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Warplanes: B-2s And The Curse
   Next Article → AFGHANISTAN: The Bottom Of The Barrel Is In Sight
September 8, 2011: For whatever reason, Guam is not a safe place for B-2 bombers. Ten percent of all B-2s have been put out of action after serving on the Pacific island of Guam. One B-2 crashed and burned there in 2008, and another required over three years of repairs after an onboard fire while on Guam last year.

The fire did a lot more damage than the air force admitted at the time. Repair technicians were brought in, and it took 18 months to make the B-2 barely flyable. This enabled it to limp back to a California repair facility, where another two years of work will be required. The flight home was carefully monitored to avoid stress on the still damaged airframe. Many aerial refuelings were performed to keep the weight of the aircraft at a minimum. Special care was taken to avoid any turbulent weather.

The Guam Curse began in February, 2008, when a B-2 crashed on takeoff. The entire fleet was grounded for 53 days, which was how long it took to discover the cause of the first, and so far only, crash of a B-2. The remaining 20 bombers are being watched carefully

 The most expensive aircraft ever, each of the 21 B-2s costs over $2 billion (development and construction costs combined). The 170 ton aircraft can carry 22 tons of bombs. There's not a big need for the B-2 at the moment, as the older B-1s and B-52s can deliver bombs cheaper, and just as reliably. Smart bombs have greatly reduced the need for heavy bombers, since one smart bomb can do the job of hundreds of "dumb" bombs. The greater accuracy and reliability of GPS guided JDAM smart bombs means that smaller bombs are now preferred. Thus a heavy bomber can carry over two hundred 250 pound SDB smart bombs. As a result, it's not unusual to only need one heavy bomber over Iraq, or Afghanistan, taking care of all requests from combat troops below.

The B-2 is stealthy, and this would be a major asset in a war against a nation with a decent air defense system (radars and missiles.) Thus the air force took its time discovering what went wrong with the B-2 on Guam (where four of the bombers were stationed), so that changes can be made to the other B-2s. The stealth aspects of the B-2 make for a very complex aircraft. Not just the tricky radar absorbing skin, but many mechanical and electronic systems as well. That's why the aircraft is so expensive, and you want to take your time trying to figure out what's not working.

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Colin Campbell       9/8/2011 12:22:00 PM
There are more reasons the B2 is so expensive.  One of the major reasons is that Northrop kept super tight tolerances on all the specifications for the aircraft's parts.  If you want to bring down the price of an airctaft a lot you identify the areas that need super tight tolerances and those where looser tolerances are 'good enough.' 
 
One example of this is a part that has to be manufactured to 0.005 inch tolerances - that are installed by hand with the human eyeball as the measuring/calibrating device.
 
Another huge issue is that Northrop also has the logistics contract for the aircraft instead of the Air Force buying the parts directly.  This allows Northrop to gouge the Air Force on the price of replacement parts (since the Air Force does not know how much Northrop is paying for them). The part used int he above example is sold to Northrop for ~4$4,000 and Northrop charges the Airforce ~$12,000 for it.  (And when the part is handed to the mechanic it is in it's origional box with the factory seals unbroken.)
 
BTW - the manufactuer of the part is required to maintain detailed records for everything from the raw materials used to the names of the people performing each operation - however Northrop does not track the serial numbers of the part.  Not only does this paperwork drive up the price of the parts - but it is a total waste of time because without the serial number it is impossible to identify what went wrong if a part is defective.
 
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