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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.

Development...

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.



Design...

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.

Costs...

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.

Specifications...

(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

Performance

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

Armament

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.

Lockheed/Boeing AC-130 Spectre/Spooky Gunship



The AC-130, solely used by the United States Air Force, is a turbo prop gunship variant of the C-130 Hercules. Although Lockheed was the designer of the original airframe, Boeing was responsible for the conversion of the Hercules to a gunship. There are two variants of the AC-130 which has two different names. The AC-130H Spectre and the AC-130U Spooky. The AC-130 has a standard crew of twelve-thirteen airmen, five of which are usually officers and the rest enlisted men.

The AC-130's are stationed at Hurlburt Airfield in Northwest Florida, part of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), a component of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

Design...

AC-130's are heavily armed with many different weapons, even 105 mm howitzers. These weapons are fired from the side of the aircraft. They have both anti-personnel and anti-armor capabilities and are extremely accurate due to a continuous upgrade of on board systems such as radar.

The newer AC-130U Spooky variant is equipped with the AN/APQ-180, a synthetic aperture radar capable of detecting and identifying long-range targets. The airframe is much stronger with the integration of an armor protection system, or APS. It has an onboard GPS and an inertial navigation system. It also has twice the amount of munitions than the AC-130H. The AC-130U, employing technology developed in the 1990's, can attack two targets at one time with first round accuracy. Also, the Spooky has a higher service ceiling and longer range.

The older AC-130H Spectre variant, although it has half the amount of munitions capacity then the Spooky, is an excellent fire support platform. The Spectre is accurate enough to be able to place 105mm, 40mm, or 25mm munitions on targets with first round accuracy. The crews of these aircraft are extremely proficient working in military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) environments.

Operational History...
  • The AC-130 first appeared in Vietnam on September 27th, 1967 and began combat operations over Laos and South Vietnam.
  • By October 30th, 1968, enough AC-130 Gunship IIs arrived to form a squadron. The 16th Special Operations Squadron, or SOS, of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW), at the Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand.
  • During the Vietnam War, the AC-130 was responsible for 10 000 trucks destroyed and participated in many crucial air support missions.
  • During the Invasion of Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury) in 1983, AC-130s were used to supress enemy defences enabling a successful assault of the Points Salines Airfield. One AC-130 crew won the Lieutenant General William H. Tunner Award for the mission.
  • AC-130s also participated in Operation Desert Storm. On January 31st, 1991, during the early morning hours, one AC-130H, AF Serial No. 69-6567, call sign Spirit 03, opted to stay and continue protecting the Marines despite the increasing threat of SAMs, or surface-to-air missiles. Unfortunately, Spirit 03 was shot down by a SAM and all fourteen crew members were KIA...
  • AC-130s participated in Operation Restore Hope and United Shield in Somalia.
  • AC-130s participated in the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  • AC-130s participated in the 1997 evacuation of American noncombatants in Albania.
  • AC-130s were used in the buildup of US Forces in Iraq in 1998 the Iraqi government to comply with UN weapons inspections.
  • AC-130s participated in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq War.
  • US Special Operations forces used AC-130s in 2007 on attacks on suspected al-Qaeda militants in Somalia.

The AC-130 has never lost a base under its protection to enemy forces.

World Records...

The AC-130 currently holds the record of the longest sustained flight. From the 22nd to the 24th of October 1997, two AC-130U Spookys flew 36.0 hours nonstop from Hurlbert Airfield, Florida to Taegu Air Base (Daegu), South Korea. There were altogether 7 air refuelings by KC-135 Stratotankers. This record shatted the previous one by over 10 hours and the two gunships took on 410 000 lb (184 500 kg) of fuel and displayed the Gunship's ability to match their squadron's motto of 'Any Time, Any Place!'.

Specifications...

General Characteristics (AC_130U)

Crew: 13
Officers: 5 (pilot, copilot, navigator, fire control officer, electronic warfare officer)
Enlisted: 8 (flight engineer, TV operator, infrared detection set operator, load master, four aerial gunners)
Length: 97 ft 9 in (29.8 m)
Wingspan: 132 ft 7 in (40.4 m)
Height: 38 ft 6 in (11.7 m)
Wing area: 1745.5 ft² (162.2 m²)
Loaded weight: 122,400 lb (55,520 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 155,000 lb (69,750 kg)
Powerplant: 4× Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, 4,910 shp (3,700 kW) each

Performance (AC-130U)

Maximum speed: 260 knots (300 mph, 480 km/h)
Range: 2,200 nm (2,530 mi, 4,070 km)
Service ceiling: 30,000 ft (9,100 m)

Armament

AC-130A Project Gunship II
4× 7.62 mm GAU-2/A miniguns
4× 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon
AC-130A Surprise Package, Pave Pronto, AC-130E Pave Spectre
4× 7.62 mm GAU-2/A miniguns
2× 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon
2× 40 mm (1.58 in) L/60 Bofors cannon
AC-130E Pave Aegis
2× 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon
1× 40 mm L60 Bofors cannon
1× 105 mm (4.13 in) M102 howitzer

AC-130H Spectre
AC-130H Pave Spectre II
1× 40 mm L60 Bofors cannon
1× 105 mm (4.13 in) M102 howitzer
AC-130U "Spooky" Gunship
1× 25 mm (0.984 in) 5-Barrel GAU-12/U Equalizer Gatling gun
1× 40 mm L60 Bofors cannon
1× 105 mm (4.13 in) M102 howitzer

Grumman F4F Wildcat

The Grumman F4F Wildcat, was an American carrier-based aircraft famous for its participation in many crucial battles of World War II in the Pacific Theatre. The F4F saw service under the United States Navy and the Royal Fleet Air Arm, and in fact, was the main fighter of the USN for the first year and a half of the United States involvement in World War II.

Design...

The F4F Wildcat started out as a biplane on the drawing boards, and was entered into a U.S. Navy competition. It was beat by the Brewster F2A-1 Buffalo design which resulted to its complete remodelling to a monoplane, XF4F-2. However, Brewster's Buffalo design was still considered superior overall and was chosen for productions. After some changes to the wings and the engines, the new XF4F-3 led to an order for the production of the dash three model (the name "Wildcat" was officially adopted on October 1st, 1941), with the first of which was completed in the February of 1940. The French also placed on order for the F4F-3s, but fell before they could be delivered and was ultimately transferred to the British Royal Navy, which named them "Martlet I"s.

Landing accidents were common, due to the unsual main landing gear design. This design, which was incorporated to all versions of the Wildcat, made it extremely hard to fully lock the landing in place as the fuselage-mounted landing gears had to be painstakingly hand-cranked, with a relatively narrow track.

General Motors built their own version of the Wildcat, designated FM-1. The only difference being the change in armament[1]. It remained in service throughout the remainder of the war on escort carriers where larger and heavier escort fighters could not be used.

Operational History...
  • Royal Navy- The Wildcat, or Martlet, scored its first combat victory in the European Theatre on Christmas Day of 1940, when a land-based Martlet shot down a Junkers Ju 88 over Scapa Flow. This was also the first combat victory by a US-built fighter in British Service in World War II. In mid-1941, Martlets began combat operations out at sea aboard British ships and had seen to the downing of several enemy planes.
  • U.S. Navy and Marines- The F4F Wildcat saw more action under the Americans in the Pacific Theatre. It was out-performed by the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the Wildcat's major opponent in the early parts of the war in the Pacific, but it had one advantage over the Zero. The Wildcat had relatively heavy armor, and self-sealing fuel tanks. Zeros, on the other hand, sacrificed protection for agility and power. The F4F Wildcats played a prominent role in many of major battles of the Pacific, such as the defence of Wake Island, the Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway, and the Guadalcanal Campaign.
During the course of the war, Navy and Marine Wildcats flew 15 553 combat sorties (14 027 from aircraft carrriers), destroying 1 327 enemy aircraft at a cost of 191 Wildcats (an overall kill-death ratio of 6.9:1). Wildcats only dropped 154 tons of bombs during World War II.

The Wildcat was replaced by the Grumman F6F Hellcat and the Chance Vought F4U Corsair which could take on the Japanese Zero on equal terms.

Specifications...

(Data from The American Fighter, by Angelucci, Enzo)

F4F-3
General characteristics

Crew: 1
Length: 28 ft 9 in (8.76 m)
Wingspan: 38 ft (11.58 m)
Height: 11 ft 10 in (3.60 m)
Loaded weight: 7,000 lb (3,176 kg)
Powerplant: 1× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 double-row radial engine, 1,200 hp (900 kW)

Performance

Maximum speed: 331 mph (531 km/h)
Range: 845 mi (1,360 km)
Service ceiling: 39,500 ft (12,000 m)

Armament

Guns: 4 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns, 450 rounds/gun
Bombs: 2 × 100 lb (45 kg) bombs and/or 2 × 58gal. drop tanks

F4F-4
General characteristics

Crew: 1
Length: 28 ft 9 in (8.8 m)
Wingspan: 38 ft 0 in (11.6 m)
Height: 9 ft 2.5 in (2.8 m)
Wing area: 260 ft² (24.2 m²)
Empty weight: 5,760 lb (2,610 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 7,950 lb (3,610 kg)
Powerplant: 1× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86 double-row radial engine, 1,200 hp (900 kW)

Performance

Maximum speed: 320 mph (290 knots, 515 km/h)
Range: 770 mi (670 nm, 1,240 km)
Service ceiling: 39,500 ft (12,000 m)
Rate of climb: 1,950 ft/min (9.9 m/s)

Armament

Guns: 6 x 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns, 240 rounds/gun
Bombs: 2 × 250 lb (114 kg) bombs and/or 2 × 58 gal. droptanks

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