B-2 crash revives airworthiness worries

London
Source: Flightglobal.com
This story is sourced from Flightglobal.com

A board of US Air Force officers is investigating the first crash of a Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit, which reduced the fleet of stealth bombers to 20.

Initial findings by the investigative team are not expected to be released for at least 30 days. According to video and photos taken at the scene, the crash appears to have occurred on take-off from Andersen AFB, Guam, on 23 February. The bomber's two crew members ejected, and one pilot went to hospital, says the USAF.

The USAF lists the pre-inflation price of a single B-2 as $1.16 billion, making the event arguably the most expensive aircraft mishap in history.

 
© US Air Force

The B-2 was taking off in a flight of four bombers en route to Whiteman AFB, Missouri, after completing a deployment to the Pacific island. A flight of Boeing B-52H bombers landed at Andersen days later to begin a four-month rotation, preserving the USAF's goal to maintain a constant bomber presence in the Pacific.

The crash of the aircraft - nicknamed "Spirit of Kansas" - prompted the USAF to place the B-2 fleet on an operational pause for the first time since a brief grounding after an ejection seat problem in the late 1990s. The mishap also highlighted long-standing concerns about the type's airworthiness, despite a previously unblemished safety record.

Concerns about onboard safety issues appeared in the public domain as far back as 1990, when the US government accused Northrop of illegally supplying a faulty component in the flight-control system known as the actuator remote terminal. The USAF also continues to invest in structural upgrades to repair severe cracking in the B-2's aft fuselage.

Also, the air force warns in its latest budget request that the bomber engine's stage 1 fan blades "exhibit high levels of stress due to the inlet distortion". A combination of the distorted inlet and a foreign object damage event "could result in the loss of an airfoil and a catastrophic in-flight emergency", it says.