8am came very early on Day 4. As you may have noticed, I didn’t post a blog on my last night at Whiteman AFB. I gave myself the night off and decided to have a little fun. But more on that later on. This Friday was a special day for a lot of non military personnel and families. One Friday a month, the Base opens it’s gates to 40 lucky individuals and gives them the rare opportunity to get a first hand glimpse of the mighty B-2 bomber. The tour group starts their morning off with a mission brief of the 509th BW, and then boards the bus to the OSCAR-01 missile launch control facility tour.
From the Whiteman website: “From 1964 to 1993, Whiteman AFB’s Oscar-01 served as command center for 10 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Oscar was one of 15 such facilities that were spread out across west central Missouri. Oscar stood out, however, as it was the only such operational site actually located on a base. Today, the site is a tribute to all Air Force members who pulled alert duty and kept the system operational during the Cold War.” It was really cool seeing such history in person. The highlight for me was moving the 8 ton door that seals off the controllers from the outside world, located 60 feet under the surface.
As the tour continued, the civilians and family members headed to Base Ops and got an up close and personal look at the mighty B-2 Bomber. Spirit Tours fill up months in advance; the rest of the 2008 tours are all ready full! But this gives the public a chance to see and learn about the Wing and the Bomber. I’m told that people come from all over the world to take this tour. It’s refreshing to know that one of the most secure bases in the world still know how to keep in touch with the public that they are protecting. While I didn’t get a chance to walk around the B-2, Public Affairs had arranged another surprise for me….a trip to SZL tower! This gave me a unique angle to view the massive jet and a chance to thank the controllers in the tower for all of their help on Thursday’s flight. Did you know that the B-2 has the same wing span as a B-52, and is only as long as an F-15? No? Then maybe you should sign up for the tour? 🙂
After that it was time to head on over to see the Missouri Army National Guard 1-135th Aviaton Battalion’s AH-64. This was the very first time I have actually seen an Apache fly. Guess they just aren’t as popular on the left coast. I don’t understand why?
The crews were very nice and gave me tour of their attack helicopters. While I was there, I was lucky enough to see a pair of them launch. Now that was cool! Those pilots sure knew how to hold her steady, even with a good breeze blowing.
While we were there, I saw this beauty from Randolph AFB; a T-43.
So while it was a great day, things were about to get even better. Unknown to me, the Public Affairs staff had a surprise in store for me. A quick bite to eat, and then we were off to the 394th Combat Training Squadron. I was instructed to leave my cellphone, my digital audio recorder, and my camera behind. Hmm..a bit fishy, but I rolled with it. Maj. David “Skipper” Thompson, from the Missouri ANG’s 131st Fighter Wing, met us at the secured door and escorted us in. “So, Mr. Pathak, you ready to fly?” And a smile began to creep across my face. I was about to fly the B-2 Stealth Bomber! Well, sorta. I was going to get a chance to get some stick time in one of three B-2 flight simulators that are the primary trainers for the pilots.
Skipper, the first fully-qualified B-2 pilot to fly for the Air National Guard, led us to an even more secure part of the building. In case you haven’t already figured it out, Whiteman is one of the most secured bases in the Air Force. And the simulator, was no exception. The closest thing to actually being in the cockpit, this simulator is a cost effective way to train B-2 pilots and give them a realistic look and feel of the worlds most advanced bomber.
After a quick rundown of the systems in the B-2, it was time to fly! I still couldn’t believe I was about to fly the B-2. I sat in the left seat and adjusted the rudder pedals. The graphics were amazing; it truly was a panoramic view. We were holding just short of the active runway. Seat belt on (this was a full motion simulator!!), and give the throttles some juice. Rudder pedals for ground steering, and I started to roll forward. Line up on runway 19, pump up the brakes, and full throttle. The sim shook and we were rolling down the runway. Pull back on the stick and up we lifted. Gear up and a hard right turn to head back over the base. Then setup a practice ILS approach to 19. Sounded easy, but the B-2 floats like a leaf. I got her on the ground, but it wasn’t pretty. 🙂 Back on the stick and then it was time to hit the refueling tanker. Left turn to heading 150 and spot the KC-135 in the A/R block.
The B-2’s flight control system is very sensitive. The slightest input to the stick and you are all over the place. Skipper showed me the basics of A/R, and it seemed easy enough. Yeah, not really. I was wandering all over the place. Keep a 1 inch gap between the lines on the belly of the tanker….the #4 engine should be in the top right hand part of the B-2’s windshield, and slowly slide under. Skipper make it seem so easy. Then I gave it a shot. Come left, left, down a little, up a little, throttle back, up, more throttles, break away and disconnect. Yeah, it wasn’t that easy. So then Skipper flips out the lights and simulates a night time A/R for me. He says that I did a little bit better, but I think he has to say that. 🙂 Skipper was one of the pilots on the first night of the missions to Iraq. As we sat there, in the dark while he tanked, he told me the story of his 30+ hour flight there and back. On the way back, a particular countries air traffic controller requested type of aircraft and intentions as they crossed his countries airspace. Well, they couldn’t quite do that for securities reasons, but this controller just wouldn’t back down. After a lot of back and forth, Skipper notices red and green strobes outside his window. They had launched aircraft to intercept the B-2s! “Unidentified aircraft, turn heading 014 and enter a holding pattern while we identify you….Negative Center, unable to comply….Turn or be shot down!” After even more conversations on an unsecured frequency, the B-2 finally decided to just keep on their intended route and try to get out of the airspace. “Roger, we will continue on heading 270…..Negative unidentified aircraft, turn!!…Roger, thank you for your assistance, continuing on heading 270.” After hours and hours of flying, and dealing with this controller, they still had another refueling to do.
And then it hit me. There we were, in the dark, running low on fuel, over the Atlantic with no divert bases. This is exactly what Skipper and the other B-2 crews faced. And I was scared. I wasn’t able to tank and there was no other option. The reality of the situation is that these pilots face fatigue, stress and adrenaline raising and falling, and still need to get that life saving fuel so they can come home. They need to be as sharp in their 2nd hour and first tanking as they do in their 30th and 4th tanking.
After that session, I really had a new found respect for the men and women pilots of the B-2.
The last item for the day was to get a couple of shots of a pair of B-2’s coming back from a training mission.
Back to the room for a quick change, and then it was off to the Officers Club to have a beer with Capt Luke “Deuce” Jayne, Capt Nichoas “Willy” Adcock and Maj Jared “Evel” Kennish; the pilots from my flight. Good time were had by all. The latest class of B-2 students were having their graduation ceremony. They invited me to sit in and I had a blast. Drinks, food, cake from the Cake Lady, and good people. What more could you ask for?
Oh, and here is a shot of Col Bussiere, Commander of the 509th Operations Group, in the back seat of a T-38. Looking good Col. 🙂