Sunday, October 25


Not all that far from where I sit and think deep thoughts, but mostly just sit, there is an Air Force Base. 

The nation's entire active-duty stable of 19 multi-billion-dollar B2 Spirit Stealth bombers lives there, flown by some of the most competent and accomplished pilots and flight crews that ever lived. Compared to bombers of old, the B2 is a marvel of sophisticated design, ultra-modern materials and avionics, that can fly sub-sonic at 50,000 feet and deliver a fearsome 20-ton payload of death and destruction, including medium-yield nuclear weapons, anywhere in the world, or the next one's free.

Each copy of the Spirit cost the U.S. military something like 2.1 billion dollars, including design, engineering construction and testing. Base sticker is around $1.5 billion. Standard aircrew is pilot and mission commander, with possible expansion for a third crew member. Range without refueling is 6,000 miles. It's stealth properties make detection of the B2 by anti-aircraft defense facilities difficult.

It carries 167,000 pounds of fuel, JP-8, or about 24,560 gallons at roughly $3.80 per gallon = $93,000+ per fill-up. It gets a scant .007 miles per gallon at cruise, less on takeoff. Every hour of flight time requires 119 hours of maintenance, including the fact that the B2's sensitive skin requires that it be housed in climate-controlled hangars.
The B2 is definitely a major element in the United States' global "deterrent" force. Now, whether there really is any real "deterrent" at work here or we just like to build things that can scare the bejeezus out of people before we blast them into their constituent atoms really doesn't matter, we're always going to have bombers, bombs and "reasons" to use them.

Given all that, why do we insist on taking these monsters out for Sunday drives? If you live where I live, Sundays during football season are like mini-airshows. A-10 Thunderbolt "Warthog" attack aircraft, C-135s from Topeka, fighter jets from all over, and the B2 Spirit Stealth bomber from Whiteman all fly over the house with alarming regularity. I admit to spending my fair share of time watching and waiting as the planes set up for their approach to Arrowhead. They fly back and forth a bit farther east, and when the moment of patriotic truth arrives, they roar over to arrive at the stadium just in time drown out the unfortunate Kansas City football victims as they drunkenly abuse the Star Spangled Banner, "land of the free, and the home of the CHIEFS!" Morons. Makes you want to call in an air strike.

Why? Why is it necessary or even desirable to have billions of dollars worth of armaments fly low and slow over a group of people who paid way too much to sit there and watch them go by? Is this patriotism or just a huge waste of money? It reeks of middle-age crisis overcompensation, if you substitute a global-range nuclear bomber for a red BMW 5-series ragtop.

New Year's Day a few years ago, two B2 bombers flew from Whiteman to California. One did a low flyover at the Tournament of Roses Parade in the morning, another followed up with a flyby at the Rose Bowl game. Total exposure time to the target audience, approximately thirty seconds total for both planes. Flight time from rollout to full stop in Southern California, maybe 3-1/2 hours each, or 7 hours one-way for both, plus another hour each for the flybys. Another 7 hours of flight time for the return and we get 16 hours in the air. Remember a couple of paragraphs back? Each flight hour has maintenance costs associated with it. 16 flight hours equals 1,904 maintenance hours. Assume these hangar hours each cost $100 (wild-ass guess) = $190,400. If each bomber uses two-thirds its fuel capacity for the round trip, the costs is roughly $120,000 for fuel.

You see where we're going here? Total accuracy of figures notwithstanding, we've totted up more than a quarter of a million dollars for one minute's worth of an Air Force Cruise Night in Southern California. Doesn't that sound a bit, um, crazy, given today's financial climate? Doesn't that sound a bit crazy even when times are great and we're all rolling in filthy cash? What exactly is the point? Is this a muscle-flex reaction to 9-11? Is this the logical extension of randomly changing the traditional 7th-inning baseball stretch singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" to "God Bless America" to prove that we're way more pious than terrorists and how we'll never forget that they made us crazy enough to change our behavior to prove it? If you start to think about the aim of terrorism, you might start to believe that they won.

Are we that insecure, that afraid? Does burning a million barrels of petro-cash show the world that we're strong, proud, or just a little bit scared?

Thus spake the rabbit.

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