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Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit

The B-2 Spirit, commonly known as the Stealth Bomber, is a multirole heavy bomber with "low observable" stealth technology capable of penetrating into dense anti-aircraft defences and drop conventional or nuclear bombs. It is highly stealthed and very hard to detect. However, this is a very expensive bomber, costing the US almost 2 billion to build one, and even more to maintain it.

Although designed for Cold War scenarios, the B-2 has been used to drop bombs in Kosovo in the late 1990's and in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Due to the bombers 'out-of-this world' looks and technology, it has been a prominent public spectacle at air shows since the 1990's and has been the subject of espionage and counter-espionage activities.


The Northrop YB-49 and Horten Ho 229 flying wing designs of the 1940s preceded the B-2. The Spirit originated from the Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB) black project that began in 1979. Meanwhile, as Ronald Reagan campaigned for the Presidency in 1979 and 1980, he promised a restoration of American military strength. On August 22, 1980, the Department of Defense first publicly disclosed that it was working to develop stealth aircraft including the ATB. The ATB competition was reduced to the Northrop/Boeing and Lockheed/Rockwell teams with each receiving a study contract for further work. Both teams developed flying wing designs. The Northrop design was larger while the Lockheed design was smaller and included a small tail.

The Northrop/Boeing team's ATB design was selected over the Lockheed/Rockwell design on October 20, 1981. The black project was funded under the code name "Aurora". The Northrop design would receive the designation B-2 and the name "Spirit". The bomber's design was changed in the mid-1980s when its mission profile was changed from high-altitude to low-altitude, terrain-following. The redesign delayed the B-2's first flight by two years and added about US$1 billion to the program's cost. An estimated US$23 billion was secretly spent for research and development on the B-2 by 1989. At the program's peak, 13,000 people were employed at a dedicated plant in Pico Rivera, California for the plane's engineering and portions of its manufacturing.

The B-2 was first publicly displayed on November 22, 1988, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, where it was built. Its first public flight was on July 17, 1989 from Palmdale. The B-2 Combined Test Force, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, is responsible for flight testing Air Force aircraft.

A procurement of 132 aircraft was planned in the mid-1980s, but this was later reduced to 75. Yielding to budgetary pressures and congressional opposition, in his 1992 State of the Union Address, President George H.W. Bush announced total B-2 production would be limited to 20 aircraft. This reduction was largely a result of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which effectively rendered void the Spirit's primary Cold War mission.


The B-2 Spirit, as you know it, is designed for stealth and not payload. It is nuclear capable, however, and it can penetrate most of the sophisticated anti-aircraft radars without being detected. The B-2's stealth characteristics are due to its air frame and the special paint coating for maxed stealth. Also, it not only has very reduced radar signature but also reduced acoustic, infrared, and visual detectability as well.

B-2's ability steath capabilities originated from the F-117 Nighthawk, which was one of the first stealth-capable operational aircraft. Both aircraft were made possible due to a Russian-born physicist and mathematician, Pyotr Ufimtsev's, theoritical work.

The B-2 has a crew of two due to the replacement of the duties of many people by the computer. The mission commander seats on the right and the pilot on the left. The B-2's unconventional flying wing design results to control difficulties so much so that it is mostly flown by a highly advanced on board computer. The B-2 is also highly automated so a crew member can use the toilet, prepare hot food, or sleep while the other monitors the aircraft.

Congress recently funded upgrades to the B-2's weapons systems in 2008.

Operational History...

  • Kosovo War
  • War in Afghanistan
  • War in Iraq

During the Iraq War, B-2s dropped a total of 1.5 million pounds of munitions.


The B-2 is the mostly costly plane to be built in the world. The program itself costed US 44.75 billion in total in 1997 dollars (projected through 2004) which includes development, procurement, facilities, construction, and spare parts, and each unit cost about US $737 million (1997 air vehicle cost per plane). That's just the initial costs. Maintainence for the B-2 is horrific due to the cost for its air-conditioned hangars large enough for the bomber's 172 ft wingspan, which is required for the B-2 to maintain the aircraft's stealth properties and especially its "low-observable" stealthy skins. In addition, each hour of flight for the B-2 results to a whopping 119 hours of maintenance on the ground, a lot considering the B-52 only needs 53 hours and the B-1, 60 hours.

The total program cost for one B-2 averaged US$2.13 billion. There are currently 20 B-2 aircraft in active service; only a total of 21 were built.

A Costly Accident...

On February 23rd, 2008, a B-2 crashed on the runway shortly after the takeoff in the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. The two crew man ejected and survived, but the aircraft, Spirit of Kansas, 89-0127, was completely destroyed, resulting a hull loss estimated at US$1.4 billion. It had been operated by the 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and it had logged 5 176 flight hours.


(Data from USAF Fact Sheet, Pace, Spick, Globalsecurity)

General characteristics

Crew: 2
Length: 69 ft (21.0 m)
Wingspan: 172 ft (52.4 m)
Height: 17 ft (5.18 m)
Wing area: 5,140 ft² (478 m²)
Empty weight: 158,000 lb (71,700 kg)
Loaded weight: 336,500 lb (152,200 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 376,000 lb (170,600 kg)
Powerplant: 4× General Electric F118-GE-100 non-afterburning turbofans, 17,300 lbf (77 kN) each


Maximum speed: Mach 0.95 (525 knots, 604 mph, 972 km/h)
Cruise speed: Mach 0.85 (470 knots, 541 mph, 870 km/h)
Range: 6,000 nmi (11,100 km, 6,900 mi)
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,200 m)
Wing loading: 67.3 lb/ft² (329 kg/m²)
Thrust/weight: 0.205


2 internal bays for 50,000 lb (22,700 kg) of ordnance.
80× 500 lb class bombs (Mk-82) mounted on Bomb Rack Assembly (BRA)
36× 750 lb CBU class bombs on BRA
16× 2000 lb class weapons (Mk-84, JDAM-84, JDAM-102) mounted on Rotary Launcher Assembly (RLA)
16× B61 or B83 nuclear weapons on RLA

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.

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