Losses and Aviation Safety

Spirit Down: The First Operational Loss of a B-2 Stealth Bomber

The ACC accident report stated that “classified material” had been loaded onto the B-2 Spirit the morning the aircraft crashed.

Taken on Feb. 23, 2008 at Andersen Air Force Base (AFB), Guam the video in this post shows the first ever crash of a U.S. Air Force (USAF) B-2 Spirit Stealth strategic bomber.

Two pilots from the 509th Bomb Wing from Whiteman AFB, Mo., were on board B-2 Spirit of Kansas, 89-0127 and ejected.

Distorted data introduced by a B-2 Spirit’s air data system skewed information entering the bomber’s flight control computers ultimately causing the crash of the aircraft on takeoff according to an Air Combat Command (ACC) accident investigation report released on Jun. 5, 2008. 

Moisture in the aircraft’s Port Transducer Units (PTUs) during air data calibration distorted the information in the bomber’s air data system, causing the flight control computers to calculate an inaccurate airspeed and a negative angle of attack (AOA) upon takeoff. According to the report, this caused an, “uncommanded 30 degree nose-high pitch-up on takeoff, causing the aircraft to stall and its subsequent crash.”

Moisture in the PTUs, inaccurate airspeed, a negative AOA calculation and low altitude/low airspeed were substantially contributing factors in this mishap. Another substantially contributing factor was the ineffective communication of critical information regarding a suggested technique of turning on pitot heat in order to remove moisture from the PTUs prior to performing an air data calibration.

The pilot received minor injuries, and the co-pilot received a spinal compression fracture during ejection. He was treated at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, and released.

The cost of the lost aircraft is about $1.4 billion. 

The ACC accident report also stated that “classified material” had been loaded onto the bomber the morning the aircraft was returning to Whiteman AFB “after a four-month deployment in support of Pacific Air Forces’ continuous bomber presence.”

A B‑2 already in the air was called back to Andersen following the crash, where it and the other B‑2s were grounded until an initial investigation into the crash was complete. Six B-52s of the 96th Bomb Squadron, 2d Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, were deployed to replace the B‑2s.

The commander of the 509th Bomb Wing, Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak, followed up on the incident by temporarily suspending flying operations for all 20 remaining B‑2s to review procedures. Harencak termed the suspension a “safety pause” and stated that the B‑2s would resume flying if called upon for immediate operations. The B‑2 fleet returned to flight status on Apr. 15, 2008.

Photo credit: Federal Aviation Administration

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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