B-2 Spirit crews conclude BTF Europe deployment, celebrate historic firsts

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kayla White
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

For more than a month, 509th Bomb Wing Airmen, aircraft and equipment from Whiteman Air Force Base operated out of Europe to test their ability to adapt to and operate from a forward location.

This Bomber Task Force collaborated with the 501st Combat Support Wing and other key partners to transform Royal Air Force Fairford, a small military installation in the Cotswolds region of England, into a base capable of supporting B-2 bomber missions and support operations.

The 501st CSW, located at RAF Alconbury in the United Kingdom, serves as an administrative support wing to the U.S. Air Force throughout Europe. In addition to the 501st CSW, Airmen from Dyess AFB, Texas: Barksdale AFB, Louisiana; as well as Spangdahlem and Ramstein Air Bases in Germany, converged to make BTF Europe possible.

“The biggest challenge we face when we go anywhere is adapting to working out of a new location with different agencies,” said Capt. Bradley Connor, who led maintenance operations during the BTS and is assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Whiteman AFB. “It takes a lot to safely launch and catch a B-2 and getting all of the agencies on the same page is vital in accomplishing the mission.”

Connor said coordination included working with logistics teams for parts supply and security forces to provide protection during ground operations, while every team understood the rules of each airfield and providing for the basic needs of all Airmen.

“No day is the same when you are operating away from home station and knowing how to deal with whatever hurdle or circumstance that comes at you in a new location is a challenge in of itself,” he said. “The act of actually fixing the aircraft is second nature to the Airmen once the groundwork of the new location is set.”

Airmen of the 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron provided crucial air transportation and petroleum, oil and lubricant support while collaborating closely with the 420th Air Base Squadron and other units operating out of RAF Fairford.

“It was tiring at times, but we adapted and overcame,” said 2nd Lt. Christopher Bunt, assigned to the 509th LRS and in charge of LRS Airmen during their BTF rotation. “The biggest take away was to be flexible and know your job. Flexibility is the key to airpower and LRS showed that daily.”

Connor said BTF deployments give Airmen the opportunity to appreciate how everyone does their part.

“It is easy to lose sight of the big picture of what our Airmen do when they are used to just launching aircraft at home station and going home,” he said. “At a forward operating location with fewer people, resources and aircraft to get the mission done, the importance of each (Air Force Specialty Code) and skill set is magnified.”

He said all deployed Airmen should understand how important they are to the mission, noting that international media attention on stealth bomber operations showed how closely the world is watching.

“With our main mission being deterrence, Airmen need to know they may be waking up and doing the same things daily, but every aspect of what they do is important,” Connor said. “They need to be experts so when the time comes to use their skill set, there is no question on readiness.”

The world witnessed BTF Europe flex its might in a number of firsts for the bomber community.

For the first time ever, Whiteman AFB Airmen conducted hot-pit refuels in Iceland and Portugal, which challenged them to service and return stealth bombers to the air without shutting down the engines.

Lt. Col. Rob “Spartan” Schoeneberg, BTF commander, said the ability for the B-2 to fight from, and hot-pit refuel and load weapons at multiple locations enhances the U.S.’s strategic capabilities and complicates the plans of its adversaries. 

“The world is clearly watching what the B-2 is doing in Fairford and they know we are primed and ready for combat in a way we have never been before,” he said.

On top of establishing two new potential operating locations, Schoeneberg said the BTF crushed all its other objectives in spades, to include successfully flying 100 percent of its planned sorties.

B-2 pilots also conducted flights accompanied by their RAF wingmen in non-U.S. 5th generation fighters and organized combat exercises with U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagles, KC-135 Stratotankers and RAF F-35 Lightning IIs, along with other assets. This training allowed all involved to hone combat cohesion and familiarization with the unique capabilities of the different platforms.

From aircrews, maintenance and munitions to security forces and support entities, Schoeneberg said crews gained valuable operational experience that only a BTF deployment provides.

“Our team has helped build the foundation of what a BTF should look like and how it is most effectively employed,” he said.  

The 393rd Bomb Squadron’s squadron weapon officer, call sign “Heat”, is responsible for ensuring his pilots are ready to flawlessly execute their world-wide combat tasking when called upon, day or night.

He said this BTF exercised the B-2’s diverse operational skill sets allowing them to embolden the synergies and compounding strengths between their NATO allies.

“This directly translates to regional assurance and global deterrence,” he said. “As well as lethal and precise combat capabilities able to be brought to bear from the spectrum of ready and postured NATO forces.”

Heat said the cadre of B-2 pilots, maintenance, munitions, security forces and support entities that participated in operations out of Fairford gained valuable operational experience that only a BTF deployment provides.

“Experiences like this act as a whet stone for the B-2 community, as we maintain readiness to employ strike capabilities across the globe when required,” he said.