When You’ve Only Got 20 B-2 Bombers…

...keeping all of them flying becomes important

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Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Boutte

Grounded following a fire nearly four years ago, the B-2 "Spirit of Washington" lands following its first training flight since the blaze, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Dec. 16.

When one of a B-2 bomber’s four engines caught fire during what the Air Force called a “routine” engine start while on the ground at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base in February 2010, the service said it was no big deal.

“Maintenance and ground crews quickly extinguished the engine bay fire, which the 36th Wing Public Affairs Office described as minor,” the Guam-based Pacific Daily News reported the next day.

So it might come as a surprise to learn that the $2 billion plane only rejoined its flock Dec. 16 — nearly four years after the blaze. “It was a very cool experience to see the excitement in the maintainers when an aircraft many of them thought would never fly again returned to service as part of the 509th Bomb Wing,” Colonel Chase McCown, the bomb wing’s maintenance chief, said in an Air Force report on the plane’s resurrection.

The stealth bomber burned in a stealth fire that did far more damage than the service initially thought.

The delay says a lot about the difficulty of repairing the bat-like, composite-winged plane, and raises questions about the military value of an aircraft that can be put out of service for so long by a single on-the-tarmac emergency. Older planes—largely made of metal, which is far easier to repair—could have been returned to service much more quickly.

The fire was one of three that the Air Force studied “to identify new tools and techniques that will allow firefighters to more efficiently cut, penetrate and extinguish burning aircraft composite materials,” a 2010 briefing said. Such fires, the briefing said, are challenging because:

—Hidden interior fires are difficult to extinguish

—Composites smolder and reignite

—Fuselage penetration is virtually impossible with an axe and difficult with a K-12 [fire-fighting saw].

But you have to give credit to the Air Force, which went to extraordinary lengths to return the B-2, named the Spirit of Washington, to the skies (a plane apparently gets a name when its cost approaches that of a warship).

Without hundreds of retired B-2s available as a handy source of spare parts, getting the plane flying again was difficult. Some parts came from spare parts depots, while others had to be built from scratch. “We recognize how much this means to the warfighter, to have this aircraft back in your hands,” said David Mazur of Northrop Grumman, the company that built the plane—and helped repair it—in the Air Force account.

One challenge the rebuilding crew faced was how to remove charcoal left over from the fire from the aircraft’s sensitive radar-absorbing skin without causing additional damage. The solution: spray pelletized dry ice on it, which removed the residue as it melted.

Bottom line, according to the Air Force: the Spirit of Washington is airborne once again, “buttressing the United States’ ability to deliver conventional and nuclear munitions, penetrate air defenses and threaten effective retaliation.”

No word yet on the cost of the repairs, although we’ve asked.

Crashed_B-2

FAA

Melt Bomber: the only one of the 21 B-2s to crash happened on Guam in 2008 shortly after takeoff. Both crew members ejected safely. Two years later, a second B-2 was damaged in an engine fire at the same base.

96 comments
swg333tx
swg333tx

new plane:  $2 billion

minor repair:  $1 billion+

photo of Melt Bomber:  priceless

oddegg69
oddegg69

They can always cut more money from grandmas food stamps and medicare.

RobertNguyen
RobertNguyen

Are there many two billion dollars targets that merit the deployment of these expensive ACs...?

JackMack
JackMack

Just came over from the article on cutting veteran's benefits. How ironic.



delta5297
delta5297

Kind of a misleading picture at the bottom there, as that's a different B-2 which crashed in a different incident. Yeah I know there's a caption, but people sometimes don't read those, or they might not follow stories about B-2 mishaps enough to know the difference.

jcq707
jcq707

What a waste of money, invest on education !!!!

Lajes
Lajes

Regarding untold stories: the authors should also ask about what happened with another B-2 in May 1999. They may found something interesting.

BRHillenbrand
BRHillenbrand

The real question (not answered in the link) is which "Washington" is  this dispirited B-2 named after. George Washington? The State of Washington  or Washington D.C.? Booker T. Washington?  

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

B-17s were given names during WWII.  I suspect it was because they had large crews - as many as 10 - and so you give them names as something to rally behind.  I wouldn't be shocked if that policy just plain continued for bombers in general.

JorahLA
JorahLA

The plane on photo that melted does not look it had a "minor" issue. 2 Billion - how many homeless people in the US can it feed.

PhilSalvatore
PhilSalvatore

One comment, the price of an aircraft has no bearing on whether or not it is named.  You will find names on mundane and comparatively low cost aircraft like C-130's.  Most of their big airlifters are named, going back to the old C-141.   It is a tradition that has nothing to do with the cost of the aircraft.

SanLewy
SanLewy

"The delay says a lot about the difficulty of repairing the bat-like, composite-winged plane ..."


It also say a lot about the candor of the military when they described the damage as "minor".


ScottVetter
ScottVetter

This is a warplane and it is expected to have battle damage.  A quick repair is needed to get it operational again not four years!  And only 20 of them?  The investment to start building these things is expensive enough but couldn't build enough of them to justify the initial expense.  How long did it take to test this aircraft and put it into service? (No doubt long enough to be obsolete as soon as the first one was built)

jimijoni8
jimijoni8

2008 - Anderson AFB, Guam (First crash & fully destroyed B2 Bomber)

2010 - Anderson AFB, Guam (First fire & severely damaged B2 Bomber)


Anderson AFB, Guam (Salty air, high humidity, or sub par maintenance procedures?)


Terrencetheterrible
Terrencetheterrible

Now that you are fixed baby, off to Iran with ya and don't forget your MOP payload. God speed and safe return with your crew.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@Lajes

So what?  It's relatively uninteresting, actually.  Mistakes happen in combat, and the French lied about the lack of NATO oversight (They had multiple contracts to help the Chinese build and maintain nuclear reactors worth billions they didn't want to lose), and NATO targeting was known to be faulty at the time.

The strike was ordered by NATO, through the CIA, because of the proximity to the Chinese Embassy (The CIA's maps were more accurate and the targeting was supposedly more accurate).  This gave the French plausible deniability.  The actual target was legitimate, but what got hit wasn't. Given the proximity of the embassy to the target, it only took a small numerical error to hit the wrong thing.

Reparations were made on both sides. The incident is considered closed by all agencies that investigated it, including Amnesty International

Far from an "untold story", huh?  Maybe you should try finding something relevant to build baseless conspiracy theories on.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@forgottenlord  

No, it had little to do with "rallying behind" a name.  It had mostly to do with identification in a war zone.  The aircraft commander's prerogative was to name his own aircraft, and those names were used during combat to designate one aircraft from another in communicating with each other instead of call letters.  The tradition was more or less taken from the Navy, which names every ship.

Today, it's generally not done that way anymore.

The B-2 carries a name mostly because it's a $2 billion dollar piece of hardware.  They are named after states, with the exception of the Kitty Hawk. The names were picked from the states that have something to do with building the B2 or with the history of flight.  In that respect, their naming convention is more akin to naming ships than aircraft.

vukko
vukko

@JorahLA It's not the same aircraft. Read the photo caption.

hyedenny
hyedenny

@JorahLAHow many more homeless would we have if we didnt have a strong military to defend our country against those who would gladly see this country RUINED?  Morons like you are almost as dangerous.

tmike5
tmike5

@JorahLA So that's what it looks like to burn $2 Billion Dollars.

latme63
latme63

@JorahLA the photo of the B-2 you are referring to is the Spirit of Kansas and is no longer in service.  The B-2 the article is referring to is the Spirit of Washington

PhilSalvatore
PhilSalvatore

@SanLewy It never occurred to you that it didn't look bad at first, just a simple engine fire, but as they started to clean it up they faced damages they have not faced in previous engine fires and it caused them to take a step back.  Nope, everyone is always a liar.

PhilSalvatore
PhilSalvatore

@ScottVetter The B-2 was intended to be built in larger numbers, over 100, but with the dissolution of the USSR and the release of Eastern European nations from Soviet domination to join NATO and the EU, the rationale for building more than the 21 built by then evaporated.  A carrier based stealth bomber for the Navy, the A-12 Avenger II was cancelled before the first prototype was flown. 


Now, with the rise of China as a military adversary the USAF is looking to build something analogous to the B-2 in the near future.  That airplane will draw from the experience with the B-2.

sraboy
sraboy

@ScottVetter 

So your logic is that we should have built dozens more of these at a massively greater expense so that we could retire them sooner and have more spare parts to fix the ones we didn't retire? A potential 5% non-operational rate (based on 1/20 grounded) is not significant considering the cost savings and the fact that the need for even 20 is based on a strategic deterrent strategy.


A stealth bomber is not "expected to have battle damage," evidenced by its use in Kosovo, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is not providing close air support in Afghanistan. It's flying at nearly 600mph, dropping bombs from 40,000+ feet in the air. If it sustains battle damage, we've failed somewhere else in that operation, likely in the SAM department... and we'd likely be going to war with a third party.

PhilSalvatore
PhilSalvatore

@jimijoni8 Moisture in the air data sensors gave the pilot erroneous indications of airspeed and angle of attack on take off.  They also gave the aircraft's computers incorrect data about the aircraft's airspeed and attitude, fooling the computers that are necessary to control the aircraft into thinking the aircraft had a nose down attitude at a higher airspeed than was the case.  The computer control corrections basically stalled the wing and it was too low to recover.


Those problems have been remedied since.  Unfortunately much of what is learned in aviation is written in blood and this is an example.

EricElkins
EricElkins

@Terrencetheterrible Oh yeah! because we all know that "to provide for the common defense" means preemptive war to expand the empire.

LesClements
LesClements

We destroyed a McDonalds in Serbia weeks after Thomas Friedman issued his thesis that 'no nation would attack any other nation that also had a McDonalds'!!

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

@hyedenny @JorahLA  Yes because with out 2 billion dollar stealth bombers the fricken Quebecois are certainly going to overrun the boarder and burn DC. WTH are you smoking bro>?


Let me put this into easy to understand context. If you take 3 B-2 bombers you have the TOTAL Mexican budget for their army airforce navy AND police force.


And lest you be fearful of those dread cannucks to the north take reassurance from the fact that one carrier task force, ONE! Represents more firepower then the entire Canadian armed forces. 


The true morons are those who would steer the US down the same path the French took in the 30's. The french blew their economy on expensive 1920's era weapons while ignoring infrastructure, factories and education. Meanwhile their buddies on the other side of the Rhine invested heavily in their nation building projects and civilians.


SPOILER ALERT: It didn't work out to well for the French 


MichaelWhitehead
MichaelWhitehead

@hyedenny@JorahLAMorons like us also question why we keep pouring unlimited monies down the rathole they call the F-35.  It still can't complete even the most basic of missions.  The F-15's and F-16's are more than adequate for the job -- and are a heck of a lot cheaper.  The F-35 should be dropped immediately -- just think of all the money we would save that could go to any number of nonmilitary related things that the country needs more than another warplane.

blackbird1
blackbird1

@hyedenny@JorahLA Most of the 2 billion was probably borrowed from the Chinese, which your children and your children's children will have to repay. Uncontrolled military spending and foreign intervention has made the US less secure. 

Ham
Ham

@hyedenny @JorahLA prolly none...regardless, it doesn't matter, 2 billion is a ridiculous amount to spend on a single aircraft... and deep down you know it.  hye, drop your unwavering support of anything the gov't does as good and join us in the real world...

swg333tx
swg333tx

@latme63  Was this described as a minor problem, or unscheduled rapid oxidation?

JohnAllard
JohnAllard

Still, nuclear deterrence relies on redundancy, with a bare 20 platforms, it doesn't sound all that redundant.

Terrencetheterrible
Terrencetheterrible

@EricElkins Not to worry my Liberal friend, you just sit back and sing kumbaya with your buddies, and the war machine will ensure you remain free to do so.

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

@JohnAllard  20 B-2 bombers are capable of destroying any nation on earth with 1 attack We are talking 320 340 kt atomic weapons here.


To give you an idea that's 3 atomic weapons on every urban area in China with a population greater then 1 million people 


That's 3 atomic weapons on every city military base and airfield in Russian with more then 10 planes or 12,000 people


Thats 1 bomb on every city in the USA with more then 90,000 people 

tolson57
tolson57

JohnCallahan  It Worked and is still working.  The whole point of ICBMs was to prevent a war, not fight one.


The only way you can say that the money spent on ICBMs was a waste is if you assume that if we had not built them and the USSR and China had them they would have never used them.

JohnCallahan
JohnCallahan

@JohnAllard As I recall we (the US) spent trillions on intercontinental missiles! What happened to that "redundancy"?

EricElkins
EricElkins

@Terrencetheterrible The biggest nuclear threat to the U.S. is Pakistan my friend. If you feel we should bomb other countries because we feel some day they may nuke us Pakistan should be on the top of your list.

Terrencetheterrible
Terrencetheterrible

@EricElkins I by no means buy into the us and them. But if you think we can sit back a wait for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and that we will all live in peace because we allowed them to do so, you should get your head out of the sand.

EricElkins
EricElkins

@Terrencetheterrible you could not be farther from the truth. I am a firm believer in our  Constitution. This may come as a huge surprise to all the self-serving ass-hats on the the left and right but the Constitution is supposed to be the guiding principle to the function of our nation. This may come as another big surprise to you but preemtive war against other sovereign nations without cause is not Constitutional.

But please do not allow me to try to dissuade you from keeping your head in the sand and keep buying into this divisive tactic of "us and them" that is being fed to you by the oligarchy. We know how well it is working so far.....for them.