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The B-2 Spirit sits on the runway at RAF Fairford Wednesday in preparation for a flight that was later scrubbed.

The B-2 Spirit sits on the runway at RAF Fairford Wednesday in preparation for a flight that was later scrubbed. (Charlie Reed / S&S)

RAF FAIRFORD, England — A maintenance issue prevented the illustrious B-2 Spirit from taking off Wednesday before a crowd of rain-soaked British aviation enthusiasts.

Still, the 100-plus members of the Fairford Aviation Society left the base beaming after spending the day checking out the Air Force’s premier bomber and rubbing elbows with its pilots.

"It’s amazing. I’ve seen the B-2 before at air shows but not like this," said Russ Russell, a resident of nearby Swindon.

About 70 members of the 13th Bomb Squadron from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., arrived at Fairford on Monday in two B-2s and two KC-135 Stratotankers for a "global power mission."

"It’s a demonstration that we can reach out and strike a long-range base outside the continental United States," said Maj. Craig Mockler, who helped coordinate the unit’s mission in England.

The bombers each dropped 2,000 pounds of inert weapons at Wainfleet bombing range in northern England en route to Fairford and were expected to conduct a similar mission before returning to the U.S. on Friday, Mockler said.

"Procedurally, it’s still the same as combat so when we go to combat there’s really nothing different," he said.

Fairford and bases in Diego Garcia and Guam are the only other forward operating bases outside the U.S. capable of supporting the bombers and their unique security requirements.

The unit became the first to use the new $4 million NATO-funded squadron operations building, which opened at Fairford last month.

It could ramp up operations from Fairford for the "training value we get flying overseas," said Mockler, 35. "It’s also building on that relationship we’ve had with the British since World War I."

Squadron leader Jon Killerby, an exchange pilot from the Royal Air Force assigned to the B-2 unit, personifies that connection. He is only the second British exchange pilot to fly the stealth bomber.

"It’s been such a unique experience. Hopefully, the program will continue," said Killerby, who joined the unit about two years ago.

"It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever flown. What can I possibly go back to?" said Killerby, 34.

This week’s visit to England marked his first since starting the exchange program, a homecoming made all the more special by the warm reception of his countrymen.

The British "have a unique fascination with aviation," Killerby said. "I’ll be talking to guys who know more about the aircraft I’m flying than I do. I mean, I know the technology and operations side, but often they’ll know all about the history of the aircraft and the units that have flown it. It’s nice."

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