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The B-2 Spirit bomber is operated by the USAF.


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B-2 Spirit bomber is a multi-role stealth bomber able to drop conventional and nuclear weapons. The B-2 Spirit bomber was a milestone in the bomber modernization program of the United States.

B-2 Stealth Bomber.
B-2 stealth bomber.
A USAF B-2 Spirit in flight.
Type Stealth bomber
Manufacturer Northrop Corporation
Northrop Grumman
Maiden flight 1989-07-17
Introduced April 1997
Status Active service
Primary user United States Air Force
Number built 21
Unit cost US$1.157-$2.2 billion in 1998

The B-2 Spirit bomber is one of the most expensive planes ever built: estimates for the costs per plane range from 1.157 billion to 2.2 billion US dollars. By comparison, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier costs $4.5 billion. However, quoted cost figures are highly inflated by the inclusion of the aircraft's enormous development cost and infrastructure development costs in the unit price; published estimates have shown the unit "production" cost for the aircraft alone is approximately $150 million per aircraft.

Its stealth technology is intended to help the craft penetrate defenses previously impenetrable by combat aircraft. The original procurement of 135 aircraft was later reduced to 75 in the late 1980s. In his 1992 State of the Union address, President George H. W. Bush announced total B-2 Spirit bomber production would be limited to 20 aircraft (later increased to 21 by refurbishing a test aircraft). This reduction was largely a result of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which effectively rendered void the Spirit's primary mission.

Features of the B-2 Spirit bomber.

With the B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer, the U.S. military claims that the B-2 Spirit bomber provides the versatility inherent in manned bombers. Its low-observable, or "stealth," characteristics give it the ability to penetrate an enemy's most sophisticated defenses and attack its most heavily defended targets.

The blending of low-observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload gives the B-2 Spirit bomber significant advantages over previous bombers. Its travelling range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km) without refueling. Also, its low-observation ability provides the B-2 greater freedom of action at high altitudes, thus increasing its range and a better field of view for the aircraft's sensors. With its GPS Aided Targeting System (GATS) combined with GPS-aided bombs such as Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), it can use its passive electronically scanned array APQ-181 radar to correct GPS errors of targets and gain much better than laser-guided weapon accuracy with "dumb" gravity bombs with a GPS-aided "smart" guidance tail kit attached. It can bomb 16 targets in a single pass when equipped with 1000 or 2000-pound bombs, or as many as 80 when carrying 500-pound bombs.

B-2 Spirit Guam.
This B-2 Spirit was photographed in 2004 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

The B-2 Spirit bomber's stealth comes from a combination of reduced acoustic, infrared, visual and radar signatures, making it difficult for defences to detect, track and engage. Many aspects of the low-observability process remain classified; however, the B-2 Spirit bomber's composite materials, special coatings and flying wing design contribute to its stealth abilities.

The B-2 Spirit bomber has a crew of two; a pilot in the left seat and mission commander in the right, compared to the B-1B's crew of four and the B-52's crew of five.

Operational history of the B-2 Spirit bomber.

B-2.
B-2 Spirit in flight over the Mississippi River. St. Louis, Missouri with the Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium in the background.

The B-2 Spirit bomber started life as a black project known as the High Altitude Penetrating Bomber (HAPB), then became the Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB) and used the project code word Senior Cejay. It later became the B-2 Spirit bomber. An estimated 23 billion US dollars were secretly spent for research and development on the B-2 in the 1980s. An additional expense was caused by changing its role in 1985 from a high-altitude bomber to a low-altitude bomber, which required a major redesign. The first B-2 Spirit bomber was publicly displayed on November 22, 1988, when it was rolled out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, where it was built. Its first flight was on July 17, 1989. The B-2 Combined Test Force, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, is responsible for flight testing the engineering, manufacturing and development aircraft.

The first aircraft, named Spirit of Missouri, was delivered on December 17, 1993. Depot maintenance responsibility for the B-2 Spirit bomber is held by United States Air Force contractor support and is managed at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

B-2 Spirit dropping bombs.
B-2 Spirit dropping bomb payload on military exercise.

The prime contractor, responsible for overall system design and integration, is Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon), General Electric Aircraft Engines and Vought Aircraft Industries, are members of the aircraft contractor team. Another contractor, responsible for aircrew training devices (weapon system trainer and mission trainer) is Link Simulation & Training, a division of L-3 Communications formerly Hughes Training Inc. (HTI). Link Division, formerly known as CAE - Link Flight Simulation Corp. Link Simulation & Training is responsible for developing and integrating all aircrew and maintenance training programs. The military contractors for the B-2 engaged in massive lobbying campaigns to gain Congressional support for its funding.

Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri was the B-2's only operational base until early 2003, when facilities for the B-2 Spirit bomber were built on the joint U.S./U.K. military base on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, followed by deployment to Guam in 2005. Facilities for the aircraft have also been built at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire in the United Kingdom.

Questions remain over the rising cost of the program: some writers have suggested that the huge cost may include costs for other black projects. The expense may also be partially explained by the small number of planes produced coupled with a large research overhead in the B-2 Spirit bomber program.

These bombers were originally designed to drop nuclear weapons during the Cold War and support for them dwindled as military spending declined. In May of 1995, in a study commissioned by Congress, the Institute For Defense Analysis concluded that after the demise of the Soviet Union, there was no need for more B-2 Spirit bombers.

Combat history of the B-2 Spirit bomber.

B-2 aerial refueling.
B-2 Spirit during aerial refueling over the Pacific Ocean. Inflight refueling capability gives the B-2 Spirit a range limited only by engine lubrication and crew endurance.
B-2 Spirit bomber of the US Air Force.
Side view of a B-2 Spirit bomber of the US Air Force.

The B-2 Spirit bomber was derided by many as being too expensive to risk in combat. However, the aircraft has seen service in three separate campaigns.

Its debut was during the Kosovo War in 1999. The B-2 Spirit bomber first introduced the satellite guided JDAM in combat use. Since then, the aircraft has operated over Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The raids on Afghanistan saw a first for the aircraft. After flying bombing missions over Afghanistan, the aircraft landed at Diego Garcia, were refueled and had a crew change before another sortie. This was taken a step further during the Iraq campaign when B-2s were based at Diego Garcia.

Later missions to Iraq came from Whiteman AFB in Missouri. This resulted in missions lasting over 30 hours and one mission of over 50 hours. The B-2 is highly automated, and unlike single-seat fighters, one crewmember can sleep, use a flush toilet or prepare a hot meal while the other monitors the aircraft.

The Pentagon's Operational Test and Evaluation 2003 Annual Report noted that the B-2's serviceability for FY03 was still inadequate, mainly due to maintenance on the B-2's Low Observable materials, the Evaluation also noted that the Defensive Avionics suite also had shortcomings in warning of pop-up threats. Despite these problems the B-2 Spirit bomber was declared to be in full operational capability in December of 2003. The B-2 maintained high serviceability for Operation Iraqi Freedom, dropping 583 JDAMs during the war.

B-2 Spirit bomber on display.

B-2 Spirit.
B-2 Spirit bomber display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Because of their cost, rarity and combat value it is unlikely any B-2 will be placed on permanent display in the near future (or anytime before airframe retirement). However, they are periodically on temporary ground display at various airshows, including one at Tinker Air Force Base, Midwest City, Oklahoma in June of 2005. In 2004 the static test mock-up for the B-2 Spirit bomber was placed on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. The mock-up had been used for structural testing, and at one point was tested to the point of destruction. The Museum's restoration team spent over a year reassembling the fractured airframe, and patches can clearly be seen on the exterior of the airframe where fractured sections have been reattached.

From 1989 to 2004, the South Dakota Air and Space Museum located on the grounds of Ellsworth Air Force Base displayed a 10-ton, 3/5 scale "Honda Stealth," a mock-up of a stealth bomber built by North American Honda in 1988 for a national automobile campaign. The mockup is not an actual replica of a B-2 Spirit bomber, but was close enough to create a stir that Honda had cracked national security, as the B-2 Spirit bomber project was still officially classified in 1988. Honda donated the model to the Museum in 1989, with the stipulation the model be destroyed if it was replaced with a different aircraft. The Honda Stealth was dismantled and replaced with a B-1 Lancer aircraft in 2005.

A B-2 Spirit participated in the Air Force Memorial dedication ceremony on October 14, 2006.

Recent events regarding B-2 Spirit bomber.

The B-2.
B-2 Spirit bomber pictured on runway.

Noshir Gowadia, the design engineer in charge of the propulsion system, was arrested in October 2005 for selling classified information to China and possibly other countries. His trial is scheduled for 10 July, 2007.

Units using the B-2 Spirit bomber: United States Air Force.

  • 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base
    • 13th Bomb Squadron.
    • 393d Bomb Squadron.
    • 394th Combat Training Squadron.
    .
  • 53d Wing, Eglin Air Force Base
    • 72d Test and Evaluation Squadron, Whiteman Air Force Base.
    .
  • 57th Wing, Nellis Air Force Base
    • 325th Weapons Squadron, Whiteman Air Force Base.
    • 715th Weapons Squadron inactivated.
    .

General characteristics and specifications (B-2A Block 30) of the B-2 Spirit bomber.

The B-2.
The B-2 compared to an F/A-18 Hornet and two F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Northrop B-2 Spirit.
Orthographically projected diagram of the Northrop B-2 Spirit.
  • Crew: 2.
  • Length: 69 ft (20.9 m).
  • Wingspan: 172 ft (52.12 m).
  • Height: 17 ft (5.1 m).
  • Wing area: 5,000 ft (460 m).
  • Empty weight: 158,000 lb (71,700 kg).
  • Loaded weight: 336,500 lb (152,600 kg).
  • Max takeoff weight: 376,000 lb (171,000 kg).
  • Powerplant: 4 General Electric F118-GE-100 turbofans, 17,300 lbf (77 kN) each.

Performance of the B-2 Spirit bomber.

  • Maximum speed: 410 knots (475 mph, 764 km/h).
  • Range: 6,500 mi (5,600 nm, 10,400 km).
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m).
  • Wing loading: 67.3 lb/ft (329 kg/m).
  • Thrust/weight: 0.205.

Armament of the B-2 Spirit bomber.

  • 40,000 lb (18,000 kg) of Bomb Rack Assembly mounted 500 lb class bombs (Mk82) (total carriage quantity: 80).
  • 27,000 lb (12,000 kg) of BRA mounted 750 lb CBU class bombs (total carriage quantity: 36).
  • 16 Rotary Launcher Assembly (RLA) mounted 2000 lb class weapons (Mk84, JDAM-84, JDAM-102).
  • 16 RLA mounted B61 or B83 nuclear weapons.

Later avionics and equipment improvements allow B-2A to carry JSOW and GBU-28s as well. The Spirit is also designated as a delivery aircraft for the AGM-158 JASSM when the missile enters service.

List of B-2 bombers.

DesignationTail #Formal name
AV-1 82-1066 Spirit of America
AV-2 82-1067 Spirit of Arizona
AV-3 82-1068 Spirit of New York
AV-4 82-1069 Spirit of Indiana
AV-5 82-1070 Spirit of Ohio
AV-6 82-1071 Spirit of Mississippi
AV-7 88-0328 Spirit of Texas
AV-8 88-0329 Spirit of Missouri
AV-9 88-0330 Spirit of California
AV-10 88-0331 Spirit of South Carolina
AV-11 88-0332 Spirit of Washington
AV-12 89-0127 Spirit of Kansas
AV-13 89-0128 Spirit of Nebraska
AV-14 89-0129 Spirit of Georgia
AV-15 90-0040 Spirit of Alaska
AV-16 90-0041 Spirit of Hawaii
AV-17 92-0700 Spirit of West Virginia
AV-18 93-1085 Spirit of Oklahoma
AV-19 93-1086 Spirit of Kitty Hawk
AV-20 93-1087 Spirit of Pennsylvania
AV-21 93-1088 Spirit of Louisiana
AV-22-AV-135 cancelled
B2 bomber rollout ceremony.
The B-2 spirit's first public display in 1988.
The B-2's first public flight in 1989.
The B-2 spirit's first public flight in 1989.
The B-2's engines.
The B-2's engines are buried within its wing to conceal the induction fans and minimize their exhaust signature. The crew of two sit side-by-side in the cockpit..
cockpit of a B-2 spirit bomber.
Vice President Dick Cheney sits inside the cockpit of a B-2 with pilot Capt. Luke Jayne during a visit to Whiteman AFB in 2006..

Related content and development of the B-2 Spirit bomber.

  • Northrop YB-49.

Comparable aircraft to the B-2 Spirit bomber.

  • Tupolev Tu-160.
  • Tupolev Tu-22M.

Designation sequence of the B-2 Spirit bomber.

  • B-1 - B-2 -.



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