Close Encounter With Two Ghostly B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers At Night.
“It’s go time!” The crew announcement snaps me from my sleep. It’s near zero hundred and we fly in dark skies over western Missouri. The anticipation amps up on FORCE 26, a 305th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) KC-10 from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ (JBMDL). I hurriedly gather my camera equipment and follow the crew to the refueling station.
FORCE 26 skims the top of a storm front, slipping in and out of clouds. The KC-10 rattles, thumps and bounces in the bone jarring turbulence. I struggle to get seated and configure my camera for a hopeful, if not mercilessly difficult shot. I can see nothing but heavy grey clouds below and deep black skies behind. Unseen, three thirsty Spirits are surely closing quickly.
To my right the boom operator, Senior Master Sergeant Carl Wise buckles in. Wise has 10 years on the boom but an eighteen-month hiatus requires his requalification. Tonight, is his check ride. To his right sits active instructor and assessor, Tech Sergeant Adam Sochia. Sochia watches closely as Wise moves through system checks. An audible alarm sounds and warning light flashes. Oh no, not possibly now… No additional drama required, but tonight we have it in spades.
Outwardly Wise and Sochia appear calm, proficient and thorough, but the tension in their voices is palpable. Radios crackle between Wise and the flight crew in the KC-10 cockpit. They too have noted the alarm, and together discuss appropriate action. Despite years of experience Wise is now tested by the system and the conditions. His decision making and skills evaluated during in-flight refueling with the USAF’s most prized asset – in turbulent air at visibility limits. Wise extends the boom and verifies complete movement and control. Check. Proceed.
Eyes outward, I am only peripherally aware of their challenges. I have my own. I frantically move through camera settings – looking for something, anything that will work in darkness beyond what I had imagined. Autofocus is out of the question, ISO settings through the roof, lens wide open, shutter speeds impossibly low…. I am out of time. BAT 71 draws near at constant speed, her strobes flashing and command module glowing. Is she beast, or some machine from the future? Whatever the case, these are her skies and she rises through the fog like a wraith to take …. our fuel.
Before she can connect we slip into the clouds. I discern her outline a mere 100 ft off the boom, some 150 ft away. Enshrouded in cloud she stops and holds position, as if to study her prey before moving in. We cut in and out of cloud catching glimpses of her dark and mysterious form. Wisps of cloud flash eerily over her wings like flowing grey hair. City lights reappear as the jagged robe of her trailing edge passes by. We bounce and rattle through the skies, while BAT 71 glides smoothly behind. This unearthly Spirit is at home in the dark and turbulent skies.
Sights like this may be common for boom operators, but leave a word defying imprint on me. Surreal, Supernatural, Magic – no word, no description is adequate. Yet make no mistake, in another place and at another time encountering three wraiths can only mean one thing – the impending doom of someone or something. The B-2 Spirit is both the ultimate global deterrent and Grim Reaper.
Radios crackle, “Kansas City Center, FORCE 26, request climb to clear weather.” “FORCE 26, Kansas City Center cleared to climb and work airspace block 23 – to 28,000 ft.” “Climbing to work airspace block 23 – 28,000 ft. FORCE 26”
The KC-10 starts upward and BAT 71 follows as if suspended just off boom. Breaking free from the clouds we find smooth, clear air. Wise, now in control of the refueling operation clears BAT 71 to connect. The Spirit slides forward. Though close to her home at Whiteman AFB, MO the B-2 Spirit has been aloft for near four hours and requests thousands of pounds of fuel.
Small talk non-existent, gas and go with a B-2 is often done with no words exchanged. In the best conditions an air to air connect is no simple task. It is a choreography of dance between aircraft of all types and sizes – the two platforms briefly becoming one. The team on both sides of this boom are seasoned professionals and make this connect look as easy as walking up and shaking hands. BAT 71 is on the boom and I ponder her mystery.
Operated by the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB the B-2 is the premier platform of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). Invisible by night, the stealthy B-2 bomber can penetrate heavily defended airspace and deliver a punishing knock-out blow. Traveling around the globe from Whiteman AFB, the Spirit is well-known to fly missions of over 24 hours. Earlier this year the B-2 recorded a mission of over 30 hours requiring 15 aerial refuelings!
The 305th AMW and their force of KC-10 tankers at JBMDL enable the Global Reach of the USAF. On this mission we fly with crew from the 32nd Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) with the clear and accurate motto “Linking the Continents.” It is a simple fact, without units like the 305th AMW the Global Reach of the USAF would be severely diminished.
The importance and value of the mission is not lost on boom operators like Wise, who comments “a boom operators job offers instant satisfaction. Every time we refuel an aircraft we enable it to complete its mission, whether in training, combat, or humanitarian relief.” This job satisfaction explains why I find myself with 3 very experienced boom operators. All three are Instructors, including Master Sergeant Jessica Stockwell with 11 years’ experience. The three are passionate and have found tremendous rewards in service. Stockwell notes that it is an incredible team effort from the maintenance group to the entire crew on the aircraft. As it relates specifically to her role as in-flight refueler she says, “during preparation and flight the 2 pilots and flight engineer are responsible for everything that happens in the cockpit, the in-flight refueler is responsible for everything that happens outside the cockpit, air to air refueling, cargo, people and more. It is very rewarding to have that mission responsibility.”
Buffeted by turbulence BAT 71 drops briefly off the boom. As the turbulence subsides she slides back making another connect look effortless. This Spirit is not leaving without getting all her intended fuel. The entire encounter speaks of planning, precision and the utmost professionalism. Dropping off the boom a final time, BAT 71 disappears into the night. Under duress, SMSgt Wise passes his review and moves forward toward instructor requalification.
Sochia and Stockwell fuel BAT 72 & BAT 73. Time passes too quickly. Their thirst satisfied the bombers disappear into the dark skies to destination(s) unknown. This was a training mission. In the same fashion, the Spirits loaded with deadly ordnance could be destined to strike a target on the other side of the globe. As happens, cable news quick to broadcast pictures of the impact of their undetected visit.
B-2 Spirits are each identified with a unique U.S. State, such as “The Spirit of Missouri.” I always considered the name “Spirit” in such context. Zero Hundred, October 3 has forever changed my perspective. “Spirit” as perhaps was always intended, is; “one emerging from the clouds, lights glowing, hair flowing, mysterious, ghostly – and most certainly, deadly.”
The Aviationist expresses gratitude to the 305th AMW, the 32nd ARS, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs Team Shaun Eagan, SrA Lauren Russell, A1C Zachary Martyn, the exceptional team of in-flight refuelers and entire flight crew of FORCE 26! All professionals through and through in the finest sense.
Wonderful photos! And of course we couldn’t do the mission, many missions, without those all-important refuellers. My hat’s off to them.
I am, Mawa Akile Francis staying in rural northern town of Adjumani.
I have watched the US military on the web for a number of times; their army equipment and hardware.
What l find more important is; the US’s robust military is all the time attempting to coerce countries which abuses, rights of humanity, especially where devastative brutality is involved by warlords, dictators,and international terrorists.
The US government objectives and policies, are similar to the UN’s goals: thus, regional and international peace and security to warrant democracy and rule of law in all nations of the world.
Quote: “The US government objectives and policies, are similar to the UN’s goals…”
Mawa you mean well, but I certainly hope the goals are the U.S. are not those of the UN. The organization is not remotely like what its founders intended. That is why the US and the UN clash constantly, particularly under the Trump administration and Ambassador Nikki Haley. Here’s an illustration:
Have you noticed how often countries with oil reserves are focused by “human rights” speeches when they oppose American hegemony?
Wait how the human rights rhetoric will intensify over the next weeks and months to demonize the government of that country. The same already happened with Iraq and Libya when they attempted to sell oil for other currencies than the Dollar or even planned to introduce a new currency that was to be backed by gold.
Sooner or later these things always are revealed (eventually). In case of the involvement of the CIA in Iran 1953 through official documents.
Of course people are not taking notice of that very much when it was that long ago. But there is a pattern in US policy and it remained mostly the same since WW2. Some German journalist called it “humans rights imperialism” because that was often the excuse for interventions and invasions when it was purely for political reasons or corporate interests.
Have you noticed how people who have a strong belief don’t self review their thoughts before they put them on the web? Did you ever try to think of a list of energy rich states that the US has not practised imperialism on? Let’s see, Norway, England, Russia, Canada, Australia. It seems that the US likes to push around Islamic, Latin American, and North African energy states. In the Islamic case it makes sense as the region was a thorn in Europe’s side since the 1300’s. All one has to do is look up why “Britannia Ruled the Waves” and would “Never Never Be Slaves”, slaves to who? Look it up, you might be surprised. Or just what the USMC was doing in Tripoli back in the founding years of the United States. I think your assertions that the US is bullying energy rich countries because they are energy rich is not a 1:1 relationship. The energy amplified conflicts that were already going. Not only that when you look at the list of the energy rich nations the US practices imperialism against vs the energy rich nations we don’t you’ll see a real pattern. We practice imperialism against the nations with malfunctioning societies be it either for religious/cultural reasons or because their mode of government never quite left the era of the Spanish Inquisition.
As I said, the ones that get into the crosshairs are the ones that oppose American hegemony by undermining the Petrodollar (Libya, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Syria). Not just because they are energy rich. The countries you listed (except Russia) are part of the western fold.
Russia was practically under corporate rule in the 90s. Putin reversed that with new laws, made the oil companies state owned again and so he became the universal bad guy. Russia’s military has become too big again and they have nuclear weapons that can reach American soil. Regime change from the inside doesn’t work because the people haven’t forgotten who was responsible for their hardship in the 90s. Millions died. NGOs that could influence politics are monitored or banned (similar to FARA in the U.S.). George Soros with his Open Society Foundation is no stranger when it comes to incite regime changes. Also NED and others.
But you are right. The U.S. continued where the British Empire was withdrawing. The „Pax Britannica“ was replaced by the “Pax Americana”.
Well stated my friend, and most of all true. May God Bless you! May he also send those who hate America, the most generous nation on Earth, a nation that helps all in trouble, a nation that is ready to assist no matter where the natural disaster, the only nation in the world that confronts evil while taking no gain of land or resources … may God send all those liars and extremists who hate America straight to the gates of hell!
Now you sound like a religious nut job. May education and knowledge prevail over plump lies and propaganda attempts. Many western governments are corrupt to the core and the more people realize that, the better.
BTW – none of my relatives said; Heil Hitler”, but they did kill Germans who did. By the bushel. You deserved it.
Do you even notice how far you have fallen with that comment? You succumb to hatred and applaud the killing of people just because I have the same nationality? You really think you can “get to me” with that? The opposite is the case. I only take you even less seriously than before.
Nazi Germany doesn’t exist anymore. Though a lot of Nazis were “rehabilitated” and later became part of the new government in West Germany because they were needed.
Are you familiar with this? The prohibition of propaganda for war.
And yet, we see exact that kind of propaganda in our media lately.
USA will never lose🇺🇸🇦🇺🇨🇦🇩🇪🇫🇷🇮🇱🇯🇵🇰🇷🇲🇨🇳🇴🇵🇷🇹🇷
The pictures belie the scale of the B-2. It is huge.
172′ wingtip to wingtip… same as the original YB-49.
so are its electrostatically charged leading edges of its wings..
And regarding that (totally true) statement we have nothing but….. crickets!! Ohhhh, is the fact that every armchair aviation warrior out there who doesn’t believe in what the B-2 is actually capable of just quiet regarding this comment?? Hmmmm…