The B-2 Spirit is a stealth, long-range bomber aircraft. The aircraft was developed to enter hostile airspace and avoid detection. The aircraft uses the flying wing design and has space for two crew members. The B-2 is used for conventional and nuclear weapons.
The program that produced the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber began as the Advanced Technology Bomber project. The program, which began in 1979, focused on the creation of a long range stealth bomber. The aircraft was planned to be used in USSR airspace during the Cold War. The Air Force intended to order 165 of the ATB aircraft. Northrop and Boeing worked together on the concept.
The Northrop/Boeing design was chosen on 20 October 1981. The flying wing design was familiar to Northrop, having used it previously for the YB-35 and YB-49. The B-2 was unique due to the blend of aerodynamic capabilities, low observable characteristics, large payload, and range. The Spirit was one of the first military aircraft created with CAD technology.
Multiple characteristics of the B-2 enable the plane to avoid detection. The flying wing design displays continuous curvature, allowing the curved and rounded surfaces to reflect radar waves. The silhouette prevents the ability to use radar for determination of flight direction. The engines and intake are positioned to avoid detection by infrared and radar tracking. The aircraft is made of composite material that absorbs radar. The exterior paint is anti reflective and camouflages the aircraft against the sky.
The B-2 was outfitted with terrain following radar, allowing navigation to navigate dangerous areas undetected. A Defensive Management System alerts the crew of any threats. An on board fault detection system communicates damage to the B-2 maintenance crew. Fly by wire controls assist with aircraft stabilization.
The first flight of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber was 17 July 1989. The first operational aircraft was delivered to the Whiteman Air Force Base, which houses the 509th Bomb Wing, in 1993. The B-2 first saw combat in the Kosovo War. It was the first aircraft to deploy Joint Direct Attack Munitions (a bolt on system that turns unguided gravity bombs into guided weapons) in Kosovo. The B-2 was chosen for combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
There have been a total of 21 B-2 Spirit aircraft produced. Only one has been lost due to a crash shortly after takeoff. Two test B-2 aircraft were built without flight instruments or aircraft engines. One of these aircraft, The Spirit of Ohio, can be viewed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
Length: 69 feet
Wingspan: 172 feet
Height: 17 feet
Maximum takeoff weight: 336,500 pounds
Maximum Speed: 630 mph (Mach 0.95)
Payload: 40,000 pounds
Crew: 2 maximumTechnological advancements, international events, and travel have all impacted the evolution of flight. See our picks for notable aircraft