WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
The B-2 Spirit is an American heavy penetration strategic bomber designed to break through dense anti-aircraft defenses without being detected.
But, before the B-2 Spirit is ready to take stealthy flight, it must pass the discerning eyes and careful hands of the Whiteman Air Force Base maintenance team.
Skilled Airmen of the 509th Maintenance Group (MXG) and their Missouri National Guard counterparts assigned to the 131st Maintenance Squadron collaborate to perform the specialized type of maintenance that keeps the Stealth Bomber under the radar: low observable, or LO, maintenance.
“The materials we work with are relatively delicate, so any changes in the atmosphere can damage the adhesives we use,” said Staff Sgt. Alexander Ramirez, an LO technician assigned to the 509th MXG. “The aircraft comes back with at least a few maintenance needs after each flight.”
LO technicians evaluate, install, remove and repair the low-observable coatings.
“We have to work hand-in-hand with a lot of other shops on the flight line,” said Ramirez. “If they have to get into certain panels or remove any fasteners to complete different types of maintenance, we need to remove the LO materials. Once they’ve finished, we go through and reapply everything.”
Low-observable maintenance can take anywhere from 30 minutes to half a day to complete, said Ramirez.
After maintenance is complete, members of the signature diagnostics section come through to inspect the aircraft.
“It is our job to basically monitor the B-2’s signature health,” said Staff Sgt. James B. Finn, a signature diagnostics (SD) technician assigned to the 509th MXG.
Finn and other members of the SD team perform regular inspections after each round of maintenance is complete. The SD team processes the results of their inspections and reports their findings to LO.
“After the LO techs are done, we go through,” said Finn. “It’s important to have multiple sets of eyes to ensure nothing is missed.”
There is a multi-tier inspection system. For example, first, there is a visual inspection with flashlights. Next, specialized tools are used to conduct point inspections of the energy coming from the B-2. Further, more in-depth inspections are conducted on a less-frequent, as-needed basis.
“It can be repetitive,” said Finn. “But when I take a step back and look at the defects we’ve found, I’m reminded of why what we do matters.”
Finn said part of the maintenance team’s newcomer orientation process is to demonstrate to new Airmen how defects react to radar.
“Understanding how each defect could potentially impact the safety of our pilots is key to what we do,” he said. “When the pilots go out to train or fly a real-world mission, the quality of our work matters. If we haven’t done our best to ensure maintenance was performed up to standard, they cannot pull accurate information readings.”
Senior Airman Austin K. Choate, an LO journeyman who has been assigned to the 509th MXG for more than two years, performs a wide variety of maintenance on the Stealth Bomber.
“I take a lot of pride in what I do,” said Choate. “I know that if I put it on the jet, my name is attached to it. I will get it right.”