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Low Observable shop keeps the B-2 in the air and off the radar

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Torey Griffith
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
The Airmen of the 509th Maintenance Squadron Low Observable Section keep the B-2 in the air and off of the radar scopes. With the B-2 depending largely on its stealth capability for mission success, a great deal of time and care is taken to ensure the aircraft' s invisibility in the air. 

" We provide the wing commander LO compliant and combat-ready aircraft, as well as aircraft that are flyable for training missions, " said Master Sgt. Jeremy Shay, 509th MXS Low Observable Section supervisor. 

Balancing the Wing's need for combat-ready aircraft with the need for flyable airframes, or training aircraft for pilots, is the most challenging part of LO's mission, according to Sergeant Shay.

A B-2 that is air-worthy and one that is LO compliant are two different ships, as days of 'round the clock work are needed to apply the highly-guarded techniques and chemicals that prevent radar returns.  

"We are here around the clock, " said Sergeant Shay. "We are definitely on this flightline more than 360 days a year, 24 hours a day to ensure these aircraft are ready at a moments notice."

The LO team consists of more than 100 Airmen, as well as more than 50 civilians that Sergeant Shay calls "LO mercenaries." The 131st Bomb Wing's Air National Guard Unit, supervised by Master Sgt. Kelly Petty, also supports the LO mission, with several full-time employees and more than 70 members on drill weekends. 

Guardsmen encounter quite a transition when going to work at the LO shop, as many were trained to work with metals, as opposed to space-age composites, according to Sergeant Petty.

"It's like making an airplane pilot a submarine captain," Sergeant Petty said. "We were strictly structures guys, bending sheet metal, riveting, cutting, grinding, and stuff like that. When we came over here, it was a total career field change." 

The fruit of their labor, ironically, is never seen. The pilots take the newly LO'd aircraft and test them for "stealthiness." 

"It's not uncommon for us to put one to two months of work into an aircraft," said Sergeant Shay, "When it flies and it gets a good result, that is the most rewarding part of the job." 

That reward is essential to every B-2 sortie, as the massive aircraft is not designed to be fast or maneuverable, but instead relies on its ability to remain undetected to return to Whiteman unscathed. 

"The other pilots have that 9-G turn to get out of a missile's way; our whole point is to never let the missile know where we are in the first place," Sergeant Shay concluded.