A B-2 Spirit stealth bomber rolled off the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri during an emergency landing Tuesday morning, but the extent of the damage done to the aircraft remains unclear.
Air Force Global Strike Command spokesman Jennifer Greene said in an email Tuesday afternoon that the bomber had an in-flight malfunction during a training mission, and conducted an emergency landing at about 12:30 a.m. that morning. Greene said the bomber was damaged on the runway, but nobody was injured and no fire broke out. But Global Strike declined to answer questions about the nature of the malfunction or the aircraft’s damage, citing the ongoing investigation into the mishap.
The War Zone website on Wednesday posted an aerial image of the scene at Whiteman’s runway, which shows the bomber was off the runway. The aircraft is also heavily leaning to its left in the image, with the wingtip either touching the ground, or very close to it.
Col. Brus Vidal, head of public affairs for Global Strike Command, confirmed Thursday morning that the plane rolled off the runway during its emergency landing. But Vidal could not comment on other details about what led the B-2 to malfunction and end up off the runway, which will be confirmed by the investigation. He said the investigation would likely be done before the typical 30-day timeline for investigations.
B-2 bombers, which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, have special coatings and materials that give it stealth capabilities. It is unclear whether, and to what extent, the expensive and sensitive coatings on this B-2 may have been damaged. The aircraft was sitting exposed to the elements in the aerial images, contrary to their usual storage inside hangars to protect the coatings.
Sometimes the Air Force leaves aircraft that have been damaged in a mishap in place while the investigation is conducted. But because of the sensitivity of this B-2’s skin, it is likely Whiteman will move it to a hangar, possibly as soon as Thursday.
The Air Force only has 20 B-2 bombers in its fleet, which means having one out of commission for the investigation and repairs will have a ripple effect on operations.
Each B-2 costs roughly $1.1 billion, according to the Air Force’s fact sheet on the plane.