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Not A Good Week for the Air Force — Why Now?
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Not A Good Week for the Air Force

The Associated Press reports that a Stealth bomber crashes on Guam

HAGATNA, Guam – A B-2 stealth bomber crashed Saturday at an air base on Guam, but both pilots ejected safely and were in good condition, the Air Force said.

It was the first crash of a B-2 bomber, said Capt. Sheila Johnston, a spokeswoman for Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

Thick, black smoke could be seen billowing from the wreckage at Andersen Air Force Base, said Jeanne Ward, a resident in the northern village of Yigo who was on the base visiting her husband.

Each B-2 bomber costs about $1.2 billion to build. All 21 stealth bombers are based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, but the Air Force has been rotating several of them through Guam since 2004, along with B-1 and B-52 bombers.

It is highly unlikely this aircraft will be replaced, they are too expensive. The “advantage” they have over a B-52 is not worth the money. You stand off and use cruise missiles, there’s no need to endanger a crew and a billion dollars.


1 Badtux { 02.23.08 at 2:21 pm }

Northrup still retains the tooling to build the B-2 but won’t re-open the line for an order of less than 20 B-2 bombers. The “good” news is that they’ve offered to build those twenty B-2 bombers for around $700 million apiece if those twenty bombers are all ordered for delivery within a three year period. Which isn’t a bad deal if you consider that a 747 -8 will set you back $300 million, but still we’re talking $14 billion.

Of course, the other question is: What’s a B-2 doing taking off from Guam? It could be shuttling back to Missouri, it could be on its way to Diego Garcia, or it could be on a routine training mission to keep its pilots’ hours up. The USAF is mum on the answer to that question, which makes me think it was on its way to Diego Garcia (note that there’s only three airfields in the entire world with the capability to handle the B-2, so those are the only alternatives).

So the next question after *that* is, what are B-2’s doing at Diego Garcia? There’s no targets for them there, unlike Guam, which is where our aircraft for attacking North Korea are based in case North Korea does the crazy thing of attacking South Korea (crazy because in this case, it’s unlikely China would intervene when South Korea’s much better trained and equipped army and air force smashed North Korea’s peasant army and reunited the country). But a B-2 is useful only for penetrating enemy air defenses. And the only target in the Middle East that has air defenses is… uhm… Iran? Hmm….

2 Bryan { 02.23.08 at 2:40 pm }

They are rotated in and out of Guam on a training schedule to keep pilots current on their flight time in the type. Word has it that they are an SOB to fly because they are “fly-by-wire” and most pilots over-control. I would think that it makes more sense to do short local missions with more time actually flying, than the long range flights which involve punching in the destination and going to sleep.

It’s pretty stupid buying single airframes that cost more than the entire Air Forces of most countries.

They may station advance crews at Anderson and Diego Garcia, which requires flying in a bird for them to use to stay current. We did that with the RC-135s, had crews deployed around the world without aircraft. It means you have a lot of semi-trained crews with too much time on their hands.

3 Badtux { 02.23.08 at 7:08 pm }

“punching in the destination and going to sleep…”

Which brings up the point that the original B-2 design lacked a couple of the finer things of life like, well, like a toilet. There’s a small space behind the seats barely bigger than the luggage area of a Cessna, and now they carry a “hassock” type portable toilet, but when you sleep, you sleep in your ejection seat.

As far as the control system goes, there have been problems with the control system for close to 20 years. It was patched and kludged to sorta work and a replacement control computer system was authorized ten years ago but the current control system is still rather unstable. That might have something to do with why the Air Farce is punching the clock on aircrew training rather than having aircrews do shorter-range missions with lots of takeoffs and landings, which are pretty much the only place aircrews actually do anything in big fly-by-wire ships of this sort.

Finally, regarding forward-positioning aircrews for the B-2, there’s a big difference between the C-135 and the B-2. With a C-135, your aircrews will run out of flight hours (max hours they can safely fly) before the C-135 needs a trip to the maintenance depot for service. With a B-2, for each flight hour the thing needs an hour of maintenance at one of the only three maintenance depots available (Diego Garcia, Guam, or Missouri), so you run out of bomber flight hours before you run out of aircrew. So forward-positioning an aircrew for the B-2 doesn’t make any sense. If you flew a B-2 from Guam to Diego Garcia, the aircraft would be in the maintenance hangar for over a day before being able to fly stealthily again, so there’s plenty of time for the aircrew that flew it out there to get some sleep and get mission-ready. The thing really is a flying Edsel, other than the stealth capability it simply makes no sense for any mission that we fly today. Its turnaround time is so terrible that you could fly a hundred B-1B or two hundred B-52 missions in the amount of time it took to fly ten B-2 missions assuming you had twenty of each kind of aircraft available to you. That’s just pathetic…

4 Bryan { 02.23.08 at 8:00 pm }

After mission crew rest is brief to debrief and we flew 40 hour missions in the RCs, so we needed a second crew and were limited to 3 missions a month without an extension on time [125 hours was the limit]. We always had three rated pilots on board.

The “Looking Glass” & B-52 “sentry” missions followed a similar pattern as SAC owned the airframes and established the procedures.

As fond as I am of the Air Force, they need to can the B-1, B-2, F-22, and F-35 and start buying good, reliable aircraft that aren’t going to get the people who fly them killed.