WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Only 500 pilots in the U.S. Air Force have been trained and qualified to fly the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, the 500th pilot graduated the Initial Qualification Training program, Feb. 7, 2020, at the 13th Bomb Squadron, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
Among the U.S. Air Force’s aircraft in service there are three long range bombers; the B-52H Stratofortress has served for 65 years, the B-1B Lancer for 34 years and for the last 30 years the B-2 Spirit has been in service.
The feeling of flying in a B-2 is known only to a small community of people, even fewer are qualified to handle its controls.
The B-2 is one of the few platforms that require the submission of a performance package, according to U.S. Air Force Maj. Matthew Small, 13th Bomb Squadron director of operations. Before entering the training program, pilots submit their flying and personnel records. For this last cycle nearly 60 pilots submitted packages, but only 12 applicants were selected for an interview to determine their suitability to join the elite ranks of B-2 stealth bomber pilots. During the interview, the applicants learn the expectations that come along with being a B-2 pilot. Leaders from the 509th Operations Group then select six pilots who will participate in training to pilot the stealth bomber.
The numbers speak for themselves, the IQT program at Whiteman AFB graduates 16 B-2 pilots annually, the B-52H program at the 11th BS, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, graduates 36 pilots annually and the B-1B, IQT program at the 28th BS, Dyess AFB, Texas, graduates 24 pilots.
The IQT program for the B-2 is a six-month training course that consists of 266 hours of academics, 30 exams, 46 simulator missions and 10 flights in the aircraft. Upon completion of the program, graduates will transition to Mission Qualification Training, a program designed to train pilots in tactically employing the aircraft. Compared to the initial training for the other bomber platforms that are nine months long.
“It’s a dream come true and an honor to graduate and be a part of such an elite community of pilots,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Clayton Smith, the 500th IQT graduate. “It is a true testament to the hard work of every member who has ever had any part in the B-2 program that has produced so many outstanding pilots.”
The recent IQT graduates join a prestigious heritage and proud legacy of stealth bomber pilots. They will constantly train to maintain a level of readiness in an environment where expectations of superior lethality continue to grow.
Last year, the U.S. Air Force marked 30 years since the B-2’s first flight from Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. Since then, the stealth bomber has been an integral part of the nation’s global air power dominance capable of flying intercontinental missions up to 40-hour-long with a two-man crew.
“There is no other aircraft that is as forward in the spear as the B-2,” Small said. “Not only does the aircraft carry a massive payload, but we are called upon to deliver that payload in the most dangerous of situations where other aircraft dare not tread. We fly the only aircraft of our type in the world. When B-2 pilots walk into a room, other combat leaders look to us on how to best employ and support the world’s most deadly airborne asset.”