Most people assume that in order to fly a USAF jet or bomber, that you need to be a great pilot, have an awesome moustache, or wear really cool aviator sunglasses. While all of that is 100% true, the very first qualification that you need to pass is to be able to fit in the jet. More specifically, the ejection seat. And if I was to fly in a B-2 Spirit, affectionally know as simply the Stealth Bomber, I would need to be able to fit in the ACES II ejection seat. And by fit, I mean not be too tall nor have too long of a femur. While that is the only part of the qualification that you don’t have any control over, the rest of the basic training to fly an orientation flight in a Stealth Bomber is a lot more complicated.
For three years, I tenaciously pursued a story that would bring me back to Whiteman AFB, home of the 509th Bomb Wing and the famed B-2. Back in 2009, I had the rare opportunity to spend a week at Whiteman and witness first hand the close knit community that helps provide our nations strategic deterrence and global power though the B-2. And with all the stars finally lining up, I was invited back to not only spend a week with the men and women of Whiteman, but to be able to strap into an ACES II and actually go up in a B-2 Stealth Bomber.
But while the paperwork was approved, I still needed to meet all the safety regulations and training requirements: a medical checkout, egress, ejection, and parachute training.
And the first stop was to the 509th Medical Group to make sure I was fit to fly! In addition to getting a clean bill of health, the Flight Doc needed to make sure that I fit safely in the B-2’s ejection seat. With a maximum seating hight of 40 inches, and the length of my femur needing to be less then 29 inches, not everyone was able to fly in the bomber.
This was so that in case we ejected, my legs didn’t get chopped off by the plane. Guess that’s a good thing. Good looking out Doc! No major illnesses, good BP, normal breath sounds, and with that, I was cleared to fly. And since I have my altitude chamber training, Doc lifted the altitude restriction so I was cleared to fly above 18,000 feet.
The next stop was the 509th’s Operational Support Squadron where I would get fitted with all the equipment I would need in order to fly in a B-2 and a T-38, which I would be doing later in the week. While both airframes shared some common training and gear like a helmet, oxygen mask, and ejection harness, I would still need to be checked out both airplanes to become familiar with the differences.
Step 1. Suit Up! A proper flight suit and boots for the plane. An instantaneous cool factor of x100!
Then a seat harness that I would use to connect myself into the ACES II ejection seat of the B-2.
A properly fitted flight helmet that I would use in both the B-2 and T-38. Yup. Getting a B-2 flight did give me a big head. But luckily it still fit inside the helmet.
Next up was an oxygen mask. This would provide me with precious O2 during risky phases of flight such as take off and landings and sudden decompression in the cockpit. The OSS Airmen took the proper time to ensure that it was comfortable and that there were no leaks in the seal of the mask with my face.
Then it was time for the G-Suit that I would use in the T-38. These “speed jeans” help keep blood from flowing into my legs during high G maneuvers and causing me to pass out. It gives you a chance to become very close with the OSS folks. Definitely a humbling experience.
Assume the position!
Once I had all my equipment fitted and checked out, it was time to learn how to use it. Egress and Bailing out. Two things you never hope to do in an airplane, but if you need to, you better know what you’re doing. Your life depends on it and that of your crew.
Lucky for me, that the basic principles of egress and ejection were the same for both airframes. The main difference was that in the T-38, you stepped to the aircraft with your parachute on your back, while in the B-2, the parachute was already in the seat where you simply attached your harness to.
The two key scenarios that we went over was an emergency on the ground where the aircraft was not yet airborne, otherwise known as an Egress.
And an Ejection if there was an emergency and we were airborne.
And after going over the basics, it was time to simulate it in the cockpits. The OSS team had full mock ups of each cockpit to give you as realistic feel to going through each Egress and Ejection procedure.
The B-2 Simulator with the ACES II ejection seats. Note the slightly angled back position of the seats. This is so that when the “Bailout! Bailout! Bailout!” call is received and you pull the yellow ejection handles, you will go up and back away from the plane. The B-2 has what’s referred to as a 0-0 ejection capability. Meaning that it can be at a zero airspeed and at 0 feet in altitude (on the ground) and you can eject and still get a full canopy from your parachute before safely landing.
The T-38 and it’s Martin-Baker seat is a 0 feet/50 KIAS seat.
You practice, practice, and practice till it becomes almost second nature.
The more you practice on the ground, the more second nature it would be in the air.
After Egress and Ejection training, it was time for the last phase; parachutes. What if you have a failure once it opens, how to steer the parachute, what to do if you get caught in tree, etc.
And then most importantly, how to fall when the ground is rushing up to see you.
With all the training signed off on, it was time to go to my locker and drop off my stuff until I fly the stealth bomber.