B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber diverts into RAF Fairford

13/12/2023

It's becoming increasingly rare to catch a glimpse of America's stealth bomber in the UK, with the aircraft making only fleeting visits to RAF Fairford in both September 2021 and August 2023. Even in deployments to Fairford in both 2019 and 2020, the Spirits made visits to other locations they are now known to deploy to, those being Keflavik in Iceland and Lajes Field in the Azores. It had been far too long since the aircraft had deployed to Britain, and I certainly hope it changes in 2024! Until then, this divert will have to do, not that I'm complaining!

When I happened to find out that a pair of B-2 Spirits were crossing the pond on what was planned to be yet another fleeting visit to the UK, the selfish side of me hoped at least one would divert into Fairford. The pair took on fuel from at least 1 Boeing KC-46A Pegasus at around 8am UK time off the USA. It was planned that the aircraft would loiter in UK airspace for a few hours, working with UK-based US units, before receiving fuel to get them home. Everything was going as planned, the Spirits were playing with Lakenheaths F-35s over the North Sea and were awaiting their tanker support when they received word that a tanker had broken and as such, only 1 of RAF Mildenhalls KC-135s was available to pass fuel to them. It was decided that the 2nd aircraft in the flight, DEATH32, would take the fuel and DEATH31 would work a divert into Fairford. My wish was granted, although I do feel for the crew who expected to be home to their families in a few short hours. With this knowledge, I headed to Fairford at the earliest opportunity to catch what would hopefully be my 6th B-2. I arrived just as the aircraft touched down, and managed a couple of very dodgy shots as the Spirit of America vacated runway 27. Not only was this B-2 number 6, it was the boss bird of the 509th Bomb Wing. 

As the jet had now landed and taxied to park, I pushed up towards the top of runway 27 intending to take a few shots of it in front of the hangars, with the hangar lighting silhouetting the aircraft nicely. Now, my night photography is pretty damn awful, I'd much sooner shoot in the light. But for this occasion, I had no choice but to spray and pray that something would come out that even slightly resembled the iconic B-2 shape. 

USAF Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit 82-1066 'Spirit of America' DEATH31

During a visit to Fairford on Saturday 16th December, the hangar in which the B-2 was sat was opened up, exposing the sleek bomber at rest. 

With an air refueling reservation posted and a tanker in place, it became apparent that December 18th was departure day. I arrived at the base around 10:45, by which point the aircraft was already sitting outside and ready for the trip back to Whiteman. Less than an hour later, the aircraft called for engine start. It started its taxi to the runway when it came across a sweeper truck in its path. A rather comical situation occurred in which the aircraft told the air traffic control that it couldn't pass the truck, so someone had to get the trucker to move their vehicle out of the way! DEATH51 ran up its engine and blasted out of Fairford at 12:08, leaving smoke and jelly in its trail. 

Various short clips from its taxi and departure can be seen here:

https://youtu.be/C9ma3wQntJ8?si=S0xL-V7dgoC9rLoD

USAF Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit 82-1066 'Spirit of America' DEATH51

82-1066 has quite the history, having been the first B-2 ever built. It was never actually intended to join the front-line service in the USAF. Having spent its early life involved in the flight test program, AV-1, or Air Vehicle 1, as it is known, was retired in March 1993. In 1996, the USA chose to up the total fleet to 21 aircraft, and this saw 1066 come out of retirement. The aircraft was originally named 'Fatal Beauty', but was christened 'Spirit of America' on July 14th, 2000. 

The USAF's fleet of 20 B-2s fly out of Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, with the 509th Bomb Wing.