More People Have Traveled into Space Than Flown in a B-2 Bomber

More people have been to space than have flown in a B-2 stealth bomber.


More people have been to space than have flown in a B-2 stealth bomber.

Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics (“We Fly a B-2 Stealth Bomber“):

I never expected to step inside the cockpit of a B-2 Spirit, the Pentagon’s long-range stealth bomber. So you can imagine the shock of being at 27,000 feet and hearing an Air Force pilot tell me over the cockpit intercom, “Okay, you have the jet.”

I place one suddenly damp left hand on the throttle and the right on the stick, taking nominal control of a $2 billion aircraft. There are only 20 B-2s in the Air Force arsenal, including a second B-2 flying formation with us, slicing through clouds a scant 4 miles ahead. It occurs to me that with some exceptionally bad luck, I could endanger one-tenth of the American B-2 fleet and cause a rebalance in global military power.

But Timothy “Scar” Sullivan, of the 393rd squadron, 509th Bomb Wing, based in Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base, isn’t worried. The B-2 pilot has confidence in three things: His unshakeable ability to monitor every detail of the flight, his ability to recover from anything I can possibly do at this altitude, and the airplane’s ability to stop me from doing anything too dumb. He’s also rated as an instructor, so he’s qualified to operate the airplane with nothing but untrained dead weight (me) on the right side of the two-seat airplane.


A B-2 pilot at Whiteman told me that the number of astronauts who’ve been to space is larger than the number of people who have flown in a B-2. I look it up and find it’s true: As of that moment, 552 people had traveled into space. Only 543 people have ever flown in the cockpit of a B-2. Upon landing I’ll become number 544, with the new Air Force handle “Spirit 544.” This isn’t some phony round-the-flagpole ride, either. The mission plan includes simulated bombing runs and an aerial rendezvous with a fuel tanker. It’s much more than I ever expected when the Air Force agreed to let me get close to the service’s prized, secretive platform. The B-2 flies missions with a crew of two, but it takes dozens of people to keep it operational. I spent three days at Whiteman meeting the airmen who work with the B-2s and who prepared me for my flight. Senior Airman Montse Belleau, photographer, chronicled the visit and the Air Force cleared the following images for public release. No cockpit photos are allowed, some weapons cannot be discussed, and the Air Force does not permit certain angles of the bomber to be photographed.

Pretty cool. Presumably, the B-2 number will eventually surpass the number who’ve been in space. Still, it’s pretty remarkable: Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space more than half a century ago, on April 12, 1961. The first flight of the B-2  is a lot longer ago than you might think, though: July 17, 1989.

via Crispin Burke

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. scott says:

    The B-2 is a remarkable bomber and as an ex-AF guy I would love to get up close and personal to it. However, I suspect that strategically and operationally it is becoming obsolete to the ever-increasing capabilities of drones.

  2. Bleev K says:

    I’m very jealous of 552 people.

  3. Peter says:

    Here goes about five years’ worth of PBS funding up in smoke.