Air Force begins environmental assessment of B-21 bomber’s maintenance centers

Two years after the Air Force announced that Tinker Air Force Base would maintain and sustain the new B-21 Raider aircraft, the air base is starting legal paperwork regarding two potential alternative sites for a 75-acre B-21 depot maintenance campus.

Legal notices in newspapers by the Air Force seek public comment regarding the project’s potential to impact floodplain or wetland areas involving the two sites. Site #1 would require development in nearly 367.5 acres of floodplain and approximately 9 acres of wetland.

The notices stated that construction of the proposed maintenance campus site at site #2 would require development in approximately 5.5 acres of floodplain.

The notices are part of the USAF’s Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act to consider the potential impacts of building the maintenance campus. Because some of the land is in floodplains or wetlands, the Air Force was required to post the legal notices to seek the public input. The public has until April 20 to make comments.

As part of the process, the Air Force will also contact state and federal regulatory agencies including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the State Historic Preservation Office.

The B-21 Raider is the Air Force’s next stealth bomber. While Tinker Air Base was chosen for maintenance of the long-range strike bomber, Edwards Air Force base in California will handle testing and evaluation.

In announcing the selection of the two bases, the Air Force explained Tinker was chosen because the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker has the knowledge and expertise to handle the Northrop Grumman bomber’s depot maintenance.

“With a talented workforce and decades of experience in aircraft maintenance, Tinker AFB is the right place for this critical mission,” Secretary Heather Wilson said in the release.

Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and Hill Air Force Base in Utah will support Tinker on maintaining, overhauling and upgrading the B-21, the Air Force said. The bases will also be equipped to rebuild parts, assemblies or subassemblies of the bomber, and test and reclaim equipment when needed to activate depots.

“Raider” was chosen as the name of the aircraft in honor of those who took part in the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan in 1942.

A production schedule has not been released due to security concerns but the Air Force hopes to acquire at least 100 of the stealth bombers by the mid 2020s.