AFGSC Stands Down B-2 Fleet Following Recent Emergency Landing and Fire at Whiteman AFB

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AFGSC Stands Down B-2 Fleet Following Recent Emergency Landing and Fire at Whiteman AFB
The Mishap Aircraft depicted where it came to rest east of the Whiteman AFB runway. (Image credit: USAF)

The B-2 Spirit bomber fleet on a safety stand down following the incident on Dec. 10, 2022.

The B-2A Spirit bombers of the 509th Bomb Wing will remain grounded at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and not able to take part in the 2023 Rose Parade or Rose Bowl Game flyovers, as the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) has ordered a fleet inspection following the incident earlier this month, in which a Spirit was damaged. For this reason, the traditional flyover (take a look at some stunning aerial images here: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) will be carried out on Jan. 2, 2023, by B-1B Lancer bombers from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota.

On Dec. 10, 2022, one of the 20 stealth bombers of the 509BW experienced an in-flight malfunction and was forced to carry out a successful emergency landing on the base’s only runway 01/19. A fire erupted aboard the B-2 after landing, causing damage to the aircraft.

Immediately after that, a NOTAM (NOtice To AirMen) was issued to close the runway at Whiteman AFB until Dec. 16. Although the NOTAM M1346/22 has now been extended until Dec. 31, 2022, the announced safety stand-down that will prevent the B-2 from flying over the Rose Parade will extend into the next year.

The Dec. 10 incident comes a little more than one year after another B-2A suffered a landing incident on the runway at Whiteman AFB.

The Mishap Aircraft depicted where it came to rest east of the Whiteman AFB runway. (Image credit: USAF)

This is an excerpt from a previous report:

On Sept. 14, 2021, at 00:19 LT, a B-2A Spirit, assigned to the 393d Bomb Squadron (393 BS) of the 509th Bomb Wing (509 BW), experienced a left main landing gear (LMLG) collapse while landing on the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. As a consequence of the collapse, the stealth bomber, tail number 89-0129 (“Spirit of Georgia”), skidded off runway until it came to a stop about 1 mile from the touchdown point.

Following the incident, a Temporary Flight Restriction was activated with a six nautical miles radius around the air base from ground to 8,000 feet, with the reason listed in the NOTAM (NOtice To AirMen) as “to provide a safe environment for accident investigation”.

“The Abbreviated Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) President found, by a preponderance of the evidence, the cause of the mishap was that the MA’s [Mishap Aircraft] LMLG [Left Main Landing Gear] lock link springs failed to provide sufficient pressure to maintain the lock links in the locked position, which resulted in a LMLG collapse during the MA’s landing. Further, the AAIB President found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one factor substantially contributed to the mishap: the failure of a hydraulic CryoFit coupling that drove a rapid a loss of hydraulic fluid in the #1 and #4 hydraulic systems, which isolated the LMLG lock link actuator and prevented its use in assisting the LMLG lock link to remain down and locked.”

The incident on Dec. 10, 2022, is even more significant than the one on 2021 (that caused damage to the airframe worth a minimum of $10.1 million), because of the impact it has on the strategic deterrence capabilities of the U.S. that will not be able to rely on, for at least some weeks, on 20 of its 66 nuclear bombers, the “visible leg of the nuclear triad” and the “world’s most strategic aircraft”, as Col. Geoffrey Steeves, 509th Operations Group commander, called the Spirit fleet in November when Whiteman AFB was able to gather 8 B-2 stealth bombers on the runway for an Elephant Walk whose purpose was to demonstrate the ability of the Global Strike Command to deter the enemy while showcasing the whole stealth bomber team’s ability by generating multiple sorties.  “Here we demonstrate to our near-peer adversaries, as well as to ourselves, how well we can perform,” Capt. Richard Collier, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director of operations said, commented on the Nov. 7, 2022, display of power by the 509th and 131st Bomb Wings as part of Exercise Spirit Vigilance 22. Five weeks later, the B-2 landing incident grounded all the fleet.

As we have reported in detail, the B-2 and B-1 fleets will be both replaced in the 2030s by the B-21 Raider, the U.S. Air Force’s next stealth bomber built by Northrop Grumman that was unveiled on Dec. 2, 2022.