B-2 Returns to Flight Nearly 4 Years Later

Stealth-y patrolAlmost four years after the Air Force said a B-2 sustained “minor damage,” the aircraft returned to the fleet at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., on Dec. 16, according to the service.

An engine fire grounded the “Spirit of Washington” in 2010. Since then, Air Force maintainers and engineers have worked to get one of the 20 B-2 stealth bombers remaining in the Air Force fleet back in the air.

The fact there are only 20 B-2s in the Air Force’s fleet increased the urgency of the repair and helped Air Force officials to make the decision not to scrap the project even though it took three years and nine months to complete.

The small number of B-2’s and the lack of spares meant the maintainers couldn’t just call on a part from an aircraft sitting in the boneyard. Replacements had to be remade or the maintainers had to get creative, according to the service.

Maintaining the B-2’s stealth qualities added to the challenge, according to officials. A particular challenge was removing the charcoal created by the fire from the aircraft’s skin.

Maintainers created a process in which they used dry ice pellets to remove charcoal from the skin.

“The team would spray pelletized dry ice on the aircraft, after which the ice would melt, leaving no additional residue or material for the maintainers to clean up,” according to a release. This was the first time this had been done.


About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • kevin mccune

    Getting too close to the truth,administrator?

  • Steve B.

    I;m certain there’s a Chinese company that has the parts, LOL.

    • Dfens

      The Pentagon repeatedly waived laws banning Chinese-built components on U.S. weapons in order to keep the $392 billion Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter program on track in 2012 and 2013, even as U.S. officials were voicing concern about China’s espionage and military buildup.- -http://ca.news.yahoo.com/exclusive-u-waived-laws-keep-f-35-track-204531422-sector.html

      The Pentagon encourages defense contractors to use parts made in China.

      • The one armed man

        It’s tough to find rare earth elements anywhere else.

        • Dfens

          No it isn’t. Just because they are called “rare earth” elements, doesn’t mean they are only found in China. Hell, the fact is that China has been undercutting the price on these elements for so long that all the other mines have gone out of business.

          • The one armed man

            True. But the EPA won’t let anyone refine here.

  • Taylor

    Well done on the dry ice blasting though.

  • Hunter76

    I hope the 4 yrs were due to using “slack time” to cut costs of engineers and mechanics.

  • Turk

    Jeez, the damn thing is mostly composites, why didn’t they just slap on some bondo, and take it to Earl Schibe for a touch up? (GRIN)

  • Big-Dean

    As cool as th4 B-2 is, we really need to rethink the whole platform verses payloads thing. When the platforms become more important than the payloads (for whatever reason: image, prestige, bragging rights, etc) then that platform cost effectiveness needs to be looked at very carefully. We should have a formula we use, called CTD (cost to deliver)

    cost to deliver/cost of payload=

    the ratio should never exceed 30:1 for airborne delivery

    • SMSgtMac

      “30:1”? Pffft. A ratio pulled from the nether regions.
      Cost numbers for the B-2 are artificially inflated by the short-sighted decision to cap the production at 20. Years later, when Congress voted more production monies for more B-2’s, Slick Willie used the monies to convert a flight test bird to an operational configuration instead of buying long lead items raising the number to 21, but still only 16 combat coded. With the one lost in Guam, we’re back to 20, but back when it was still feasible Northrop offered 20-30 more at a firm-fixed price about 1/3 of the much-complained about and mis-touted $2B figure. When you factor cost-benefit, you have to include attrition rates and total life-cycle support costs for the entire fleet of whatever weapon you are evaluating.

      • C-Low


        Politicks first cut the numbers of aircraft which then drives up the cost which then gives powder to the cut the numbers crowd which then drives up price rinse repeat. R&D is a fixed sunk number that is divided by the fleet size, the B-2 is almost all R&D cost because there was supposed to be 150-200 aircraft ordered but the politicks only ordered 20. That means the R&D cost per airframe multiplied by a magnitude.

        The military should demand R&D funding separate from the aircraft. This would destroy the anti-military ploy of driving up cost by cutting airframes. You take the R&D out and the numbers change.

        B-2 airframe only———————-700-mil
        B-2 airframe elect etc support —-900mil
        B-2 with R&D—————————-2Billion
        F-22 same thing they cut numbers by 2/3rds and price doubled plus some because of the R&D cost
        F-35 same thing again.

        Back when politicians came from the business sector and were not career politicks they understood development cost were fixed, you saved money in bulk buys because their is huge cost in setup, training, etc.. that companies divide directly by the number of estimated units. Order the F-22, F-35, B-2/LRSB in bulk numbers like we ordered in the cold war and the cost will shrink drastically on both the per aircraft R&D, plus some on the hard per ariframe.

        • exnuke

          You forgot where this started, the F-14!

    • SMSgtMac

      BTW: Ask the Navy how many $B in hard-broke F-18 airframes they’re storing in depots waiting for the proverbial ’roundtoit’

      • Bronco46

        I think a lot us would like to know more about your story.

        • The one armed man

          He’s got a blog. Elements of Power. I think it’s


          That’s from memory so I may have that wrong. You can google it. Check him out there.

    • Hunter76

      < 30:1 ? Oh, I get it, increase the cost of munitions!

      • blight_

        We’ll make stealth bombs and stealth missiles.

    • Mark

      I would say the platform is just as important as the payload. It would be unacceptable if we lost a stealth airplane that was carrying a nuclear weapon into heavily defended airspace because of it’s LO signature.

  • Bronco46

    Doesn’t “minor” damage usually take less then four years to fix?

  • Miller1

    Relatively speaking, minimal personnel, particular skill sets, restrictive access, combined with distinct challenges of the repair (one never knows the extent until actually “into” the internals, and no true “pressing” need to get it back on the tarmac would lend itself to this time frame.

  • Stratege

    B-2 is obsolete. It won’t survive modern SAM environment.

    • guest


      • https://www.facebook.com/mark.varry Mark Varry

        And Sam launch sites wont survive in a modern Wild Weasel and ELINT aircraft environment. One Serbian SAM site commander got lucky cause he knew he could operate his equipment on a known ingress route on a night he knew that US Wild Weasel and ELINT aircraft would not be operating. In short US got sloppy and the Serbian SAM commander was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of it.

        • Goober

          Well, to be fair too, as many as he fired that night he was bound to hit something!

  • Big-B

    in 4 years they could have build a new one from scratch :-) i mean they bild supercarriers in that timeframe…

    • Dfens

      You are such an optimist. It only took them 4 years to build the C-5 from scratch, but today we can’t build a 50,000 lb fighter jet from scratch in less than a decade or two. Then there’s the decade of frame tweaking required while the software code is written. Of course, once the US taxpayer becomes accustomed to 30 year design and build cycles then they will ratchet up to 35 and 40 year periods. It’s a great time to be a US taxpayer!

  • Dfens

    4 years to repair minor damage? Oh yeah, these airplanes are ready for battle. Then you figure of the 20 airplanes still “flying” their availability is only about 50% due to the easily compromised nature of their stealth skin. I can’t wait to see what we get (up the ass) from the Air Force’s latest bomber program. I won’t hold my breath to see that airplane fly. After all, 3 decades is a long time to wait, and obviously there’s no real sense of urgency in our Air Force.

    • PolicyWonk

      You certainly have a point when it comes to acquisition of the USAF’s new bomber. That said, the entire acquisition system in the USA frankly stinks, and should be extirpated and replaced with one similar to that used by the British.

      Failing that, in return for continued funding, the entire DoD acquisition system should be put under receivership.

      The US taxpayer, by far, gets the lousiest deal per defense dollar spent in the western world.

      • Dfens

        I believe all the European countries pretty much use the same procurement approach we use. In fact, I believe the system we use was pioneered by the Europeans and Canada, who all destroyed their own weapons industries with the “profit for development with public funding” approach.

    • KenS

      Probably a good cover story, we will never know what they really did

  • Bernard

    The B-2 is way more important than the F-35. I think the B-2 has at least 20 more years of useful life left in it before drones are at a level to replace it. Hopefully we can do a better job of maintaining the few we still have.

  • Paul

    …btw dry ice doesn’t “melt” rather it sublimates into gas form.

    • Gordo

      And does the charcoal also sublime? Maybe it’s a nuclear reaction-no residue??

  • ted3020

    With all the new toys and also with people who are not afraid to sacrifice their lives, the most expensive tools are always at risk. Bigger, better, and badder does not make sense in today’s world. With a limited number of aircraft and known locations due to restrictions they are easy targets with strategy not super weapons.

  • Greg
  • oblatt2

    The Chinese can deploy a new generation of aircraft in the time it takes us to fix one of ours.

    Our aircraft are designed to be expensive to operate not just expensive to buy. The contractors like it that way.

    • William_C1

      The Chinese are certainly masters of aircraft design. Of course the only strategic bombers China has are ancient clones of the Tu-16, an aircraft far inferior to our B-52H, but facts have never interested Oblat here.

      • FreeAmerica

        I am interested in the new generation of aircraft oblatt2 is thinking of.

      • guest

        China was even less capable in the 1960s and 70s. How did the PLAAF manage to shoot down so many US fighters jets in AA combats during the Vietnam War?

        You’ve got to be one of the biggest idiots here, William_C1. Ignorant to the point of unreal.

        • Paul

          other than cannibalizing Russian avionics/electronics for their own ‘less capable” electronics from warplanes designated for NV enroute transit from USSR via China, the Chinese contributed nothing their fellow commie air force down south.
          By your post, easily your living proof as “biggest idiots here”.

          • guest

            Learn to write in coherent sentences first. Right now you are writing and arguing like a school dropout.

        • blight_

          Due to the Air Force seriously underestimating the enemy, de-emphasizing air to air combat in the earliest days of missiles (which weren’t all that good yet) and ridiculous ROE.

          Of course, the Army didn’t cross the DMZ either..and taking the fight to the enemy is the only way to end things. (OTOH, the French owned the north and southern halves and failed to win).

        • William_C1

          You mean those handful of times a lost US fighter strayed over the Chinese border and was jumped by a gang of Migs? Being outnumbered 3 or 4 to 1 isn’t good odds.

          But surely an ace pilot like yourself could shoot down the entire PLAAF.

          • Really?

            Really? Only a handful of times? Outnumbered 3 or 4 to 1? You are really good at making things up, man.

          • blight_

            Why would the PLAAF wait for a fighter to stray over the border? Chances are they had units in Vietnam. Nobody respected borders. The NVA was resupplying through Laos and Cambodia. The Soviets sent technical advisors and SAM batteries into North Vietnam, as did the Chinese. Both probably sent aircraft as well. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Soviets sent PVO advisors to help the Vietnamese efficiently intercept American aircraft as well.

  • Citizen of the world

    Too many Air Force projects are canceled before we buy all of planes, which must increase development costs per plane. The B-2, the F-22 … is that two of the last four?

    • Dfens

      It’s not just Air Force projects that are cancelled: http://live-defensetech.sites.thewpvalet.com/2011/07/19/46-billion-wort…

      It’s almost like the defense contractors want these programs to be cancelled just as they get to production. A thinking person might just see a pattern here. Too bad we don’t have more thinking people in this country.

  • cfghj

    Is it possible that a lot of the cost overruns are just really being allocated to black projects. We should transparent but when it comes to black projects we shouldn’t because no matter how curious you are you don’t want other countries knowing your true capabilities that way if there is a war they are caught off guard and to a disadvantage. Just like Snowden Jackass the ramifications can be severe not just for corporations in this country but for everyone’s safety. I really think people that back the ACLU really don’t understand the importance of the NSA I think they are ignorant. If something you feel is so secretive talk about it in a diner or desert and once its discussed its no longer secret. When a person uses a phone or internet mail its a privilege it’s efficient. You don’t want people who want to do harm to take advantage of this technology. I can make the argument that I have a right to know the black and top secret projects because its my tax dollars. But if I know it exist it just makes this country weaker. We need black projects We need the NSA. I know we will wait until another 911 happens and blame the government for not protecting us. After 13 years We’ve already forgot 911 and are becoming complacent. Its like being naive very naive.

    • oblatt2

      Or you could just get some balls and not be scared all the time.

    • Chris

      We also need to profile. If it looks acts and smells like a terrorist it usually is. Those bastards who boarded numerous flights prior to the 911 attacks fit the bill. Lack of testicular fortitude and politically correct socialist bullshit is killing us…literally. The NSA is a necessary force and tool to use in conjunction with common sense. Homeland security is a joke and needs to be removed.

  • Ben

    Oh the irony of your final sentence.

    • Ben

      Whoops! Sorry guys!

  • https://www.facebook.com/joe.boyum Joe Boyum

    News today in Oceania… The grand floating fortress Spirit of Washington was repaired today under the direct supervision of BB himself, thereby insuring that the war against eastasia will be brought to a quick conclusion.

    But weren’t we at war with eurasia in 1989?

    • blight_

      It’s always 1984 in America

  • blue angel

    If the fixing the B2 has taken that long its possible that the B2 is being retrofitted with several missiles capable for shooting down ballistic missiles from a great distance during early and midcourse stage and what is being said is just part of the reason.

  • cfghj
  • Andy

    While I understand 4 years is excessive, we are talking about an engine fire on an aircraft that is built to drastically reduce the noise and heat output of a jet engine and costs 1.2 billion dollars per aircraft. We can’t just build a new one, and odds are they had to replace a ton of stuff to bring it back to optimal performance.

    It’s a capability pretty much unmatched anywhere in the world, and that’s the price you pay. I’m not goin to argue the cost-effectiveness in a world 30 years later then it was designed for, but the fact remains it’s a pretty unique aircraft.

    I’m sure the responses will just be more shit about contractor graft and such though, so keep doing what you people do best, complain about shit on the internet.

    • guest

      It’s indeed a unique aircraft unmatched anywhere in the world. Nowhere can you find a similarly expensive jet with similarly inflated performance parameters.

      • Andy

        Because the parameters of any top-end jet are public knowledge and not just speculation of the denizens of the internet? Fact is, it doesn’t even have to be that stealthy, just good enough to reduce the range on an S-300 that it can fire off a bunch of ALCMs and turn around.

        The fact is neither of us have any idea of what it’s truly capable of, because it’s never been put in a situation where it’s been tested to it’s full extent. The same can be said of all the top-end stuff, the F-22, Eurofighter, etc, etc.

        • Andy

          Before people go crazy about the ALCM thing, replace that with the LRSO, or really anything. The fact is it’s a hell of a lot more useful in a non-permissive environment then a Tu-95 or B-52.

        • guest

          You have no idea what you are talking about.

          • Andy

            Then enlighten, oh experienced armchair general. Show me the classified data you have about radar returns and avionics capabilities.

            Explain to me how building more F-35s or B-52s would fill the role that the B-2 is used for in an environment that isn’t Afghanistan and 2003 Iraq.

          • guest

            You still have no idea what you are talking about.

            Performance parameters are not and cannot be classified. Inflated, yes, for procurement purposes. Cover-ups of screw-ups, yes, for career and promotion purposes.

            Only the actual engineering implementations may be classified if necessary.

            Halt your wet dreams of hidden capabilities in the F-35, the F-22, and the B-2.

      • Dfens

        The F-22 cost twice as much to build per pound as the B-2. They are built from similar materials.

        • blight_

          Imagine if we’d only built 22 F-22’s. Sticker shock.

          Though 2,000 F-22’s would be a pipedream…not as much money for Lockheed.

          • Dfens

            No, I’m saying the non-recurring costs for building the F-22 was twice the cost of the B-2 per pound of airplane. The design costs don’t figure into that number. I know some parts did come down in cost as the F-22 assembly line rolled on. The composite pivot shaft for the horizontal stab came down from $2 million each to $1 million each, and it was supposed to come down to $700,000 each later. Other costs went up like the avionics which were all obsolete prior to the airplane becoming operational due to the excessively long development time.

  • Big-Dean

    What’s becoming clear is that we have a gold plated force overall. Much too expensive to risk and too expensive to operate and maintain. So when we get into it with a peer or near peer we will be SHOCKED to find that our precious gold plated platforms are shot down or destroyed, and that we don’t have enough of them. Heck, we only have 20 B2 and now we’re down to 10 carriers! Any type of loss would be devastating. The only thing we seem to have plenty of is M1A1 tanks (but not enough sealift to get them where they are needed).

    What everyone is forgetting is that in war nothing is certain, and there will be loses of every kind, B-2, F-22, F-18, ships, tanks, etc. Our nation seems to think that war is a video game were we kick ass every time and never sustain any loses. We have fought nothing but 3rd rate enemies for the last twenty years, a peer or near peer enemy would be a whole new ball game as they say. I’m afraid to say that since the demise of the USSR, we have gotten spoiled and soft.

    • blight_

      Or that war is like a computer game and you press the “build new tanks” button.

      Carriers don’t grow on trees and aircraft don’t grow on trees. We’re in the niche shipbuilding industry now. I guess we can ramp up F-16 production if required, but we’re in a position where if the legacy force is destroyed by day one, it’ll take forever to replace.

      One can only /hope/ our adversaries are in the same place.

      • Dfens

        Our adversaries are communists. They never gave up their publicly funded military design departments like we did. They certainly do not pay for-profit defense corporations a profit incentive to f them over. Can you imagine what would happen in China if a company did that to their government? They’d not only kill the CEO, they’d kill his family and probably all of the executives and their families.

        This “profit on development” procurement system was part of the “peace dividend” the US defense corporations demanded and got during the Clinton administration.

        • bull manure

          We are the commies/socialists now in US wake up. We are all equal now and if we are not we need to spread the wealth around to make everybody the same except for our government they are supreme and we all answer to them because only the government has the answers. They were right they took over without firing a shot

  • Mike

    There are no peers big Dean. If there were then you would be correct. Hence the term “peer”

    • Big-Dean

      Hey Mike, I would classify China’s military as a near-peer right now, just as long as we don’t try to engage their army head on. The biggest advantage we have right now is in mostly quality (i.e. capability), but China is building like crazy and they will soon have equal if not more numbers and equally high quality (capability)

      The only area we have a massive advantage over China right now is our submarine force, and that fact is the only thing that’s keeping them from doing anything right now.

      • Dfens

        Remember when Germany had better airplanes and tanks than we did during WW2, and yet we won that war by having good, producible aircraft and tanks? It seems like we forget those lessons on a daily basis.

        • Big-Dean

          Yep, your right Dfens. If we ever get into it with the Chinese, we’ll be facing 4 or 5 to 1 odds just like the Germans faced with the Americans. Of course we’ll have our “kills” but sooner or later sheer numbers catch up with you (as we show in WWII). The Germans simply couldn’t “afford” to loose any of their gold plated weapons.

          But here’s the real kicker, The Chinese gov and military won’t care about loses, they will lose 1 million troops and dozens of ships and aircraft and not even bat an eye. The American public and leadership are afraid of any losses. Can you image what the air force will do if they lost of one their vaulted B2 bombers or a few F-22’s?

          • blight_


            We probably can’t stop them from stomping into South Korea if they really wanted to. The quantity of SRBM’s available to them would make mashed potatoes out of the DMZ if they wanted to force a crossing.

            In terms of their Navy, they can probably contest everything between and around the first island chain. I guess their first targets would be to use submarines to lure out maritime patrol aircraft and shoot them all down with PLAAF aircraft, depriving the surface force of its primary, fastest-moving eyes and ears outside of helicopters and teleoperated drones. If we start losing the GPS constellation, we may be forced to rely on the GPS systems of neutral countries (eg GLONASS, Galileo) until those too are forced out of the conflict. Not sure if the PGM’s we are deploying can support signals from the other positioning networks, but it would be a nobrainer.

          • Dfens

            I doubt we could stop them from taking anything short of causing us to resort to nukes, which could include anything up to and including Australia.

        • TonyS

          “good tanks”?
          The Sherman was pretty useless and wasn’t known as a “Ronson” for nothing.
          Tank vs tank in WWII was basically a war of attrition if the air forces weren’t around to take them out first. The German stuff wasn’t gold plated - it was mainly poor engineering that caused the tanks to break down, plus Hitler ordering new tank production that stopped spares being produced! Their superiority lay in their guns - we had nothing to match them.

          • blight_

            The only tanks that were built to really fight were built by the combatants on the eastern front: the Soviets and the Germans. Perhaps some British tanks had better survivability.

            Panther, long-barrel Pz 4, Tiger came out of eastern front experience against KV and T-34. The Americans probably sent M3 Lees to the Soviets, but weren’t able to directly observe how their equipment was being used in combat (or might not have been able to do so reliably, or were unable to relay this information back to the designers).

  • Guest

    What a fabulous way to win wars. Expedite the urgency of repairs and let the tincture of time work its magic. In this case, the healthy four-year formula worked while old maintenance staff retired and new replacements tried to figure out what the original problem was. Simply fascinating!

  • http://twitter.com/donp1126 @donp1126

    I find it amazing how so many seem to know exactly what was required to repair this aircraft. I have seen C-130’s set for months awaiting repair due to parts availability. Some parts have a long lead time to procure. Special parts can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years based on production requirements and availability. If a part is no longer being made then it has to go through an approval process to be substituted by an alternate part or vendor. Repairing an airplane is not the same as going to autozone and buying your part for the car. I have been working on planes for over 30 years and the Air Force doesn’t get components from ace hardware for their planes.

    • http://twitter.com/donp1126 @donp1126


      The aircraft in question underwent 18 months of repair on Guam to be able to fly back to the States for full repair. If anything I would say good for them in saving the plane and being able to restore it back to full mission capable.

      • Dfens

        Hell yeah, you people should just be happy the US Air Force is willing to dump your money into one crap hole of a weapons project after another. You think just because you pay their salaries and operating expenses that you get to question anything they do? You didn’t earn that money, the government did. Blessed be the sacred government and everything they do is automatically defined as good.

  • dirtman

    Shouldn’t that be 19 B-2’s since we peviously lost one ina crash?


    Further proof of the efficiency within the Obama Administration.

  • bull manure

    B2 a political statement and made the other guy spend a lot on air defense to defeat it too bad we spent so much money to build 20 of them should have been like the XB-70 2 and your done and achieve the same purpose.

  • bill

    Frugally guarded weapons are no weapons at all. Therefore, it’s time to get rid of any aircraft that takes four years to fix minor damage. Again, the public taxpayer is footing the bill for a plane we don’t need to fight ten taliban in Afghanistan. The AF should have the “duct tape rule”. If you cannot fix it with duct tape - don’t buy that aircraft.

    • http://twitter.com/donp1126 @donp1126

      Next time you fly on a plane.. Make sure they use duct tape.