement that the number would be 20 — the Clinton administration brought the total up to 21 by approving the comparably cheap conversion of one of the B-2 prototypes into a fully functional aircraft.
And today, 20 years later, 20 of those planes are still an integral part of the United States Air Force’s international efforts.
You might notice that 20 is less than 21. The first and only full loss of one of the bombers occurred on Feb. 28, 2008 at Andersen Air Force Base near Yigo, Guam. The crew ejected and survived, but the Spirit of Kansas, 89-0127, was completely destroyed. That’s what we get for honoring the state of Kansas in a distinctly Missouri-based fleet. There are so many other states to choose from!
From Kosovo to Kuwait, from Iraq to Afghanistan and even Libya — the B-2 has been there. And it takes a special kind of person to fly and maintain these billion dollar flying beasts. Sure, there are plenty of fine people at Whiteman who do a fine job that doesn’t essentially have anything to do with the B-2 but it is the base’s claim to fame.
We take it for granted: there isn’t anywhere else in the whole world that can look up in the sky and see a B-2 streaking across the sky on a regular basis. There aren’t any other state fairs that get a B-2 flyby on their opening day. The fleet has only one home, and it’s right here in the middle of Missouri.
Recently we even used the B-2 to rile up North Korea.
United States armed forces regularly train alongside soldiers and resources from allied countries — one of these exercises is an annual operation called “Foal Eagle” that takes place on the Korean peninsula.
Essentially, America and South Korea regularly engage in “look at all this war we’ve got here” posturing to deter the militeristic tendencies of whichever wacky guy is running North Korea at the time.
As part of this year’s edition of the “Foal Eagle” two B-2s left from Whiteman on March 28 and dropped fake bombs onto the Jik Do Range in South Korea. Behold your mutually assured destruction!
If you bomb us we’ll bomb you back without delay and we’ll do it twice as hard. We might even do it first just to keep you on your toes!
The North Korean administration was not amused by the faux bombing and subsequently beat their collective chests back at us: they cut off a military hotline between the two Koreas, changed the combat status of some of their rockets and threatened to nuke both South Korea and the United States. There was also a subtle implication that this fit was totally different from all of the other fits and was definitely not an idle threat this time.
Of course, to the people of North Korea such a thing never happened and the dastardly American aircraft was shot down before it got anywhere near the peninsula by superior North Korean technology. I hear they’ve even got dummy systems to take care of dummy bombs.
In the future, the B-2 might get phased out. In the far future we could even see an end to manned military flight altogether. Maybe they will make a drone shaped like the B-2 for the sake of nostalgia.
But for right now it is going strong and we’re glad to have it right here in mid-Missouri. 20-plus years is a pretty long useful life for a military aircraft, anyhow.