The B-2 Spirit (generically known as the “Stealth Bomber”) was the pinnacle of tail-less flight designs beginning in the mind of Jack Northrop, founder of the Northrop aircraft company. Not only was the B-2 groundbreaking in its sans vertical tail surfaces concept but the aircraft was designed from the outset with stealth capabilities in mind - from a small heat signature and profile to specialized avionics and body-coating materials. In essence, the mission of the B-2 would be to infiltrate enemy airspace, hitting vital targets against an unsuspecting enemy, and then leaving the area undetected - allowing for further waves of non-stealth aircraft to finish the job. This first-strike capability had become an essential facet of warfare in the 21st century and - as shown in the war in Kosovo through Allied Force - the B-2 would not disappoint.
Developed as early as the 1970’s the B-2 was not unveiled until 1988. It would be 1989 before the system would see its first flight time and from there on, the Spirit would be tabbed with succeeding the Rockwell B-1B Lancer. Armed with a potent APQ-181 radar, the B-2 Spirit is capable of pin-point strikes on most any hardened target available such as underground bunkers.
From above, the B-2’s body design is high prevalent in the use of the double-W shape. Vertical tail surfaces are non-existent and the large delta wing shape provides maximum stability. Maneuverability is made possible by the use of computer-controlled flight characteristics that were hard to come by on Northrop’s earlier flying wing attempts. This measure of ability is not to be underscored as the basic flying wing design presents many stability issues that had to be ironed out before the flying wing concept could be realized. To put the importance of this advancement into context, the previous flying wing attempts of Northrop had a deadly tendency to stall and - in one case - killing the crew. The internal systems of the B-2 reportedly do not let the aircraft stall, thus eliminating any piloting mistakes that could lead to a disastrous loss of the aircraft and its sensitive flight technology.
The wind-tunnel friendly profile of the B-2 shows off the low-profile design. Engines are housed in blended nacelles on either side of the equally-blended cockpit. A crew of two personnel can man the machine - a pilot and co-pilot - taking turns at flying the aircraft on longer missions. An in-air lavatory has also been installed just behind the cockpit for such missions. Sleeping for the crew can also be accomplished in a designated area. The large wing area of flying wings serves many beneficial purposes to the overall design. Additional fuel can be stored throughout the design and - more importantly - internal weapons bays allows for munitions to be held inside thus further reducing the radar signature of the Spirit.
With 132 B-2 Spirits initially planned for production, ballooning costs (the B-2 program cost well over $45 billion dollars to fund with a single B-2 costing about $1.2 billion dollars) and the end of the Cold War substantially reduced those figures to just 21. This end production total also included the 6 developmental B-2 aircraft which were later all upgraded to full operational use. Full air groups were formed in 1999, with the last B-2 delivered from the production lines in 1998.
The B-2 saw its first action in the war over Kosovo in 1999 as well as over Afghanistan in 2001 with pinpoint strikes using JDAMs and GPS-guided munitions. Missions were flown from locations within the United States (Missouri is the home state of the B-2 flight group) via inflight refueling. To that end, the B-2 became the realization that Jack Northrop saw with the XB-35 prop-powered flying wing all those years ago. Mr. Northrop himself was able to see the B-2 under development in its still-classified form shortly before his death. Today the B-2 - though limited in operational numbers - provides the United States with a lethal first-strike / first-kill capability unmatched throughout the world.
On February 22, 2008, the first reported accident of a stealth bomber was reported when a B-2 Spirit crashed shortly after takeoff in Guam while on support of western-Pacific operations. Both pilots ejected safely but the incident resulted in the grounding of the other three B-2’s present at the airbase. Investigation revealed that humidity had built up on several of the B-2’s sensors, distorting pre-flight checks leading to the accident.
Specifications for the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit (Stealth Bomber)
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Northrop Grumman - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1997
Focus Model: Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit (Stealth Bomber)
Crew: 2 or 3
Length: 69.00ft (21.03m)
Width: 172.01ft (52.43m)
Height: 16.99ft (5.18m)
Weight (Empty): 153,700lbs (69,717kg)
Weight (MTOW): 336,503lbs (152,635kg)
Powerplant: 4 x General Electric F118-GE-110 turbofans generating 17,300lbs of thrust.
Maximum Speed: 569mph (915kmh; 494kts)
Maximum Range: 7,248miles (11,665km)
Service Ceiling: 50,000ft (15,240m; 9.5miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 0 feet per minute (0m/min)
Mission-specific ordnance can include any of the follow arrangements held in an internal bomb bay:
16 x AGM-129 ACMs
16 x B61 strategic freefall nuclear bomb
16 x B83 strategic freefall nuclear bomb
80 x MK 82 bombs
16 x MK 84 bombs
16 x JDAM
16 x GAM
B-2A - Initial Production Model Designation
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