We talk a lot about unit patches here on The War Zone, but challenge coins, aka 'round metal objects,' or RMOs, are as equally interesting and are a major part of military aviation culture and tradition. There are seemingly a limitless number of features that can be included on a challenge coin outside of their basic traits, which usually include the unit's designation, colors, mascot, nickname, mottos and slogans, symbology, and references to its history and lore. But of all the RMOs I have seen, the 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron Detachment Two, which deals with testing the fearsome and sinister B-2 Spirit, has the coolest.
For those not yet in the know, it is worth reviewing the history of the challenge coin and how they are used in practice. F-22 pilot Rob Burgon, author of "Piano Burning and Other Fighter Pilot Traditions" has a website that has a good primer on this awesome topic that you can and should read here.
Officially speaking, the 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron is part of the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, but it spends most its time far west of that location. This includes primarily operating out of the B-2's home base at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, plowing the range complexes and working out of Nellis AFB in southern Nevada, and visiting Edwards AFB and the nearby Plant 42 in California as well.
The squadron has deeper roots than the vast majority of USAF units, with its establishment dating back exactly 100 years. The 72nd even deployed to France during World War I. Since then it has taken on various roles, including being a bomber squadron during World War II and a reconnaissance squadron and once again a bomber squadron during the Cold War. The unit stood-up in its current form as the B-2's test and evaluation unit, dealing with virtually all forms of the prized bomber's evolution and sustainment, in 1998.
Their absolutely wicked emblem harkens back to at least 1924 and is one of the most striking crests in the entire U.S. military. The official description of the emblem states:
The testers of the 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron Detachment Two have incorporated this emblem and a whole load of other symbology—and even functionality—into their challenge coin. Here are the features of the coin as far as our sources describe them and as we understand them:
The iconic skyline of Las Vegas is seen as well as a stylized aeronautical chart. The unit's official name and the 72nd TES lightning bolt logo are also prominently displayed, as well as the aircraft they test—the B-2 Spirit—in both quartering and planform perspectives. 'DET 2' refers to 'Detachment Two,' a sub-unit that deals with the evaluation and reporting aspects of B-2 testing, especially in regards to the aircraft's stealthy capabilities. 'Coyotes' is the unit's nickname. 'Deny, Deceive, Destroy' and the post office motto 'neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds' is aptly showcased in Latin.
'Survivability' refers to the various elements of the stealthy B-2 that allow it to penetrate enemy air defenses and come out intact to fly another day. These include a whole cocktail of capabilities ranging onboard sensors, to electronic warfare, to mission planning systems. Yet the aircraft's exotic shape and radar absorbing coatings are its primary low-observable features, so it's not a surprise to see the sigma symbol after 'survivability' as it represents the measurement of an aircraft's radar cross-section.
The alien is a common tongue and cheek reference to secretive programs at Area 51 where the Dynamic Coherent Measurement System (DYCOMS) and its managery of antenna arrays are located. This system is similar to a static radar-cross section test range but it can collect data on real aircraft as they whiz by above at different angles. The B-2 is known to use this installation relatively regularly.
The claws with talons and red glowing eyes make up the logo of the B-2 Combined Test Force. The five stars plus the triangle in the center most likely refers to Area 51 as six stars are established cryptic symbology that represents the base. In this case, one star is replaced with the triangular shape which matches the large rotating tower array located at the DYCOMS facility on the secretive installation. The meaning of the other five stars isn't clear at this time.
Finally, we have the coolest part of this killer design—the negative space below the B-2's sawtooth trailing edge isn't just there for great aesthetics. This RMO is also a very usable bottle opener! This feature is not unheard of on challenge coins, but the B-2's trailing edge makes it ideal for such a function without looking like, well, a bottle opener. Making it even cooler, certain features of the coin, like the alien, glow in the dark as well.
So there you have it, a highly specialized subset of an elite but seldom talked about Air Force unit happens to have one hell of a challenge coin.