B-2 Stealth Bomber Spotted In Hawaii During Fleet-Wide Grounding (Updated)

Over four months after a B-2 was damaged while landing, the fleet is still generally grounded, but was seen in Hawaii last week.

byJoseph Trevithick, Tyler Rogoway|
B-2 photo


According to the Air Force, the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber fleet remains grounded, with exceptions at the discretion of the head of Air Force Global Strike Command, over four months after one of these aircraft suffered a mishap last December. The bomber in question made an emergency landing that resulted in a runway excursion at its home base in Missouri.

Significant damage was done to the aircraft, which caught fire, and subsequently sat wing-down partially off the runway for days. This incident came just over a year after a similar mishap occurred. That B-2, one of just 20 in existence, is still getting repaired at its birthplace at Plant 42 in Palmdale. Now it appears one B-2 has been operating, or had been operating, out in the Pacific, for reasons still unclear.

The mystery B-2 first popped up in an image said to have been taken at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, which shares grounds and runways with the sprawling Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, and posted to social media. It was shared as part of a larger discussion about how B-2s are missing from U.S. Strategic Command's (STRATCOM) big Global Thunder annual nuclear readiness exercise this year, which kicked off on April 11. The poster notes that the image of the B-2 in Hawaii was taken on April 7, 2023.

We corroborated this photo with low-resolution satellite imagery from Planet Labs taken on April 8, showing the B-2 parked on the northern apron at Hickam.

Photo via Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved Reprinted With Permission

Air Force Global Strike Command gave us the following initial statement in regard to our queries about the state of the B-2 force's 'safety pause' and the appearance of a Spirit in Hawaii:

"On 10 December, the B-2 experienced an in-flight malfunction during routine operations, and made an emergency landing at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. The out-brief of the Safety Investigation Board (SIB) for this incident is currently scheduled for 28 April. The outcomes of the SIB will determine the necessary corrective actions and the corresponding timelines to implement these corrective actions. The current B-2 fleet safety pause will continue until the SIB is out-briefed, and the corrective actions are implemented. The B-2 fleet can still fly missions with the concurrence of the Air Force Global Strike Commander if there's an operational need."

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bryson Britt

The Spirit in question appears to have been transient in nature, although where it came from and where it was going to remains unclear. It's possible that it had been at a forward location, such as Guam or Diego Garcia, when the grounding order came following the landing incident and is just now making its way home under a special waiver. Alternatively, it could have been stranded for maintenance or due to the grounding up until now. On the other hand, maybe it was flying a particular mission that was deemed important enough to take the risk of operating the aircraft during a fleet-wide stand-down. We just don't know, but these giant flying wings aren't exactly easy to miss. Whatever the circumstances were, they clearly seem to have been unique.

With any luck, the B-2's grounding could end after the SIB conveys its conclusions, but just why a single Spirit was winging its way out over the Pacific during the stand-down remains a mystery.

We have sent additional inquiries to the Air Force regarding the B-2's flight over the Pacific and we will update this post if and when we hear more.


We have a additional details from Air Force Global Strike Command:

"We project air power around the globe and that aircraft flew on a mission prior to the current B-2 fleet safety pause. That mission included a stop in Hawaii. While there awaiting further mission movements, the B-2 fleet safety pause went into effect. Therefore, that platform will remain there until the B-2 fleet safety pause is lifted."

We are seeking additional information as to where it was stored and why it was pulled out briefly last week. No daily satellite imagery shows a B-2 on the ramp at Hickam AFB dating back to the December 10th crash.

Author's note: Edited for clarity based on follow-up comment from Global Strike Command.

Contact the authors: tyler@thedrive.com, joe@thedrive.com