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Whither Weather B-2? — Why Now?
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Whither Weather B-2?

When I read the article on the B-2, I knew that this wasn’t the first time that a problem about the B-2 and weather had been in the news. Sure enough, back on September 12th, 1997 CNN had a piece on a GAO report about the situation, Air Force sticks up for its ‘fair-weather’ B-2

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Missouri (CNN) — The U.S. Air Force deployed its much-criticized, high-tech B-2 bombers on their most critical mission to date: countering the perception that they are multibillion-dollar, bat-winged boondoggles.

Smarting from a recent General Accounting Office report which called the B-2 a “fair-weather jet” that can’t be based overseas without expensive climate-controlled hangars, the Air Force flew dozens of reporters and cameramen to Missouri for an unprecedented, close-up look at the bombers.

The media were given extraordinary access to the B-2, including a chance to sit in the two-seat cockpit (the power was turned off to hide classified aspects).

“We have a capability today that nobody else has,” Brig. Gen. Thomas Goslin said. But Goslin and the Air Force also have a public relations problem nobody else has.

Designed to dodge enemy radar, the B-2 is, instead, attracting domestic flak. At stake is not only the plane’s public image but a crucial decision in Congress on whether to produce more.

No B-2 has yet been used in combat, and only eight are operational. There are plans to build 13 more, giving the Air Force a fleet of 21 at a cost of $43 billion. A group in Congress wants to build an additional nine at a cost of $20 billion, but the Air Force says it doesn’t need them and President Clinton has threatened to veto the legislation.

The GAO report said in August that the planes, which can carry either nuclear or conventional bombs, must be “sheltered or exposed only to the most benign environments — low humidity, no precipitation, moderate temperatures.”

So Goslin posed in front of air crews scrubbing off and hosing down one of the planes.

“You can see right back there, right now,” Goslin said. “This airplane will not melt under the wash. The plane does just fine.”

If it suffers at all, he said, it is from too-high public expectations. “It’s like saying, `How come my fifth grade kid can’t do calculus?'”

[As an aside, “air crews” are not allowed to wash aircraft, or to approach aircraft with anything that looks like a tool. The ground crew takes care of aircraft and consider aircrews to be incompetent fools when it comes to anything as complicated as a screwdriver. Airmen would have been a better choice of term, as it is not only a rank, but also is an inclusive name for everyone in the Air Force. {During the unpleasantness in Southeast Asia, the pounders, grunts, and squibs called us zoomies.}]

This photo op is obviously agitprop. All attention was directed to a cosmetic problem dealing with the tape used to cover seams in the composite skin of the aircraft. The tape was just another way for reducing the detection profile, it was not related to safety in any way.

What wasn’t discussed was the real reason for the stand down and the climate control – the sensor problem. They have known about it for a decade, and continued to build the second half of the fleet using the same defective sensors.

I guarantee that as soon as the media left the area, the crew chief for the aircraft being washed in the dog and pony show, hauled out his DRYER, HAIR – ELECTRIC [one each] and went over each of the two dozen sensors. This isn’t a “public relations problem” this is a flight safety problem.

According to his official Air Force biography, Lieutenant General Thomas B. Goslin Jr. retired on June 1st, 2005 and after a couple of months off, on August 10th, 2005 we learn that he found a new job, Raytheon Names Thomas B. Goslin Jr. Director Of Program Ops, Space Systems. Oh, well since you mention it, Raytheon is a contractor involved with the B-2 program and just about everything else Goslin worked on when on the government payroll.

I’m sure that future employment possibilities played no part is the obfuscation used by then Brigadier General Goslin. 😈

The artificial horizon is an ancient instrument, and was used in some form since Elmer Sperry, Sr. created it around the time of World War I. That we have an aircraft in the inventory that willfully stalls and goes into a 30° bank on take-off because of a few damp sensors, is criminal negligence. The B-2 is the Corvair of aircraft – Unsafe at Any Speed.


1 Kryten42 { 06.07.08 at 9:10 pm }

Right. Well… I guess that compared to a C5 Galaxy, it’s OK then.

And I just love the way so many Americans laugh about the Russian crappy weapons systems. LOL Pot, meet kettle!

What a joke.

2 Bryan { 06.07.08 at 9:22 pm }

Your average backyard mechanic can keep a MiG-21 in the air, and most of the village blacksmiths in the Middle East can make a functioning AK-47. They may not be “High Tech” but they work.

An old fashioned gyroscopic attitude indicator would have told the stupid computer that it was going to stall the aircraft, but it depended on a flawed sensor system. You can’t fly the thing without a computer, so you are at the mercy of a programmer. Not a comfortable feeling.

3 Badtux { 06.09.08 at 3:23 pm }

The problem is that a bat-wing tail-less aircraft is inherently unstable, and thus *must* be computer controlled. The joystick in a B-2 just feeds into a computer. The computer does the actual moving of control surfaces and such.

Now, as you point out (maybe), we’ve had inherently unstable aircraft in the Air Farce inventory before. The F-16, for example, which is why it’s such a great dog-fighter and why the F-15 jocks refuse to dogfight with F-16’s. But the F-16 at least doesn’t fall out of the air when its sensors get wet. The notion that in 2008 we have a bomber which does… well, I guess that’s why our next war is going to be over Iran. Because Iran is dry :-).

As for crappy Russian weapons systems, an AK-47 won’t penetrate modern body armor, and a MiG-21 up against an F-16 with AWACS support would be more appropriately named “scrap metal” because that is what it shortly will be. I must admit however that the RPG-7 has proven to be far more effective recently than you’d expect given its antiquated provenance… and Su-30’s appear to be every bit as good as F-15’s, if not up to F-22 standards.

– Badtux the Snarky Penguin

4 Bryan { 06.09.08 at 5:45 pm }

I wasn’t commenting on a MiG-21s dogfighting ability, as it belongs back in the era of Vietnam, but as a point interceptor against bombers, tankers, and cargo aircraft it has its uses and it is easy to maintain.

The AK needs better ammo, but the basic weapon is more reliable, and has more stopping power than an M4. I was much happier with the M14 than the M16, but then I never used full auto and actually aimed.

The RPG-7 keeps getting better ammo, which makes it a PITA to defend against.

Almost everything we fly is “fly by wire” these days, but they don’t seem to have the problems. It is probable that the tailless design of the B-2 makes it even trickier, but the damn thing has been deployed for over a decade and these problems should have been found and fixed.

Everything in the B-2 is servo controlled not just assisted. The pilots have no “feel” for the airplane, it may as well be a video game.