Editor’s Note: This story was updated the evening of Dec. 12 to include details about the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
A B-2 Spirit was damaged Dec. 10 after the crew was forced to make an emergency landing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., the Air Force said. The stealth bombers cost over $1 billion per plane and fewer than two dozen were produced, making any incident a potentially significant event for the service’s bomber fleet. The incident shut down the lone runway at Whiteman, which is the home base for the entire fleet of B-2s.
“A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit experienced an in-flight malfunction during routine operations Dec. 10 and was damaged on the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base after it successfully completed an emergency landing,” a spokesperson for the 509th Bomb Wing said in a statement to Air & Space Forces Magazine. “There were no personnel injuries. There was a fire associated with the aircraft after landing, and the base fire department extinguished the fire. The incident is under investigation.”
News of the incident and an accompanying photo appeared on the popular unofficial Air Force amn/nco/anco page Facebook page, suggesting the B-2 left the runway at Whiteman and there was a possible fire.
The 509th Bomb Wing confirmed the B-2 suffered damage in an incident and there was a fire. But the spokesperson did not address specific questions about whether the B-2 itself caught fire or how the aircraft was damaged on the runway.
In September 2021, a B-2 was involved in an incident at Whiteman. An Air Force accident investigation found that the aircraft’s landing gear collapsed, causing the aircraft’s left wing to drag across the ground until the plane came to a rest in the grass about a mile from the touchdown point. The pilots were uninjured, but the aircraft incurred a minimum of $10 million in damage, according to the Air Force.
The crew declared an in-flight emergency before attempting to land due to an issue with the B-2’s hydraulic system when they tried to deploy the landing gear on approach to Whiteman, the Air Force’s investigation found. The report said that the left main landing gear collapsed on touchdown despite cockpit indicators showing the landing gear was locked after the crew conducted an emergency extension.
The Air Force only has 20 B-2s in its inventory, and it is unclear how many are operational daily. A B-2 was destroyed in a crash in 2008, and Air Force has gone to great lengths to keep its remaining inventory airworthy after incidents, including major repairs to the aircraft involved in the 2021 incident at Whiteman and a four-year effort to restore an aircraft damaged in a fire in Guam.
The 509th Bomb Wing did not provide details on the extent of the damage to the aircraft that suffered the mishap on Dec. 10. The incident was significant enough base’s sole runway remained closed as of the evening of Dec. 12.
“At this time, the Whiteman Air Force Base runway is closed, and recovery teams are working around the clock to minimize further disruptions,” the 509th Bomb Wing said in a statement.
Air Force Global Strike Command, which is in charge of the Air Force’s fleet of B-2s, said there was “no impact on AFGSC operations” due to the incident.
Whiteman, the home base for the Air Force’s entire fleet of B-2s, recently conducted an “elephant walk” exercise with eight B-2s.
The B-2 is set to be replaced with the newly-unveiled B-21 Raider in the 2030s. However, the B-21 has yet to fly and is still years from entering service, making the small fleet of B-2s precious to the Air Force as the service’s only stealth strategic bombers.