The Stealth Bomber Elite
Fewer than 100 pilots climb the ladder to the B-2 cockpit.
- By James R. Chiles
- Air & Space magazine, September 2013
USAF / Senior Airman Nick Wilson
(Page 2 of 6)
“After being accepted into the wing, Pita started the B-2 training in October 1999. New pilots master the T-38, an agile, twin-seat jet trainer that keeps skills and reactions sharp, and they must complete an initial qualification training (IQT) course covering fundamental B-2 skills. Each IQT class holds just three or four trainees; classes graduate in six or seven months.
“After Pita was inducted into the 325th Squadron, his training shifted from methods to missions. Then fully qualified, Pita served as an instructor, pending the chance to fly the bomber into combat. That came in March 2003, as the United States made final preparations to oust Saddam Hussein.
““We had an impending sense that something was going to happen,” he says. This was confirmed by a series of summons over a period of days: Study intelligence briefs; adjust work schedules for a long mission. Over at the weapons storage area, loaders were mating bombs with JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) guidance packages, then toting the one-ton bombs into the docks for loading. A day before the flight, crews studied the combat mission folder (a binder about two inches thick) and rehearsed in the simulator.
“After the final—mandatory—crew rest period, it was launch day. If the pilots lived off base, in Warrensburg or Sedalia, their family members dropped them off at the base, stretching out family time a little more. At home, each family had an envelope of personal thoughts from the pilot marked for opening in case of mishap.
“Airmen loaded the gear that Pita and mission commander “Spaghetti” would need in the airplane: a sleeping bag, extra clothes, survival kit, folding cot, snacks and sandwiches, bottled water, plenty of piddle packs to avoid overfilling the toilet bowl, and lots of Diet Cokes for Pita.
“Across the ramp, maintainers and preflight crews were checking the aircraft, verifying that the bombs were talking to the computers, and preparing to start the engines well ahead of the crew’s arrival.
“Downstairs in the Mission Planning Cell, Pita and other pilots in the initial wave of B-2s bound for Baghdad heard final briefings, which alternated between small groups and all pilots. Each two-pilot crew also worked with a lead mission planner: “We looked over the situation and threats that might arise en route, including the Blue Line and weapons on board,” says Pita.
“The Blue Line is a key part of stealth tactics, and tactics are just as vital as the airplane’s design and the secret materials that reduce its radar cross-section. Uniquely crafted for each mission, the Blue Line stitches the assigned targets onto a flight path calculated to avoid the most dangerous enemy defenses. Pico, a pilot who flew in both Iraq and Kosovo, says that surviving a mission depends on intense planning before takeoff.