Grandson of Enola Gay pilot takes to skies in B-2
June 25, 2006
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — “OK, Stealth, come out of invisible mode,” Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets joked as he led a group toward the B-2 bomber inside the Andersen Air Force Base hangar last week.
Tibbets is the grandson of Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets, who piloted Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II in 1945.
Tibbets also flies bombers, but his subsonic, low-observable stealth machine is considerably more high-tech than his grandfather’s.
“The B-2 has proven through time that it’s the best bomber in the world,” said Tibbets, who commands the 393rd Bomb Squadron, part of the 509th Bomb Wing based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. “We kick down the door.”
But the flip side of sophistication is maintenance, as the B-2 requires care “above and beyond” most planes, Tibbets said. That’s especially true on Guam, where humidity and heat must be kept at bay. The $2.1 billion B-2’s avionics must be kept at 60 degrees to work, Tibbets said.
A climate-controlled hangar was built recently to house the B-2s, but all four cannot fit in at once. The $32 million hangar was built to house both the B-2 and other bombers here as part of a “continuous bomber presence” on Guam.
Different bomber groups — B-52s, B-1s, B-2s — cycle in every four months, Tibbets said.
The 393rd, with about 25 aviators and 230 maintainers, arrived in May to replace B-1 bombers.
This is the squadron’s second rotation; the first was a year ago.
This time, the maintainers said, they brought more replacement parts with them because they are hard to get on Guam.
Even so, the B-2s are doing well here, Tibbets said. For instance, the group recently completed a 10,000-mile, 24-hour sortie to Alaska and back during the “Northern Edge” exercise and has an overall 77 percent mission-capable rate, he said — meaning the percentage of the time the planes are ready to fly.
“I’m pushing the fleet as hard as I can,” Tibbets said. “I do think about my grandfather and feel connected to this area. It’s a humbling experience.”