Saturday, March 21, 2009

B-2 aircrew participates in exercise in Pacific

A B-2 Spirit positions to receive fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker March 10 over the Pacific Ocean. More than 270 Airmen and four B-2s are deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as part of a continuous bomber presence in the region. Pacific theater refueling operations are conducted by 434th Air Refueling Wing Airmen from Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind. The B-2 is from the 509th Bomb Wing, 13th Bomb Squadron, Whiteman AFB, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

by Senior Airman Ryan Whitney, 36th Wing Public Affairs

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFNS) -- Airmen aboard a B-2 Spirit tested their endurance in a 24-hour, 8,000-mile mission to Alaska and back to Guam March 12 in an exercise showcasing U.S. commitment to peace and stability throughout the Pacific region.

Four B-2s and 270 Airmen from the 13th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron are deployed to Andersen Air Force Base from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., and this was the first bomber to complete the Polar Lightning Exercise since their arrival in late February.

Polar Lightning missions are flown to showcase the global reach and power of U.S. bomber force and at the same time the sorties give aircrews an opportunity to hone their skills. During the exercise, a B-2 Spirit aircrew flew for 11 hours to Alaska. After it arrived at the Alaskan Range, the stealth-bomber dropped more than 6,000 pounds of ordnance during two hours of range time, then returned to Andersen AFB.

"Most missions for bombers are long-duration flights like what we did during Polar Lightning," said Maj. Beth Makros, the 13th EBS assistant director of operations and mission planner for this exercise. "It is important that we practice like we play, and Polar Lightning provides a great opportunity for our aircrew to get some long endurance experience."

Although the stealth-bomber was originally scheduled to participate with F-22 Raptors, E-3 Sentries and F-16 Fighting Falcons from Elmendorf and Eielson Air Force bases in Alaska, the B-2 aircrews were still able to gain valuable training after inclement weather in Alaska prevented the other airframes from integrating with the B-2s.

"The training that the aircrew got was invaluable, and even though some of the players were unable to participate due to weather, we developed strong contacts with the other units for future Polar Lightning exercises," Major Makros said.

Polar Lightning is a frequent exercise, taking place approximately once a month. In order to fly such a long-duration mission, many preparations must be made. From eating the right diet, to lining up tanker aircraft support, to a good night's rest, preparation is key to a successful mission, the major said.

Making sure B-2s have enough fuel to complete their missions are Airmen aboard KC-135 Stratotankers from the 434th Air Refueling Squadron deployed here from Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind.

"The tanker support here has been phenomenal. For this exercise, we had to refuel three times before the mission was over, and to ensure our success, not only did they have a tanker escort us to Alaska, but they prestaged tankers at Alaska to get us back home as well," Major Makros said.

Another important player in the exercise was the flight doctor, who monitored the pilots' sleep schedule and diet to make sure their level of alertness was as high as it could be during the stressful situation.

The mission also had to be scheduled so when they arrived in Alaska, the time of day was accurate so the ability of the stealth bomber was at its peak.

Although all the coordination and preparation was a lot of hard work, in the end it was worth the effort, the major said.

"The experience the crew gained from the exercise and taking off from a new location was completely irreplaceable, and without help from various players, it wouldn't have been possible," she said.

The Airmen and B-2s are part of a regularly scheduled air and space expeditionary force rotation of bombers that has been underway since 2003. The bomber rotation is aimed at enhancing regional security and demonstrating U.S. commitment to the Pacific region.