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"Spirit of Washington" rises from the ashes

  • Published
  • By Candy Knight
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Like the mythical Phoenix, the "Spirit of Washington" has risen from the ashes, ready to strike anywhere, anytime.

The "Spirit of Washington" participated in its first training mission at Whiteman Air Force Base, Dec. 16, after an engine fire in 2010 nearly destroyed the aircraft.

After three years and nine months in maintenance, the aircraft was restored to full mission-ready status.

The behind-the-scenes story is an extraordinary tale of cooperation and teamwork between different Air Force organizations, as well as collaboration between the Air Force and Northrop Grumman, the Air Force's B-2 prime contractor.

"We recognize how much this means to the warfighter, to have this aircraft back in your hands," said David G. Mazur, vice president of long-range strike operations for Northrop Grumman.

The "Spirit of Washington" was preparing to fly a mission Feb. 26, 2010 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, when one of its four engines caught fire, resulting in significant damage to the aircraft and the engine bay.

With only 20 B-2s in the Air Force inventory, the need to save and restore the aircraft was paramount; the challenge was finding a way to accomplish the task.

The B-2's technology, combined with the limited number of aircraft, made obtaining replacement parts challenging. A percentage of the parts could be remanufactured, but other parts could only be obtained from Air Force spare parts depots.

"One of the things that was most important to both the Air Force and Northrop was that the jet be returned to us without any flying or weapons delivery limitations. So far, it has been taking care of business perfectly," said Col. Chase McCown, 509th Bomb Wing Maintenance Group commander.

Perhaps the greatest challenge was making the necessary repairs to fly the aircraft from Guam to the

Palmdale facility at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
"The goal was to get [aircraft] 0332 to the Palmdale facility before the beginning of FY12, a goal which was accomplished two months ahead of schedule," Mazur said.

Getting the aircraft to Palmdale ahead of schedule saved money, and more importantly, it allowed the Air Force and other organizations to conduct initial tests on not only the engine itself, but also the other components of the aircraft.

Ultimately, the extra time to conduct these additional tests helped investigators determine the root cause of the engine fire, which is rare in accident investigations, as incidents like this one are typically caused by a number of factors, Mazur said.

Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, the situation presented an opportunity for Airmen to develop best practices and come up with innovative ways for approaching maintenance issues.

One example of a best practice was using dry ice pellets to remove charcoal from the aircraft's skin. The team would spray pelletized dry ice on the aircraft, after which the ice would melt, leaving no additional residue or material for the maintainers to clean up.

"To my knowledge, this was the first time this technique had been used," Mazur said.

The hard work of both the Air Force and her partners enabled Team Whiteman to bring another B-2 back into the fold, further buttressing the United States' ability to deliver conventional and nuclear munitions, penetrate air defenses and threaten effective retaliation.

"Because of the B-2's importance to national security, we wanted to do everything we could to save it," Mazur said. "Everyone recognized this importance and everyone brought their 'A' team. It took longer than expected, but the aircraft is back and better than before. Hoo-Rah."

"It was absolutely a whole team effort," said McCown. "Anything that happens on this weapon system is a partnership between Northrop and the Air Force. The complex repairs required for this aircraft would not have happened without that healthy relationship."
For the Airmen in charge of maintaining the "Spirit of Washington," there is nothing more gratifying than watching their aircraft take to the skies once again.

"It gives me a strong sense of pride to know that an aircraft that I am personally responsible for has returned to home station and is ready to answer our nation's call," Senior Airman Patrick Holter, dedicated crew chief for the "Spirit of Washington." "This is my first jet as a dedicated crew chief and knowing that the maintenance my team and I performed on our aircraft directly contributed to safe, effective, on-time sorties is what I love most about my job."

"It was a very cool experience to see the excitement in the maintainers when an aircraft many of them thought would never fly again returned to service as part of the 509th Bomb Wing," McCown said.