B-2 Fleet Remains Grounded, Limiting Participation At Red Flag

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.—The B-2 Spirit remains grounded due to safety issues—and the plane’s stand-down is beginning to disrupt planned operations.

According to information provided to the media, the stealth strategic bomber from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., was originally scheduled to participate in the latest iteration of Red Flag, the Air Force’s principal combat training exercise, in January and February. However, more than a month after a crash in December, the planes are still deemed unfit to fly, barring extraordinary circumstances.

“The safety stand-down is still in effect,“ Master Sgt. Beth Del Veccino, a spokesperson for the 509th Bomb Wing told Air & Space Forces Magazine on Feb. 3. “We do not have new information regarding the status of the B-2 fleet; however, we remain ready to execute any tasking as directed by the commander-in-chief or other higher authority.“

Since the B-2 cannot fly unless absolutely necessary, the Air Force brought the plane’s crews to Nellis Air Force Base and virtually simulated the aircraft in Red Flag 23-1, which is occurring over three test ranges and the Pacific Ocean. B-2 aircraft participated in Red Flag in 2022, 2021, and in other previous iterations of the exercise.

“The B-2 aircrew are here mission planning,” said Col. Jared Hutchinson, the commander of the 414th Combat Training Squadron, which coordinates Red Flag. “What we’re doing is we’re injecting B-2 virtual tracks into our system so that they can be planned, executed, and debriefed to. But there’s no actual B-2s flying.”

The 509th Bomb Wing confirmed its crews were at Red Flag in a limited capacity. 

“We sent 509th Bomb Wing personnel, including B-2 pilots, to participate in Red Flag Nellis 23-1,” Phill Stuart, the chief of command information for the 509th Bomb Wing told Air & Space Forces Magazine. “Our personnel are part of the mission planning cell for RF 23-1.”

Hutchinson added that the situation was an outlier.

“The extent of the virtual aspect of Red Flag is about what I just said,” Hutchinson said when asked if any other aircraft were being simulated, though he said Red Flag does add “more exquisite capabilities” virtually.

B-2s have been grounded since a Dec. 10 incident in which one of the aircraft suffered an in-flight malfunction and then was damaged during what the 509th Bomb Wing termed a “successful” emergency landing at Whiteman Air Force Base. The aircraft partially veered off the runway and was damaged in a fire, though Air Force officials have declined to provide more details.

The aircraft remained stuck on Whiteman Air Force Base’s lone runway before the airstrip was finally cleared Dec. 21 for operations of the other aircraft housed at Whiteman, the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the T-38 Talon.

The mishap was the second B-2 crash in a little over a year. Another aircraft blocked the runway in September 2021 after a similar accident in which the plane experienced an issue while airborne before being damaged upon landing. That crash was caused by a hydraulic issue and worn landing gear springs, according to an Air Force investigation. The Air Force has not said if it suspects the two crashes are related.