The B-2 Hassle

Editor’s Note: This is part two of an unintentional two-part series based on a tour of Whiteman Air Force Base with other UCM faculty and administrators.

The B-2 Spirit and a commercial airliner flew side by side for about an hour when the airliner suddenly dipped. The airline pilot repositioned the plane so the passengers on the other side could also get a sweet view of the flying batwing.

What a thoughtful fellow.

Door art on an A-10 at WAFB.

Capt. Allen Clark shared this story Friday with a tour group from the University of Central Missouri. That’s what he came up with when I asked one of those worn-out reporter-type questions, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve experienced up there flying?”

Our tour group was turned away at the B-2 gate the last time we visited Whiteman Air Force Base. Apparently there was a mistake in our registration. We made it in this time – barely.

It took nearly an hour before our bus was allowed onto the tarmac, and I was asked for a third form of identification while everyone else produced two.

They “lost” my driver’s license and asked if I had another form of ID. Luckily I had my credit card. And when our IDs were returned, I was given back all three IDs – including my “lost” driver’s license.

Whatever, it was worth the hassle.

The B-2 is one of the most interesting (and expensive at $2.2 billion each) aircraft ever built – after the SR-71 Blackbird, of course. It forces people to stop along the highway to gawk. It awes crowds during football game flyovers. It is the highlight of air shows. And it apparently impresses airline pilots enough to follow it for an hour.

The underbody curves like water frozen over a gently sloping lawn. The rear edge is a series of jagged triangles like it was cut with scrapbooking scissors.

And the double bomb bay is massive, large enough to carry 80 500-pound bombs or two of those gigantic 30,000-pound massive ordinance penetrators (the Iran bomb). Oh, yeah, and they would be one of the first to shuttle in a nuclear warhead as well.

The last time we visited, we were warned before entering, albeit unsuccessfully, not to cross the red lines in the B-2 hangar. And we were warned there would be armed guards protecting the bomber.

Well, this is why the hassle was worth the wait. Shortly after Capt. Clark answered some of our questions he invited us across the red line. There were no armed guards, just the bomber’s munitions squad who were eager to answer our questions.

Then Capt. Clark invited each of us into the cockpit. It was amazing. The bomber is rather large but the cockpit is barely big enough for two people. The rest of the plane is for fuel and bombs.

Three B-2 stealth bombers flew 25 hours nonstop from Knob Noster to Libya in Operation Odyssey Dawn last March.

The pilots dropped 45 guided 2,000-pound bombs and came home.

A guy has to eat, use the bathroom and keep himself occupied during nonstop flights like that. The B-2’s toilet is a nondescript box behind the co-pilot and there’s a microwave oven situated behind the pilot just above the ladder where you climb into the cockpit.

The pilots read books and take speed pills to keep alert. And if you need a nap, there’s a tiny rectangular patch of floor behind the two seats.

There are 19 functioning B-2s in the fleet – one crashed at the U.S. airbase in Guam four years ago. Another one caught fire and is under repair. All B-2 missions begin and end at Whiteman.

And Capt. Clark said there are about 100 B-2 pilots on base – three of those pilots were trained at UCM, including Clark.

So, why they gave us such a hard time is kind of a mystery. Still, it was worth the wait.

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