In this file photo, a B-2 Spirit taxis onto the flightline at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

In this file photo, a B-2 Spirit taxis onto the flightline at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Stocktrek Images

Runway Reopens, B-2s Still Grounded—But President Can Direct Them to Fly if Needed

Debris from damaged stealth bomber cleared from a Missouri runway more than 10 days after the mishap, USAF says.

Updated, 3:39 p.m.: The runway has been reopened.

The only runway at the home of the United States’ B-2 fleet reopened Wednesday, but the nuclear-capable heavy bombers remain grounded after an accident there more than a week ago. However, President Joe Biden could direct the B-2s to fly “to fulfill mission requirements,” the U.S. Air Force said.

On Dec. 10, an unarmed B-2 Spirit malfunctioned in flight, made an emergency landing at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and then caught fire on the runway. The fire was extinguished quickly and no one was injured, according to a Tuesday statement from the 509th Bomb Wing. A safety team is still working to determine what caused the malfunction, though crews were able to clear the runway and reopen it Wednesday for A-10 and T-38 Talon flights. 

Despite the stand-down, B-2s could fly if necessary, the bomb wing said in its statement. And the U.S. has “a variety of capabilities at its disposal, particularly when it comes to our strategic bomber fleet,” Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Tuesday.

“We also have the B-52, which is both conventional- and nuclear-capable,” Ryder said. , adding that he’s “confident that we continue to maintain the bomber capability that we need to deter adversaries, and if necessary, engage in combat.”

The commander of the 509th Bomb Wing, Col. Daniel Diehl, echoed that in the unit’s written statement: “Team Whiteman remains the cornerstone of national security. We are ready and prepared to answer our nation’s call.”

The Air Force said earlier this week that there is “no speculated end date” for the safety stand down. It has offered no explanation for the delay in clearing the runway.