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CRACK PROMPTS A.F. TO GROUND STEALTHS

The Air Force has suspended test flights of its B-2 Stealth bombers after discovering a cracked part during an inspection.

The grounding of the world's most expensive aircraft, at $2 billion-plus a copy, began last Friday but was not announced. The Air Force public affairs office only acknowledged it Tuesday after news of the problem began leaking.All 10 planes in the fleet, which is based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., will be inspected before flights are resumed, officials said. Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Virginia Pribyla said the cracked part - a clamp that connects the exhaust duct to the engine - was not a safety hazard but must be fixed.

She said the Air Force decided not to announce the suspension of flights because the clamp problem was considered small and because the planes are still in testing.

The cracked clamp was made by General Electric Co.