Air Force celebrates 25th anniversary of first B-2 flight

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 509th/131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Team Whiteman and Air Force Global Strike Command are celebrating a milestone in Air Force and aviation history this week by marking the 25th anniversary of the B-2 Spirit's first flight.

On July 17, 1989, Bruce Hinds, Northrop Grumman chief test pilot, and Col. Richard Couch, B-2 combined test force director, flew the first B-2 mission in the skies above California. The two-hour, 20-minute flight took both pilots on a mission from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, to Edwards Air Force Base.

Twenty-five years later, the B-2 Spirit is known as what many call "the most feared weapons system on the planet."

"Even 25 years after the flight of the first B-2, we're still a very effective part of the mission. The technology of the B-2 is still unmatched by any other country," said Lt. Col. Eric Lapine, 509th Operations Support Squadron commander. "The B-2 has been able to penetrate enemy air defenses that other aircraft have not been able to."

Lapine has been a pilot in the Air Force for 19 years, 11 of which were as a B-2 pilot.

"Every day I come into work and never question whether or not the job I do is important," he said. "At the highest levels of our nation when they talk about military options, the B-2 is in that discussion."

Without the hard work of a dedicated team of professionals, the B-2 mission would not be possible.

It is the teamwork of Airmen in maintenance, communications, finance, security forces and many other functional areas that enables this aircraft to do things today that were unimaginable 25 years ago, said Master Sgt. Neil Fowler, 393rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit lead production superintendent.

Fowler has been providing maintenance support to the B-2 since the early 90's.

"I'm incredibly proud to have this as my life's work," Fowler said. "We have transformed this aircraft into a weapons system that is versatile and devastating. It speaks to the quality of people that design, build, maintain and operate this aircraft."

A few of many significant achievements flown by B-2 Spirit crews include participation in Operation Allied Force, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Odyssey Dawn, said Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Lauseng, 509th Operations Support Squadron wing intelligence superintendent.

Fifteen years ago, the B-2 participated in combat for the first time during Operation Allied Force, the NATO campaign aimed at preventing "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo in the late 1990s. During its first operations in combat, the B-2 and the Airmen operating it performed. B-2 crews were able to complete 100 percent of their take-offs on time, with a 98-percent Joint Direct Attack Munition effectiveness rate. With a total of more than 1,400 flight hours, the B-2 was a major factor in the NATO campaign.

Two years later, following the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001, B-2 crews received the call to participate in OEF. During OEF, Whiteman Airmen completed the longest airborne combat mission in history, taking off from Whiteman and flying around the world to Afghanistan and back during a 44-hour sortie.

"The B-2 opened the battle in OEF," Lapine said. "This was the first aircraft that crossed the targets to strike."

The mission was to take out whatever air defenses the Taliban had.

Later, in 2003, Lapine flew in Operation Iraqi Freedom, as part of a mission to degrade enemy capabilities and destroy their will to fight.

During OIF, the B-2 was used for a total of 43 sorties totaling 1,246.3 flight hours.

"It was very exciting to be part of the mission," Lapine said. "It's pretty incredible that we had aircraft crossing the globe like that to strike."

Another significant B-2 contribution that was made to Air Force history was the participation in Operation Odyssey Dawn. During the operation over Libya in 2011, three B-2 sorties flew on a 25-hour combat mission from Whiteman to destroy 45 hardened aircraft shelters.

"OOD demonstrated the B-2's awesome capability to conduct global strike operations," Lauseng said.

The B-2s struck their designated targets in one coordinated mission that involved joint assets from the Navy, he said.

One of the B-2's most important contributions to America's leaders is the deterrence capability it provides.

"When we pick this machine up and move it in support of our allies/interests, the world pays attention," Fowler said.

The B-2, as the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world, and operated, supported and maintained by the most professional Airmen in the service, provides the president and combatant commanders with unparalleled global strike and nuclear deterrence capabilities.

"The B-2 has totally changed the way we fight and the way our enemies defend," Fowler said. "The idea that we can fly into contested airspace, destroy the most valued and heavily defended targets and leave before our enemies have had time to rub the sleep from their eyes is a pretty heavy contribution."