Known the world over as home to the United States Air Force’s Northrop B-2 Spirit fleet, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, also has a number of other units and aircraft assigned to its command. For this article we overview the 509th Bomb Wing and feature the lesser known aircraft and squadrons that share the ramps with the B-2s. AeroResource’s Mark Forest meets and talks with the 394th Combat Training Squadron, 442d Fighter Wing and the 1-135th Attack/Reconnaissance Battalion of the Missouri National Guard.
509th Bomb Wing
Making history in August 1945, the 509th Bomb Wing (BW) dropped both the first and second atomic bombs over the mainland of Japan from two of their Boeing B-29 Superfortress’ – ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Bockscar’. During late 1945, the 509th and its B-29s were relocated to Roswell, New Mexico where it would form the backbone of the newly formed Strategic Air Command (SAC). Some three years later, the unit received its first modified B-29s for aerial refuelling – the new variant being designated KB-29M. By the mid-1950s, the B-29s and KB-29s had been replaced by the B-47 Stratojet and KC-97 tanker (both coming from the Boeing stable), and these aircraft along with the 509th were transferred to Pease Air Force Base (AFB), New Hampshire in August 1958. The unit would undergo a change of aircraft again in 1965 with the B-47s and KC-97s being retired – their replacement coming in the form of the B-52 Stratofortress and KC-135 Stratotanker. From 1965 until late-1969, the B-52s would see action over the skies of Vietnam flying many bombing missions in support of Operation Arc Light. The wing would see its B-52s transferred to other commands by December 1969 with the ‘swing wing’ FB-111A bomber from General Dynamics arriving a year later. The type would fly with the 509th BW at Pease AFB for almost twenty years until the Base Realignment and Closure administration (BRAC) slated Pease AFB for closure in 1988. March 31, 1991 saw Pease AFB closed with its KC-135s transferred to other units and the FB-111s moving to the Tactical Air Command.
The 509th moved to Whiteman AFB on the September 30, 1990 but had no personnel assigned until April 1993. Between this period of inactivity, Congress announced that the B-2 Spirit would be assigned to the 509th BW at Whiteman AFB. On June 1, 1992, it was announced that SAC would become the Air Combat Command (ACC) and that the unit would be assigned to this new command. The first B-2 to arrive at Whiteman – 88-0329 christened the ‘Spirit of Missouri’ – touched down on the December 17, 1993. In total 20 B-2s are assigned to the 509th, with one of those based at Edwards AFB, California for test and evaluation purposes. Having originally consisted of 21 jets, the fleet was hit by the loss of the ‘Spirit of Kansas’ in February 2008 at Anderson AFB, Guam – the aircraft crashing just after take-off. The B-2 has seen action in Operation Allied Force over Kosovo and Serbia during 1999, and later in Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan where it led America’s strike force in 2001. Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 saw the type used against the regime of Saddam Hussein whilst Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011 saw three B-2s dropping bombs on a Libyan target whilst enforcing the United Nation’s no-fly zone. As of February 2010, Global Strike Command replaced the ACC and the B-2 can be seen visiting RAF Fairford in the UK as part of Global Strike deployments in support of their mission statement – “Execute Strategic Deterrence, Global Strike and Combat Support…Anytime, Anywhere!”
394th Combat Training Squadron
In May 1917, the 4th Aero Squadron was formed and stood up at South Antonio, Texas the following month. Between 1917 and 1919, the 4th transferred command between a number of bases before being demobilized in January 1919. Six months later another 4th Aero Squadron was formed at Hazlehurst Field, New York under the US Army Air Service flying multiple variants of the Airco DH.4. By early 1920, the 4th had moved to Hawaii where they would remain until November of 1942 – however, they had been renamed numerous times from 4th Observation to 4th Reconnaissance and finally the 394th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) by April 22, 1942. During late 1942, the 394th left Hawaii and was soon operating both Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and Consolidated LB-30s from various locations around the South Pacific – LB-30 was the USAAF designation for 75 Liberator IIs taken from an RAF order in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. During 1943, the squadron began to lose its B-17s and early LB-30s for long range B-24 Liberators. From 1943 to 1945 the unit played a key role in pushing the Japanese back from the Solomon Islands through to the Philippines.
After the end of the Second World War, the 394th would transfer one last time to Clark AFB on the Philippines before a massive demobilization of the United States military during 1946 saw the squadron inactivated in April of that year. From then until November 7, 1996, the 394th remained inactive but the United States Air Force had redesignated it the 394th Combat Training Squadron (CTS) during this period of inactivity. The unit was formed as part of the ACC, 509th Operations Group (OG), 509th BW at Whiteman. In 1996, the 394th CTS started to receive the Northrop T-38 Talon – a two-seat, twin-engine supersonic jet used throughout the USAF as an advanced jet trainer. The role of the T-38 with the 394th is to train B-2 aircrews and keep them mission ready and qualified at all times to fly Global Strike missions.
During a Q&A session both Lt Colonel Matthew Michaud – the unit commander – and Flt Lt Wesley Pead – a Royal Air Force Officer currently on exchange – a little more about the missions of the 394th was explained.
Lt Colonel Matthew Michaud
“The 394th CTS falls under the command of the 509th BW. We are responsible for all B-2 and T-38 pilot training here at Whiteman. The T-38 is our companion training program for the B-2, any pilot who is new to Whiteman will come here for T-38 initial qualification and then go on to B-2 initial qualification. They spend around 9-10 months here with the 394th and then get turned over to one of the other squadrons: the 393rd BS, the 13th BS or the 509th Operations Support Squadron. We train roughly 12 T-38 and 16 B-2 pilots per year on initial qualifications, in addition to handling re-qualification training and instructor pilot upgrade training for both aircraft.
The B-2 community has been able to gain exceptional pilots from not only the combat community (fighters and bombers) but from the mobility air forces community as well. We have also have a number of pilots that come to us as first-assignment instructor pilots, so they come to us as a T-38 instructor pilot for a year or two and then they begin B-2 qualification training.
The 394th also maintains strong international partnerships. We have been fortunate to host RAF exchange pilots at Whiteman since 2004. Flight Lieutenant Wesley Pead is currently serving in this role. He has been with us since 2014 and he is the fifth RAF pilot to take part in this program. These coalition partnerships are important because they provide us with great opportunities to learn how our services can best operate together and how we can integrate our unique platform into multi-national efforts.
Finally, I think it is important to mention that the 394th is not just about the B-2 and T38 pilots, it’s about all the men and women behind the scenes that rarely get the credit they deserve. They are the professionals who keep the administration flowing and keep our aircraft flying day in and out. Without these professionals, there would be no training or combat operations.”
Flight Lieutenant Wesley Pead
“I have been in the RAF since 2004 and was trained on the GR4 Tornado at the Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Lossiemouth. I then moved to 9 Squadron at RAF Marham and later moved back to RAF Lossiemouth on a Weapons Instructor course which upon completion transferred back to RAF Marham with 2 Squadron to become a weapons instructor. Having served in multiple overseas conflicts and numerous Red Flag exercises over in Nevada and in Europe. I decided to apply to join the B-2 community for the chance to operate this unique platform and also to bring some of my knowledge in low-level flying and tactical operations to the team here at Whiteman. I am on exchange for three years from 2014 to 2017 and at the end of this tour I hope to bring my knowledge and experiences of flying the B-2 for future efficiency of integrated operations, passing it onto others and in the bigger picture helping missions within the coalition forces and exercises.”
Flt Lt Pead has joined the elite pilots who have had the pleasure and privilege of flying the USAF’s premier strike platform since 1993 – a number that is just a little over 600!
442nd Fighter Wing
In 1943, the 442d was activated as a Troop Carrier Group that actively participated in the D-Day landings over Normandy where they dropped the 82nd Airborne Division into battle. For a short period after the Second World War, the unit was inactivated, but by 1949 it was reactivated as the 442d Troop Carrier Wing (Reserve) flying the Curtiss C-46 Commando and Douglas C-47 Skytain. During the Korean War in the 1950s, many of its personnel were transferred to frontline USAF units but still the unit was heavily involved in airlift operations including troop and cargo transport with the C-46. By this point the C-47 had been replaced by the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar. By 1961, the unit was redesignated as the 442d Troop Carrier Wing and was now flying the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II alongside its C-119s. During late 1961, the 442d was called into action over the skies of Berlin, Germany to provided aid during the Berlin Crisis. From 1965 to 1971 during the Vietnam War, the 442d saw another redesignation – first to an Air Transport Wing, then a Military Airlift Wing and finally a Tactical Airlift Wing in June 1971. The following year saw the wing fully transitioned on to the Lockheed C-130 Hercules – the C-124s retired from service. During 1982, the mission role of 442d changed and saw the C-130s replaced by the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II – the 442d had become a Tactical Fighter Wing! The final transfer of lineage would come in February of 1992 with a transfer over to ACC that saw the unit becoming the 442d Fighter Wing (FW) Reserve unit. A little over 12 months later the, 442d FW found its final and current home base at Whiteman AFB. The 442d has seen many active deployments around the globe, Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf in 1998, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan 2001, Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan from 2012 to 2014. More recently the 442d was involved in Operation Atlantic Resolve – a large scale NATO and European allies exercise committed to “ongoing reassurance, security and safety efforts to NATO partners in Eastern Europe”. Eight A-10Cs along with 200 Reserve and Air National Guard (ANG) personnel forward deployed on Temporary Duty assignment (TDY) to Amari Air Base in Estonia for a “Total Force Integration” exercise during August of 2015. The month long TDY had the 442d working with Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian armed forces in a number of classified low-level and close air support scenarios. During week two of the exercise, a pair of A-10s made history when they landed at Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia, the first ever US fighters to land at this base. During our visit to Whiteman AFB all eight A-10s returned safe from their Estonia deployment.
During an interview in the main 442d hangar we spoke with Major Joe ‘Rifle’ Shetterly on his experiences flying the A-10 and the mission role of the squadron.
“I have been flying the A-10 for a little over 10 years now with the USAF, but recently transitioned over from active duty to the Air Force Reserve whilst still flying with the 442d. Over my ten years as an A-10 instructor pilot I have logged over 2,000 flight hours and been with this Wing for a little over three years. From 2010 to 2011 I was selected by ACC to become the West Coast A-10 Demonstration Team Pilot and had the pleasure of displaying at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford and loved it – the plane was a little temperamental but she put up a great display and I loved meeting all the A-10 supporters. As well as instructor and demo pilot, I have also had two active duty tours overseas with a total career hours logged in the book of well over 5,000 hours. The A-10C is the newly upgraded model which has a precision engagement modification, data linking, all round great visibility and able to drop precision guided ordnance in support of the 442d close air support mission, she is great to fly – all ‘stick n rudder’ and if you come under fire this baby will keep you safe and get you home. The A-10 will put a smile on your face when you fly it and when you get to fire the gun that’s a whole lot of fun.”
1-135th Attack/Reconnaissance Battalion
The 1-135th Battalion moved into Whiteman AFB in 1996 and at that time was flying the Bell AH-1 Cobra. During 1999, the Army announced plans to modernise the aviation division and to upgrade its fleet of ageing AH-1s and replace them with Boeing AH-64A Apache. Late 2001 through to 2002 saw the 1-135th lose all of its AH-1s and saw it restructured to receive its new attack helicopter – the first of which arrived at Whiteman in 2002. The Attack Battalion would eventually receive between 18 and 24 AH-64s. The new AH-64A had two high performance turboshaft engines, laser, infrared targeting systems, target acquisition designation, night vision sensors, and a multitude of munitions including a 30mm automatic cannon firing up to 1200 high-explosive rounds, 70mm rockets and laser-guided Hellfire missiles. The A model served with the Battalion until early 2012 while the newer AH-64D Longbow started arriving from October 2011 – the last example of which arrived in early spring 2012. The D model has a number of upgrades including integrated digital sensor networking showing real time situation awareness to battlefield operations, threat-prioritization with up to 128 targets in fewer than 60 seconds, object detection for stationary or moving targets and longer range accuracy during day/night conditions.
Today the 1-135th is unique in its mission role. Because of its location at Whiteman, it regularly flies joint tactical training missions alongside both the A-10s and B-2s – something that no other Army aviation unit performs! As well as these joint operations, the AH-64s will also perform Federal Aviation Administration approved currency flights to local airfields where they perform routine landings.
Currently the 1-135th has twenty-four AH-64Ds but is starting to receive the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk – six of which are due to arrive by mid-2016. In turn, six AH-64Ds will be transferred out to other Army units. The unit has twelve instructor pilots, one command pilot, and one command supervisor instructor along with seventy aircrew/maintainers that keep the helicopters serviced and in the air along with 400 members who drill at the base once a month.
AeroResource would like to thank Master Sgt Melin of the 509th BW Public Affairs, Lt Colonel Michaud, Flt Lt Pead (RAF), 442nd FW Public Affairs, Major Shetterly, Master Sgt Ball US Army and our colleagues that helped with all the interviews and video recording C Barkby, M Burden and P Franklin.