USAF B-2 Spirit bombers on ‘global power mission’ drop into UK airbase for fuel

Northrop Grumman

The residents living in the quiet countryside surrounding RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England had their evenings interrupted by a pair of unusual visitors on December 13, 2023. 

The visitors took the form of two Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit ‘stealth’ bombers from the US Air Force (USAF) 509th Bomb Wing based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. 

The aircraft (named “Spirit of America” and “Spirit of Ohio”) formed a two-ship detachment from a USAF bomber task force currently operating out of Keflavik in Iceland. The aircraft are currently being deployed on one of the USAF’s special ‘global power missions.’ 

The stealth pair, not normally seen on British soil, were operating under the callsigns “DEATH31” and “DEATH32” and were reportedly taking part in an exercise over the North Sea. 

The two bombers were due to refuel from a pair of KC-135 Stratotankers based at RAF Mildenhall, another former RAF base which is located in the east of England and is currently leased to the USAF.  However, only one of the pair of tankers was able to launch, leaving the pair of B-2As running low on fuel and unable to make it back to their temporary base in Iceland.

With RAF Fairford ready and able to accept the aircraft, the pair landed at the air base at dusk to receive a “hot pit” refueling where the engines are kept running while the fuel tanks are topped up. 

Following the completion of the refueling process, the aircraft departed in darkness. While one of the planes reportedly made a safe return to Iceland, it is understood that the other flew back across the Atlantic and headed home to Whiteman Air Base.  

The USAF global power missions, which generally involve aircraft being in the air for well over 20 hours, have been conducted for many years and are designed (among other more classified reasons) to demonstrate the global strike capability of the USAF bomber force. 

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