The Air Force is saying little about a landing accident this week that damaged one of its B-2 Spirit stealth bombers and forced the closure of airspace around Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, where the B-2s are based.
The Air Force’s Global Strike Command said in a brief statement that the plane experienced an unspecified in-flight malfunction during a “routine training mission” and made an emergency landing about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The statement said there were no injuries and no fire. A spokeswoman declined to answer additional questions submitted by The World-Herald, citing an ongoing investigation.
The B-2s belong to the Air Force’s 509th Bomb Wing. One of their missions is to carry nuclear weapons under the direction of the U.S. Strategic Command, headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base.
Satellite imagery posted on The War Zone blog, which first reported on the mishap Tuesday, shows the bat-winged bomber in the grass alongside Whiteman’s single runway. One of its landing gear appeared to have collapsed. The image also showed people and vehicles on the runway and the grass.
At the time of the incident, B-2s from Whiteman were taking part in a U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command exercise called “Operation Noble Defender,” which was mentioned earlier in the week in social media posts by both NORAD and StratCom. Three B-2s also returned on Saturday from a three-week deployment to Iceland for operations with U.S. and European air units.
Global Strike Command would not say whether the B-2 involved in the runway incident was taking part in the exercise, or whether it was carrying weapons.
The airfield has apparently been closed since Tuesday, when the Federal Aviation Administration issued a “notice to airmen” barring any air traffic within a 6-mile radius of Whiteman until 6:59 p.m. Friday “to provide a safe environment for traffic investigation.”
The base is near Knob Noster, Missouri, about 60 miles southeast of Kansas City.
The jets are hard to maintain, and expensive. The B-2 fleet spends about $18 million a year maintaining each aircraft, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in November.
Yet the B-2 fleet met its “mission-capable” goal (the percentage of total time when the aircraft can fly and perform at least one mission) in only three of nine years between 2011 and 2019.
The mission-capable rate is a key metric for measuring the maintenance health of military fleets.
In 2019, the B-2’s rate was 60.47% according to Air Force Magazine, below the Air Force’s overall rate of 70.27%.