Cheap Garden Chairs Used by Stealth Bomber Crews in Kosovo

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08pm EDT

London ( - The $1 billion B-2 stealth bombers used during last year's Kosovo conflict were outfitted with an unexpectedly low-tech optional extra -lawn chairs from Wal-Mart, costing $8.88 each.

An article in the latest edition of Jane's International Defense Review, published Thursday, says pilots used the plastic seats to take scheduled "power naps" during the 30-hour Balkans bombing missions, the first time in history U.S. aircraft have been launched from the U.S. mainland for combat missions.

The chair "fits into the space behind the seats [in the cockpit] and raises the pilot clear of vibration from the floor."

Bill Sweetman, the Jane's editor who wrote the article, told that air force bomber communities had traditionally improvised to make themselves comfortable. For example, rolled-up camping mattresses would be dropped onto the cockpit floor to provide a makeshift bed.

"The lawn chair was an improvement, because if you're in a B-2 cockpit - which is not all that large - depending on which way round you are, you have the choice of having your head near a ventilating duct, or next to a chemical toilet.

"There's not a lot of open floor space."

The B-2 bombing missions in the Balkans were the first sustained air-combat missions in history to launch from a base in the U.S.

Pilots' families often came to the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to see off the planes, then returned the following day to welcome them back. Forty-five missions were flown from Whiteman.

"While the Kosovo operation was impressive, the 30-hour missions limited the sortie rate, constrained the bomber's operational flexibility, and created extraordinary demands for [fuel] tanker support."

Sweetman explained that the reason the B-2 sorties left from the U.S. rather than forward bases in Europe had to do with the highly-specialized maintenance required by the low-observable aircraft.

"A lot of this has to be done under controlled conditions. It can't be too warm, too cold or too humid."

A dome-shaped relocatable hangar, which provides the controlled temperature and humidity needed for the maintenance, is now being built and should be delivered by July.

The hangars, each of which would take eight C-141 transporter loads to move, would make forward deployment possible.

Sweetman said the aircraft's capability may encourage air forces to start thinking about the potential of larger, longer-range, more versatile combat aircraft.

The bombers were originally designed for Cold War use. They began to be used for long-distance missions in 1997.

While the aircraft proved physically capable of the long flights, "you're pushing the limitations of the crew," Sweetman said.

For this reason, the two pilots would take "power naps" on a schedule defined by the mission plan, usually sleeping between two and six hours -- on garden chairs from Wal-Mart.

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