By Paul Hoversten
The latest foray of the B-2 Spirit—to participate in Foal Eagle, a joint U.S.-South Korean exercise on March 28—got us wondering how often the stealthy, bat-winged bomber actually flies.
The answer is, about 50 times a year for each of the 20 B-2s in the Air Force inventory, for a total of 1,000 missions annually. That includes routine training flights (both long- and short-duration) and official exercises. Planners try to spread the missions out evenly.
“Every two months or so, we participate in an exercise,” says Captain John Severns, a spokesman at Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base, home of the B-2’s 509th Bomb Wing. “This is the first time we’ve been in Foal Eagle, but it’s not the first time the B-2 has visited South Korea. We were there 13 years ago.”
The two B-2s dispatched to the Korean peninsula flew more than 6,500 miles to drop inert bombs on the Jik Do Range before returning to Whiteman. Foal Eagle began March 1 and continues through the end of April.
March is a major anniversary month for the B-2, which has flown in combat four times. Three of those engagement anniversaries all fall close to each other. The first occurred 14 years ago, on March 24, 1999, when B-2s bombed Serbian targets in Kosovo. Ten years ago, on March 20, 2003, the aircraft flew in the opening salvos of the Iraq war. Most recently, on March 22, 2011, the B-2 bombed hardened aircraft shelters at an airfield in Sirte, Libya. The bomber’s fourth combat mission came on October 7, 2001 in Afghanistan.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the arrival at Whiteman of the first B-2, Spirit of Missouri, on December 17, 1993. Built by Northrop Grumman, the $2 billion bomber is capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear bombs. About 16 B-2s are flight-ready at any given time; the rest would be in maintenance at either Whiteman or Palmdale, California.
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