All 20 of the Air Force’s B-2 Spirit bombers are grounded as the service hunts for potential safety defects, a spokesperson confirmed Monday. The stealth aircraft will be down until further notice.
The Air Force paused the fleet’s operations after a bomber was damaged Dec. 10 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. An undisclosed in-flight malfunction forced the crew to make an emergency landing on Whiteman’s runway, where firefighters extinguished flames at the scene, according to the 509th Bomb Wing. No one was injured.
An investigation into what caused the accident is underway. The Air Force declined to provide further details about the incident or what, specifically, the safety inspections are looking to find.
“Every incident is unique, and we are currently evaluating what went wrong and how we can mitigate future risk,” 509th Bomb Wing spokesperson Master Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio said.
The two-pilot B-2 ― the U.S. military’s most capable nuclear bomber at $1.2 billion per airframe ― has been in service since the 1990s. But the stand-down is a blow to a fleet that already struggles to stay ready for action: Air and Space Forces Magazine recently reported B-2 airframes are available for missions about half of the time they are needed.
The mishap marks the second such incident in as many years, after another Spirit bomber’s landing gear failed and caused the plane to skid off of Whiteman’s runway. It came to rest with its left wing on the ground in September 2021, costing the Air Force nearly $10 million.
The Air Force declined to answer whether that aircraft has returned to regular operations.
B-2 accidents are rare: Before 2021, the most recent recorded incident was in fiscal 2015, according to the Air Force Safety Center, preceded by a fire that heavily damaged one bomber in 2010. One B-2 was destroyed in a crash upon takeoff in Guam in 2008.
Whiteman has served as the B-2′s only home base since the 1990s. The service plans to retire the fleet in the next 10 years to make way for the more-advanced B-21 Raider now in production.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.