The B-2 ‘Spirit’ bomber is one of the deadliest weapons in possession of the United States Air Force (USAF). Valued at a whopping $2 billion apiece, it is easily the most expensive aircraft in the world.
The Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri houses the stealth bomber. It is also the place where an incident regarding B-2 took place on September 14, causing the airspace around the base to be cordoned off.
The Most Expensive Bomber
The Northrop Grumman B-2 was developed towards the end of the Cold War as the world’s first low-observable or ‘stealth’, strategic, long-range, heavy bomber. It was initially designed for deep penetration into the enemy territory to drop nuclear gravity bombs. Later, in the mid-1990s, it was configured to also include a conventional bomb drop capacity of 20 tons.
This multi-role bomber is now capable of not only penetrating sophisticated and dense air-defense shields but can also carry out all-altitude attack missions up to approximately 15 km. The B-2 also has a range of more than 11,112 km (6,000 nm) unrefueled and over 18,520 km (10,000 nm) with one refueling.
This gives it the ability to fly to any location in the world within a couple of hours. It is powered by 4 General Electric F-118-GE-100 engines that are each rated at 77 kilonewtons. The B-2 also has a maximum speed of 331 m/sec.
To retain the bomber’s stealth characteristics while also drastically reducing its maintenance time, Northrop Grumman has developed a radar-absorbent coating. This new substance is called alternate high-frequency material (AHFM) and is sprayed on the B-2 by four independently controlled robots.
The B-2’s stealth is derived from a combination of acoustic, electromagnetic, reduced infrared, visual, and radar signatures. These signatures make it hard for the sophisticated defensive systems to detect, track and engage the bomber.
Not only does the B-2 have a unique ability to penetrate an enemy’s most advanced defenses and threaten its heavily defended targets, but it also has the inherent flexibility and effectiveness of manned bombers.
The B-2 Spirit has a distinctive look that gives it an other-worldly feel. This distinctive profile comes from the unique tailless fixed-wing (flying wing) construction of the aircraft. The leading edges of its wings are angled at 33° while the trailing edge has a double-W shape.
To add to the marvel that its design is, the cockpit clearly resembles Star Wars’ infamous character Darth Vader’s helmet.
This fierce-looking aircraft is also capable of carrying conventional, nuclear, and precision-guided munitions. Additionally, it can deploy gravity bombs and maritime weapons.
A total of 21 B-2s were delivered to the USAF’s Whiteman Air Base. To allow the B-2 to be deployed to forward locations overseas, a new transportable hangar system was developed. The bomber was first deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in March/April 2003. Two years later, a B-2 squadron was deployed to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to support the USAF’s Pacific Command.
The Low Points
In 2008, a B-2 stealth bomber crashed soon after taking off from the base in Guam, the first in its history. The two pilots ejected safely but the aircraft wasn’t lucky enough to survive the crash. This incident brought down the total number of B-2 Spirits in the world to 20.
The cause of this crash was the aircraft’s speed and altitude calculating sensors being affected by the heavy rains.
Now, more than 12 years after the first crash, another mishap involving this bomber has happened. This incident occurred in the early hours of September 14, 2021. The stealth bomber malfunctioned on a training flight and had to make an emergency landing at its home airfield, the Whiteman Air Force Base.
Upon touching down, the aircraft was subsequently damaged. Consequently, for investigation, temporary flight restrictions have been put in place. The area that was cordoned off covers the airspace within six miles (9.65) of the rural base in every direction and extends over 2 km from the ground up.
It seems that the B-2 exited the runway and then came to a rest in the grass midfield. It is possible that the stealth bomber might have made a “runway excursion” before ending up where it eventually did.
The aircraft’s intakes and exhausts have since been covered. A recovery and investigation effort that involves several people and vehicles is underway.
“A US Air Force B-2 Spirit experienced and [sic] in-flight malfunction during a routine training mission and was damaged on the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, after an emergency landing,” read a USAF official statement quoted by The Drive.
“There were no personnel injuries and no fire associated with the landing. The incident is under investigation and more information will be provided as it becomes available,” it added.
There is speculation that B-2 suffered a hydraulic failure in flight, leading to a collapse of the main landing gear. The extent of the damage isn’t known yet.