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Air Force: Moisture caused $1.4 billion bomber crash

  • Story Highlights
  • Spirit of Kansas B-2 stealth bomber crashed on Guam on February 23
  • Report blames crash on moisture that distorted three of the plane's 24 sensors
  • The incident was the first in the fleet's 20-year history
  • The aircraft was expected to last 50 years
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HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii (AP) -- The Air Force said the first crash of a B-2 stealth bomber was caused by moisture in sensors and estimated the loss of the aircraft at $1.4 billion.


The Air Force stopped flying B-2 stealth bombers for two months after the crash.

The crash probably could have been avoided if knowledge of a technique to evaporate the moisture had been disseminated throughout the B-2 program, Maj. Gen. Floyd L. Carpenter, who headed an accident investigation board, said Thursday.

The Spirit of Kansas abruptly pitched up, rolled and yawed to the left February 23 before plunging to the ground at Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam. Both pilots ejected safely just after the left wing made contact with the ground; it was the first crash since the maiden B-2 flights nearly 20 years ago.

"It was just by the grace of God that they were safe, and the good [ejection] system," Carpenter said.

Water distorted preflight readings in three of the plane's 24 sensors, making the aircraft's control computer force the B-2 to pitch up on takeoff, resulting in a stall and subsequent crash. Video Watch $1.4 billion aircraft crash to the ground »

Carpenter said the pilots and crew followed procedures and "the aircraft actually performed as it was designed. In other words, all the systems were functioning normally."

However, a technique learned by some two years ago that had gone widely unknown and unadopted probably would have prevented the crash, Carpenter said. The technique essentially heats the sensors and evaporates any moisture before data calibrations.

"This technique was never formalized in a technical order change or captured in 'lessons learned' reports. Hence, only some pilots and some maintenance technicians knew of the suggestion," according to Carpenter's executive summary of the accident.

The report said, "The human factor of communicating critical information was a contributing factor to this mishap."

The general said his responsibility was solely for the investigation of the crash and added that the report was forwarded to commanding officers to determine whether any disciplinary measures are required.

The sensors measure air pressure to help calculate everything from airspeed to altitude. Because of the bad data, flight computers had inaccurate airspeed and wrongly indicated a downward angle, which contributed to an early rotation and uncontrolled 30-degree pitch up.

Carpenter said the lack of altitude and airspeed prevented the pilots from correcting the aircraft.

Guam, 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii, is known for its humidity. But the Air Force said water in the sensors never caused any problems.

The Spirit was delivered in February 1995 and expected to be in service for another 50 years.

The bomber had been returning to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, where the 21-plane fleet is based. The Air Force grounded the B-2s after the crash and resumed flying them in late April.


Carpenter said procedures and policies are now in place to guard against similar crashes.

"It's fortunate the crew was able to safely eject. It's unfortunate, however, that we lost one of our nation's penetrating bombers," said Gen. Carrol H. Chandler, commander of Pacific Air Forces.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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