B2 (Spirit) Long Range Multirole Stealth Bomber
US Global Strike Command
Somewhere over the Eastern Mediterranean
Operation: Determined Falcon
Target: Serbian Ammunition Storage Facility, Vučitrn, Kosovo
As the dark, sinister-grey windowless aircraft taxied onto the main runway of RAF Mildenhall, the eastern horizon was just beginning to lighten. Situated outside a quaint village that seems to have never progressed beyond Victorian England, 25 miles from Cambridge, the base houses the US Air Force’s 100th Air Refueling Wing and its fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. Like the one that was about to take wing in a few minutes.
In its fuselage and wings, the KC-135 Stratotanker had six large fuel tanks brimming with more than twice its own weight in aviation turbine fuel, around 125,000 litres. Considered the most perilous flight operation in military flying, mid-air transfer of the highly flammable fuel from tanker to the receiver aircraft is however swift – a staggering 4000litres every minute. By the time you’ve finished reading the previous sentence, a Stratotanker will have transferred enough fuel that could keep your SUV running non-stop for eight years.
The KC-135’s commander, Capt. Keith O’Halloran, had a busy day ahead. At this very minute, a thousand miles to the south at RAF Gibraltar, a Lockheed P-3 Orion was going through pre-flight checks, sitting on the deserted runway, shimmering in the Mediterranean heat. Somewhere over the Ionian Sea west of the Greek coastal town of Pirgos, the Orion would make contact with the KC-135 at 29000ft, fill her thirsty tanks and then, Commander Jim Trelawney would bank her sharply toward the north. Destination- the skies over Kosovo, in erstwhile Yugoslavia.
“Papa three O two zero, Gibraltar Tower, you are cleared for take-off”, the disembodied drawl that came over the headset was distinctly East-End London cockney.
Trelawney released the brakes,” Papa three-o two zero rolling….” The large four-engine turbo-prop and its crew of twelve began its lumbering run down the asphalt, until, half-way down, it’s nose came up and it lifted gently off into the air, wheels starting to retract almost immediately to reduce drag. Once aloft, the Orion could shut down its two outboard engines and loiter for upwards of 20 hours, directing a whole air to air skirmish or an air to ground attack, while monitoring multiple aircraft, friend and foe, in flight.
There was a third aircraft in the mission today, the main player in fact, its flight having already begun, much earlier.
Fourteen hours prior, Capt Tuz Stassner had stooped at the front door of his modest cottage just outside Knob Noster in Missouri USA and kissed his wife, Katy, goodbye.
“Don’t be late, darling, we did promise Ricky we’ll be taking him to Pizza Hut, for supper tomorrow”, Katy clung to his massive frame. He felt a stirring which she’d of course intended to occur. She was all mischief as she deliberately rubbed up against his uniform tunic and giggled at the tell-tale bulge, “Now, that’ll have to wait a while, won’t it?” She didn’t stop her rubbing. Katy had these inexplicably sensual surges every time Tuz flew off. She trembled with wanting and at the same time, anxiety, knowing that there was always a fifty-fifty possibility he would not return.
“I’ll lose my bearings midway over the Atlantic and hover this way and that for all eternity, if you insist on continuing doing that,” Tuz kissed her back, crushing her lips fiercely.
“Fat chance. Kowy will be there to keep you on course. Unless Tatiana too has given him a rub-a-dub,” Katy’s words were garbled as she tried to move her lips and laugh through the pressure of his lips, his breath hot against her’s.
The van carrying the other half of his crew, co-pilot Capt. Serge Kowalski, honked impatiently. He tore himself away and ran down the patio steps,” I’m coming, I’m coming. What the f–k is your hurry, Kowy?” Strassner waved to his wife one last time and got in.
The van speeded up and turned on to the highway for the five minute drive to the Whiteman Air Force Base, home to the 509th Bomber Wing and its 21 B2 Spirit Stealth Bombers.
It was still pitch dark when The Spirit of Louisiana took off two hours later and rapidly climbed until it finally leveled off at 42000ft, it’s twin GE G118 turbofans propelling it forward with effortless ease, bringing the 350 ton bomber’s speed up to a high sub-sonic. Wheels up, the Spirit looked like a slim boomerang with a bulge in the center where the crew sat. Within its bowels, on a rotary launcher, the B2 carried sixteen satellite-guided one-ton smart bombs capable of being accurate within a few meters and packing the power to penetrate six feet of reinforced concrete.
Tonight the Spirit would accomplish a historic first.
It would be the first time in history that the US has launched a combat bombing mission directly, non-stop, from American soil to another continent. The Spirit would fly undetected, to multiple targets in Yugoslavia – military supply dumps and bases in and around the Vučitrn region of Kosovo. The B2 would drop its munitions and return, a round trip that would take a total of 32 hours, facilitated by two mid-air refuelings. The first one was coming up in ten hours.
It is a customary gesture of courtesy for all stealth-enabled aircraft to disclose their presence to local Air Traffic Control as they fly over them. As the wraith-like B2 sped east over Columbus, Ohio, Kowalski flicked on the mike.
“Columbus control, this is USAFB2. We are about to enter your airspace.”
“USAFB2, welcome to Columbus airspace, we have you on radar 150 miles over Dayton.”
Without thinking, Serge Kowalski replied,” Thank you, Columbus, it’s a pleasure to…hey, wait a minute, you got us on radar? You shittin’ me?”
“That’s an affirmative, USAFB2, have a safe flight.” At that, Tuz Strassner and Serge Kowalski broke up so hard that tears of mirth sprang out of their eyes.
In another hour, they were past the bright lights of Atlantic City and all of a sudden there was nothing but the pitch darkness of the ocean by the same name, below. As a well-rehearsed practice, Kowalski pushed his seat back and closed his eyes, while Tuz Strassner strapped on his helmet and flicked on the oxygen.
Strassner’s alert eyes peered ahead through the windshield, trying hard to discern some point of reference in the blackness all around, but couldn’t. Giving up, he leaned back, his eyes falling on the weathered postcard taped to the side panel next to his left thigh. In the amber light of the cockpit, the B2 Mission Commander could barely make out the handwriting, smudged with age.
The postcard was written in neat German. It read, “Wahre Stärke liegt nicht in arroganz, sondern in Demut” (Real strength lies not in arrogance, but in humility).
There was a photo taped next to the postcard. Strassner reached up and pulled it free, bringing it up close to better see it. The photo was weathered too, maybe a bit less. It showed a German Luftwaffe pilot in a jet black leather jacket that had a silver badge of an angry eagle taking flight.
The pilot in the photo wore heavy worsted dark grey trousers tucked inside black, knee-length boots. He had a heavy jacket with a fur collar, bordered by tiny gold Swastikas on both sides.
Around his neck, directly below his Adam’s apple, the man wore a medal that was startling in its beauty. It was a black Teutonic cross with a swastika in its middle, with golden borders. Two crossed gold swords stood above, supporting a cluster of solid gold oak leaves with tiny diamonds on each.
It was the Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, an honor that only one man had ever received in the Third Reich – Oberst Kurt Strassner, his father.