Q. We recently sent two B-2s from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri so they could drop a few dummy bombs on South Korea. Do you have any idea how much that cost?
-- Ben Lane, of Fairview Heights
A. Obviously, we're not talking about flying coach here. As you may know, these babies have rolled off the line at $3 billion or so each.
Cruising at speeds somewhere in the upper 500s, they have an estimated range of 6,900 miles with fuel tanks that hold roughly 167,000 pounds (which would be about 27,300 gallons of car gas). It's roughly a 13,000-mile round-trip flight, so you're talking close to two full loads of fuel.
Put all that together, and the official estimate is that last week's mission cost $2.1 million, according to the spokesman I talked with at the Air Force's Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
Other experts, however, say the figure might have reached much higher altitudes. A couple of years ago, Winslow Wheeler at the Center for Defense Information analyzed the cost per hour to operate nearly two dozen planes in the Air Force's combat fleet. The figures included fuel, parts and maintenance along with contractor support and manpower.
While fighters like the A-10 and F-16 came in at under $40,000, the B-2 bomber soared to $130,000, in part because of a crash on Guam in 2008. Using that figure, some say the most recent mission, which would have taken more than 40 hours combined flying time, may have been more like $5.4 million.
Either way, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said at a press conference last week that the mission was paid for out of money set aside for annual B-52 and B-2 training exercises in northeast Asia.
Q. A sign at the end of the Richland Creek Bike Connector in Swansea says that construction -- apparently which will go under the highway and into Centennial Park -- would be completed in 2012. Obviously, that did not happen. When will that project be finished -- if ever?
-- D.K., of Fairview Heights
A. Sounds like you're getting as antsy as I am. Personally, I love that bucolic little path -- at least, once you get past the wastewater treatment plant -- but there are only so many times I want to ride down a mile-long trail that dead-ends into nothing.
Well, good news: Construction is expected to start again shortly, says Craig Coughlin, the village's new administrator. Hopefully, within a few months, you'll be able to roll right into Centennial Park.
"I'm not sure when they're actually going to start physically putting the trail in, but we should be pretty close," Coughlin told me.
The path to the park, however, won't be quite as direct as you envision. As wonderful as it would be, digging a tunnel under the heavily traveled North Belt East (161) would be far too costly.
Instead, the trail will make a sharp jog to the west and parallel the beltway to Josephine Drive. You then will have to cross 161 at the light at Josephine before turning east again to pedal the final couple of blocks to the park. (For a map, go to communitylink.com/swansea-illinois.)
It's a bit messy but it will be far safer than riding the shoulder of the old two-lane 161 as many of us dared to do years ago.
"It's pretty exciting, because it will link Centennial Park to the main trail and really open it up," Coughlin said. "People can park at the park, get on the trail and go where they want."
A couple of years ago, village officials hoped that this will be just a first step to the day when the trail will link up with Old Collinsville Road. From there, it would head up to Munie Road and then west to Shranz Memorial Park to join the MetroLink trail that now extends to the Memorial Hospital station. At least, that was the dream, but right now I'll settle for a path that doesn't end at a pile of dirt.
Which country's flag has the most different colors -- in fact, 33 percent more than any other?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." This quotation sounds as though it was written expressly about mail carriers, and it was -- but not when you might think. This popular quote was adapted from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who, when describing the postal service of the ancient Persian Empire, wrote in about 450 B.C.: "It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day's journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed."
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2465.