In mid-December 2022, the US Air Force grounded its entire fleet of B-2 Spirit strategic stealth bombers. This sweeping inspection was prompted by an incident involving one of the bombers earlier that month. As of 2022, twenty B-2s are in service with the United States Air Force. (One was destroyed in a 2008 crash). The Air Force plans to operate them until 2032, when the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is to replace them.
Fire on the runway
According to a USAF statement, on December 10, a B-2 operating from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, experienced “an in-flight malfunction during routine operations,” went for an emergency landing and “was damaged on the runway.”
The USAF also mentioned “a fire associated with the aircraft after landing,” which was extinguished by the base fire department. Luckily, no one got injured. The military did not elaborate on the nature of malfunction that the B-2 experienced midair but promised to provide more details once the official investigation is completed.
Bombers grounded indefinitely
MSgt. Beth Del Vecchio, spokesperson for USAF 509th Bomb Wing, told the media that the USAF Global Strike Command has ordered an indefinite “safety pause” for B-2 bombers in the wake of the December 10 incident. The stand down affects USAF’s entire 20-strong fleet of B-2s, most of which are based at the Whiteman AFB.
They are still cleared to fly emergency missions, should there be any, but routine operations of the type are on hold for the time being. The ban also means no B-2 will take part in the traditional flyover at the 2023 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California. B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, will partake in the event in the Spirit’s stead.
Previous B-2 crashes and incidents
There has been only one hull-loss accident since the B-2s introduction in mid-1990s. The aircraft named Spirit of Kansas crashed on the runway of Andersen AFB in Guam shortly after takeoff in 2008. Even then the crew ejected safely. Thus, there have been no fatal accidents involving B-2.
As for the property damage, the estimate stood at $1.4 billion. In the wake of the Spirit of Kansas crash the B-2 fleet was also grounded. In that case the suspension lasted 53 days. The inquiry blamed the crash on moisture in sensors that provided the pilots with incorrect speed information.
Another two serious incidents involving B-2 happened in 2010 and 2021. In the first one a fire blazed on Spirit of Washington while it was preparing for takeoff at Andersen AFB. It took several years and millions of dollars to repair the aircraft.
In the 2021 mishap Spirit of Georgia’s landing gear collapsed due to a hydraulics system failure, resulting in the aircraft going off the runway at Whiteman AFB. The B-2’s left wing dragged for about a mile before the aircraft finally came to rest on the grass.