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By Katie Worth

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, July 19) - Don't worry, the island's not being invaded by UFOs.

The flat, black, disk-like aircraft that have been quietly jetting in and out of Guam's skies for the last week are some of the Air Force's 21 B-2 stealth bombers, which have been running training missions out of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

The long-range training missions have been what are called "engine running crew changes," explained Lt. Mary Olsen, a public information officer for the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman.

The bombers' two-member crew flies the 20 hours from Missouri to Guam, where the crew is switched, ideally without having to turn the engine off, she said. The bomber is then immediately flown the 20 hours back to Whiteman.

Andersen, which has hosted the dozens of aircraft personnel needed for the training project over the last weeks, is one of just three Air Force bases in the world capable of forward-deploying the B-2 bombers, said pilot Capt. Ross Pease.

Pease, who has flown B-2 Spirits for three and a half years, was interviewed yesterday as he was preparing to fly the B-2 bomber Spirit of Florida back to Whiteman.

The training is invaluable for the crews because they may some day have to be forward-deployed out of Guam, and this provides them with the opportunity to practice.

He said the more training missions the B-2 bombers run out of Andersen, the better.

"The more we can do the better it is for the crew force," he said. "That way, the first time they do it isn't they time they're walking out the door to do it for real. ... (Andersen) is a great base to work out of -- it's a great location for some of the hot spots in the world and it's also a great location for support."

Sgt. Jess Harvey, of Andersen's public affairs office, said Andersen is "becoming a more popular destination" in the Pacific.

"We're typically just a big gas station in the Pacific," he said. "We have the largest fuel supplies in the Air Force, so that makes us a convenient stop, ... and it's in a good strategic location in the Pacific," he said.

The stealth bombers cost $1.157 billion each when built in the early 1990s, or $2.1 billion, including the total development and completion costs, according to an Air Force fact sheet.

Two of the bombers landed yesterday late afternoon, appearing as just a narrow, horizontal dark line against the white clouds above northern Guam.

Olsen watched the Spirit of Alaska taxi past a hangar after landing.

"It's kind of a pretty aircraft," she commented. "It's almost like an out-of-space bird. It's just kind of surreal."

July 19, 2004

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