An Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., flies over Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Nov. 15, 2022.

An Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., flies over Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Nov. 15, 2022. (Noah Coger/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — The Air Force’s nearly two dozen B-2 Spirit bombers are no longer grounded after one of the planes made a fiery landing that led to a five-month investigation of the fleet, the service said Monday.

The Air Force ordered all 20 of its B-2 bombers grounded in December so the service could look into the emergency landing at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri that damaged one of the planes. The grounding allowed the service to determine whether there were any safety issues that could affect the entire fleet.

The Air Force said no issues were found and the B-2 bombers returned to the skies on Monday.

“Throughout the fleet safety pause, our ability to execute our mission was never at risk,” said Col. Brus Vidal, spokesman at Air Force Global Strike Command. “The B-2 fleet could still fly missions on the orders of the president of the United States or in support of the National Command Authority.”

The service grounded all the planes as a safety measure after one of the B-2s experienced an in-flight emergency on Dec. 10 and was forced to quickly get back on the ground at Whiteman. The pilots made a successful landing, the Air Force said, but the plane caught fire on the runway and was damaged. It is now being repaired.

The Air Force has not yet said what the malfunction was or what its investigation has uncovered. The decision to return the planes to the sky was made by the commander of Global Strike Command.

“We erred on the side of prudence and caution to assess any possible safety of flight issues, deliberately and methodically, within the fleet,” Vidal said. “We successfully accomplished all necessary actions to safely return to full flight operations with the B-2 fleet.”

Manufactured by Northrop Grumman, the B-2 Spirit is one of the Air Force’s most recognizable planes. The aircraft is a heavy stealth bomber that can evade anti-aircraft defenses, such as radar, and deliver a range of munitions, including conventional and thermonuclear weapons.

The B-2 Spirit entered service in 1997 and 21 of the planes were produced. To date, only one has been destroyed — the Spirit of Kansas, which crashed during takeoff at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in 2008. Both pilots were injured, but survived. The cause of the crash was weather-related.

The remaining B-2s are all based at Whiteman and they are scheduled to remain in service until at least 2032, when the B-21 Raider will begin to replace them.

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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