‘Spirit of Freedom’ dedicated at AF museum

  • Published
  • By Chris McGee
  • U.S. Air Force Museum Public Affairs
U.S. Air Force Museum officials formally inducted a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber into the institution’s aircraft collection Dec. 16. The Air Force’s national museum is the first place to permanently exhibit the stealth bomber to the public.

During the dedication ceremony, officials christened the bomber by removing a red drape from one of the aircraft’s landing gear doors to reveal the name, "Spirit of Freedom."

The B-2 will help the museum better inform the public of the Air Force’s current capabilities and the importance of air power to national security, said Charles D. Metcalf, director of the museum.

“With the B-2 on display here, our nearly 1.3 million visitors can gain a clearer understanding of the weapon systems they so often read or hear about,” Metcalf said. “They can see the result of their tax dollars in something that is transforming warfare by enabling us to hit high-value, heavily defended adversary targets with precision weapons, all while keeping our aircrews more safe.”

The “Spirit of Freedom” is on display in the museum’s new 200,000-plus square-foot Eugene W. Kettering Building, housing a gallery of aircraft from the Cold War to the present. The stealth bomber joins other modern aircraft recently added to the museum, such as the B-1B Lancer, and the Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles, to tell the story of the current and emerging U.S. Air Force.

“Aircraft like the B-2, our F-117 (Nighthawk) stealth fighter, our YF-22 prototype and others help us provide a bridge from the past to the present and beyond,” Metcalf said. “Our growing modern aircraft collection is allowing us to take our mission beyond just history and toward focusing more on today’s Air Force as it continues to make history.”

The addition of the B-2 is the culmination of an intensive three-year restoration project, perhaps the most challenging restoration effort the museum has ever faced, officials said. The restoration staff had to use ingenuity to reassemble the aircraft without special tools and had to fabricate parts to replace security-sensitive components.

The B-2 originally arrived from Palmdale, Calif., in seven separate C-5 Galaxy shipments. Never built to fly, the aircraft had to be disassembled for shipment to the museum’s restoration facility here. Originally, it served strictly as a ground-based test article to evaluate the airframe’s integrity in varying degrees of stress.

“If it weren’t for our restoration team, we wouldn’t have been able to have this ceremony,” Metcalf said. “They took an aircraft that came to them in pieces and put together one of the world’s largest jigsaw puzzles. We call them our miracle workers, and that’s exactly what they are.”

The B-2’s dedication took place on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight and the 10th anniversary of the delivery of the first B-2 to Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

“The first time I saw the B-2 is still etched permanently in my mind; it was so different,” said Col. Rick Matthews, B-2 system program office director here. “I wondered, as I’m sure many did, how this bat-winged vehicle could even fly, but it did. And it looked graceful.

“My guess is those who saw the Wright brothers and their new machine about 100 years ago felt the same way,” he said.

Along with being a featured museum display aircraft, the stealth bomber will be available for airframe testing should the need arise.