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The B-2 comes to Missouri

  • Published
  • By Yancy Mailes, director
  • Air Force Global Strike Command History and Museum Program
On Dec. 17, 1993, amid much fanfare, the first B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, tail number 88-0329, landed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

While the flight from Edwards AFB, Calif. had been a relatively short trip for the aircrew, the journey to field the bomber at Whiteman had taken years.

That journey began in the early 1980s during Gen. Bennie L. Davis' tenure as the commander of Strategic Air Command. He worked closely with U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, and the two men agreed that the centralized location of the base, coupled with ample room for expansion, made Whiteman an ideal location for a new, very special mission.

Several years before, Northrop Corporation began building a full-scale model of an airplane that could evade enemy radar. Eventually, after years of testing, these stealthy designs morphed into a bat-winged bomber. In the summer of 1979, Northrop took this design to the Air Force as part of a Low Observables Bomber Study.

By mid-1980, Air Force officials had seen sufficient progress and requested that the Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio prepare a request for proposal for the Full-Scale Engineering Development of an Advanced Technology Bomber or ATB. On Nov. 2, 1981, the Air Force awarded Northrop a contract to develop the bomber.

On Jan. 5, 1987, Skelton announced that Whiteman AFB had been selected as the home of the ATB. In April the following year, the Air Force released an artist's rendition of the bomber, what they now called the B-2. The blanket of secrecy quickly came off in November 1988 when Northrop unveiled the bomber to the public in a ceremony held at Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif.

SAC announced on Nov. 30, 1988 that the 509th Bomb Wing would become the nation's first operational B-2 bomber unit. Several months later, in July 1989, Northrop chief test pilot Bruce Hinds and Col. Richard Couch, the B-2 Combined Test Force director, flew the B-2 for the first time. Over the next four years, the CTF put the B-2 through a rigorous flight test program while the 509th BW prepared Whiteman for the new bomber.

On Dec. 17, 1993, the base gates opened and crowds began flooding in. The crowd listened in as a special broadcast piped in from the cockpit of the B-2, which allowed them to hear Gen. John Michael Loh, commander of Air Combat Command, and Lt. Col. John Belanger, the director of operations for the 393d Bomb Squadron, onboard the B-2.

Drawing "ohhs and ahhs" from the waiting crowd, the bat-winged bomber arrived at its appointed time, passing over the runway. Slowly, the aircraft descended, and with a reassuring screech of the tires, and the resulting small puff of smoke, the aircraft known as ACC-1 (for General Loh the ACC Commander) touched down. After conducting the required post-flight check, Loh and Belanger emerged to the applause of the waiting crowd.

Afterwards, two important ceremonies took place. First, the ceremonial passing of the aircraft records occurred. Loh handed the documents to Lt. Gen. Stephen Crocker, Eighth Air Force commander, who handed them to Brig. Gen. Ronald C. Marcotte, 509th BW commander, who in turn, gave them to Master Sgt. Keith Meadows, the aircraft's crew chief. These activities were followed by a short dedication ceremony where the Air Force named the first B-2 "the Spirit of Missouri" and the name ACC-1 faded into the history books.

For the past 20 years, those who serve at Whiteman and operate the B-2 have played a large role in deterring our enemies and assuring our allies. The nation is grateful, but as we celebrate this milestone we must look to the future and plan for the next platform that will ensure continued deterrence and assurance for future generations.

For footage from the Dec. 17, 1993 arrival of the B-2 to Whiteman AFB, click here.