Former B-2 Pilot to Air Force: Forget Drone Bombers

Long Range Strike Bomber (U.S. Air Force image)(U.S. Air Force image)

A professor and retired B-2 Spirit pilot is calling on the Air Force to design the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber solely as a manned aircraft.

“You want somebody up there in that cockpit,” retired Col. Melvin Deaile said. “You want Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger if something happens up there, if something goes wrong — you’re going to want somebody up there who’s going to save that aircraft,” he added, referring to the iconic US Airways pilot who made a water landing on the Hudson River in 2009.

Deaile, now an associate professor at the Air Command and Staff College, spoke Tuesday during an aerospace event on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., celebrating the 15th anniversary of the B-2’s longest bombing run — from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to Afghanistan and back. The event was hosted by the The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

“If something goes wrong, you want at least two people there to handle this machine,” he said. “You’re going to want someone who can put eyes on a target” during a mission to verify a location and correct the coordinates before bombs are dropped, he added.

The event also included former B-2 pilots Col. Brian Neal, vice commander of the 482nd Fighter Wing, Air Force Reserve Command; Maj Gen. Jim Dawkins, deputy director for nuclear, homeland defense and operations at the Joint Staff; Col. Tony Cihak, director of flight operations, Liberty University School of Aeronautics; retired Col. Chad Stevenson, director of the national leadership command capability management office, Office of the Secretary of Defense; and former group commander of the 509th Bomber Wing, retired Brig. Gen. Jonathan George.

The former pilots and commanders didn’t disagree with Deaile.

The sentiments coincide with the Air Force’s preference to keep the future B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, a warm-bodied mission. However, service leaders have requested the Northrop Grumman Corp.-manufactured aircraft be given the option to be unmanned.

Speaking at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference near Washington, D.C., last month, Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said, “We’re planning on being manned.”

Rand added that the $550 million long-range strategic bombers would work with other supporting systems that would be unmanned. But even though the possibility of an optionally manned Raider exists in the future, Rand suggested there might be benefit to keeping a human pilot intrinsic to the system.

“If you had to pin me down, I like the man in the loop — the pilot, the woman in the loop — very much,” he said of the B-21 Raider, “particularly as we do the dual-capable mission with the nuclear weapons.

“From  an unmanned point of view, it’s a basic requirement stated,” he said. “The question is, what’s the right timing to bring that level of capability together with this type of platform.”

Air Force leaders selected Raider as the new long range strike bomber name in honor of the Doolittle Raiders after the service launched a survey of its service members.  

Paying homage to the inspiration for the name, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James asked World War II veteran Richard E. Cole, a 101-year-old retired lieutenant colonel and the last surviving “Doolittle Raider,” to make the announcement during the conference.

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Oriana Pawlyk
Oriana Pawlyk is a reporter at Military.com. She can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.