“The B-2 is approaching 25 years of service life and the tailpipes are beginning to show signs of wear,” said Michele Tasista, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Global Strike Command, based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Tasista quipped that the (original) exhaust system on her 1970 Toyota Corolla (with 300,000 miles) has outperformed the system on the Northrop Grumman-built B-2 "by a country mile."
"The B-2 tailpipe assembly is failing at a faster-than-expected rate and … that may be the most challenging aspect of keeping [the aircraft] in the inventory,” said a former bomber program official (and employee of Northrop Grumman) who asked not to be named in discussing the sensitive subject. “[We’ve been] afraid that the tailpipe assembly would force you to retire the B-2 earlier -- or you’d get a bill to be paid that would be potentially unacceptable.”
Air Force officials say they have found an affordable fix: A combination of new spare parts, preventive techniques and repair procedures.
The service has ordered 56 tailpipe spares from Northrop Grumman in an "affordable" $76.6 million (roughly $1.4 million per tailpipe) fixed-price contract awarded last year, using fiscal 2011 funds, according to Sue Murphy -- a spokeswoman for Air Force Materiel Command in Dayton, Ohio -- and other program officials.
The new parts will be available to replace “aged metallic components that are showing typical ‘wear and tear’ as a result of operating in a hot environment,” as the pipes convey engine exhaust to the outside air, according to Gary Roehrig, who directs B-2 product support for defense contractor Northrop Grumman. Each bomber has four tailpipes, one for each engine.
|Rusting exhaust systems at Whitemen Air Force Base|
Midas, better known for its famous"Customer First"commitment, attempted to bid on the B-2 tailpipe replacement assemblies, but according to a company spokesperson was thwarted every step of the way. "They just kept saying we didn't understand how the bidding process works."
Midas called Northrop Grumman "just another opportunistic bottom feeder. $1.4 million a pop for a tailpipe? Who's fleecing whom here? Exhaust systems aren't exactly rocket science. I bet they used some cheap materials to maximize their greedy bottom line."
We've been building high performance exhaust systems for over 50 years. We could have delivered those tailpipes for just $99.99 each, completed delivery (and installation) in a matter of weeks, and would have included our famous Lifetime Guarantee*."
The B-2 was first fielded in 1994 and can carry both nuclear and conventional munitions. A B-2 pilot who asked not to be named for fear of losing the opportunity for a job at Northrop Grumman after retiring from the Air Force said that he wouldn't trust Northrop Grumman to replace the tailpipe on his aging Volkswagen Rabbit. "They'd charge me an arm and a leg, and I would have no guarantee it would last more than maybe a thousand miles, and that's if I was lucky."
Service and company officials distinguished the internal B-2 tailpipe cracks caused by “wear and tear” over time from allegedly unrelated design-related fissures that have plagued a separate, external component of the aircraft, the “aft deck,” for several years.
Northrop Grumman last year won another gargantuan $109 million contract to manufacture a redesigned aft deck, the company announced in November. According to a company spokesperson, "the newly redesigned structure reflects Northrop Grumman's thorough thermal and structural analysis of the aft deck its adjoining structures and the operating environment [that should have been conducted in the first place]."
"Implementing a redesigned aft deck is an important part of guaranteeing the long-term viability of the B-2," said Dave Mazur, Northrop Grumman's vice president of Long Range Strike and B-2 program manager. "We are committed to assisting the Air Force in developing and implementing proactive solutions that are in the best interest of
* Lifetime Guarantee valid for as long as you own your
Editor's Note: Thanks to Global Security Newswire for the article that was butchered to create this piece: http://www.nti.rsvp1.com/gsn/article/b-2-bomber-tailpipe-cracks-compel-new-spare-parts-production/?mgh=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nti.org&mgf=1, and this Northrop Grumman news release: http://investor.northropgrumman.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=112386&p=RssLanding&cat=news&id=1628402