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Deployed B-2s participate in Polar Lightning

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Deployed aircrew members flying B-2 Spirit bombers recently completed a sortie designed to test the Airmen’s ability to execute a long-duration mission within a few days of deploying to a forward operating base.

The mission – called Polar Lightning – proved the aircraft, aircrew members and support personnel are all prepared to provide a credible deterrent in the Pacific region.

“The purpose of a Polar Lightning exercise is two-fold,” said Lt. Col. William Eldridge, 393 rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron director of operations. “First, it demonstrates our ability to provide precision airpower anywhere in the Pacific theater on short notice. Second, exercises like Polar Lightning provide valuable long-duration training for B-2 pilots. Historically, B-2 combat sorties average 30 hours. Long-duration sortie training allows our pilots to experience a typical combat sortie.”

The two-ship formation required the pilots to complete their sortie at a training range approximately 4,500 nautical miles away in Alaska, resulting in a 9,800 nautical-mile round trip lasting 24 hours.

“The B-2 pilots worked with a forward air controller to both aid in clearing the target as well as score the live weapons used,” said Maj. Mark Pye, 36th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron B-2 mission planning cell chief. The aircraft dropped 13 MK 82 bombs, all of which hit their intended targets.

The mission was originally scheduled for later in the deployment, but was moved up to demonstrate the ability to execute the mission a short amount of time after arriving at a deployed location. According to Colonel Eldridge, everybody was well prepared and the mission was a huge success.

“Despite the time crunch, our maintainers provided us perfect aircraft, both mechanically and stealth capable,” he added. “Our mission planning cell scheduled tanker support and coordinated our bombing range procedures. They also provided mission flight-following and kept Kenney Headquarters informed of our progress.”

“Also, communications Airmen deployed here prepared a secure satellite communications plan that allowed us to receive mission updates during our entire sortie,” Colonel Eldridge said.
These mission updates included both complete new routing and target changes simulating a dynamic battlefield capable of changing by the hour.

Some of the critical flight preparation was in areas people wouldn’t typically think, such as the food the pilots eat before being required to fly for long periods of time.

“Our flight surgeon developed a rest plan and worked with the Andersen dining facility to prepare high-protein meals,” said the colonel. “Believe it or not, the type of food you eat on these missions makes a big difference.”

The mission wasn’t without its challenges. During the sortie, an issue came up with the flight’s aerial refueling support.

“During the mission, one of our critical air refuelings cancelled after we were airborne and too far into the mission to turn around,” he said. “The Alaska National Guard scrambled two of its tankers to refuel us south of Alaska. The dedication and can-do attitude of those tanker crews saved our mission.”

Although flying long-duration missions is a requirement for all B-2 pilots, who typically fly at least one long-duration mission every six months, Polar Lightning provided some valuable training and new opportunities for the aircrew and support personnel involved.

“Deploying to the Pacific allows us to uniquely sharpen our deploy-employ skills, our long-range communications skills, and our bombing skills,” said Colonel Eldridge.

The B-2 aircraft, aircrew members and support personnel – from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Mo. – are part of the continuing rotational bomber presence to provide the U.S. Pacific commander a continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The B-2s are scheduled to remain at Andersen AFB through early September. (Courtesy of Pacific Air Forces)