B-2 Spirit Bomber
The USAFs most advanced stealth bomber, the B-2 Spirit Bomber....
The B-2 Spirit bomber is a low-observational multi-role stealth bomber, with the capabilities to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The bomber is central to America’s air warfare capabilities and is the flagship of the nation’s long-range strike arsenal.
The B-2 Spirit originated from the Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB) black project that began in 1979. Because of its considerable capital and operations costs, the project caused controversy in Congress during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
As a result, the United States scaled back initial plans to purchase 132 of the bombers, nevertheless, the current fleet of 21 bombers represent a major milestone in U.S bomber technology.
After after evaluations of the ATB project, the contractors were reduced to the Northrop/Boeing and Lockheed/Rockwell teams, and the new black project was re-codenamed Aurora.
The Northrop/Boeing team’s ATB design was eventually selected over the Lockheed/Rockwell design on 20 October 1981. It was this design that received the designation B-2 and the name “Spirit”.
Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector still remain prime contractor for the B-2 Spirit, however Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Hughes Radar Systems Group, General Electric Aircraft Engine Group and Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc., are still key members of the development and research team.
The bomber’s design was changed in the mid-1980s when the 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.
The first public display of the B-2 was on Nov. 22, 1988. It was unveiled outside the hanger it was assembled in at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, Calif.
The first flight took place on July 17, 1989, and the first B2, Spirit of Missouri, was delivered on December 17, 1993.
B-2 Recent Upgrades
In 2008, the US Congress funded upgrades to the B-2s weapon control systems to enable the bomber to strike moving targets. On 29th December 2008, Air Force officials awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to modernize the B-2 fleet’s radar to incorporate state-of-the-art radar components, and later on 13 May 2009, an upgrade to the B-2’s software was announced.
The B-2’s low-observational stealth capabilities, aerodynamic efficiency and large payload, gives the aircraft an important advantage over existing bombers.
It’s stealth characteristics allow the bomber to penetrate an enemy’s most sophisticated defenses, it also allows for greater freedom at high altitude, thus increasing its range and field of view.
Its un-refueled range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles (9,600 kilometers). (6,905 miles/11,113 km)
The B-2 has a crew of two: a pilot in the left seat, and mission commander in the right.
The B-2 has provisions for a third crew member if needed. The B-2 is highly automated, and, unlike two-seat fighters, one crew member can sleep, use a toilet or prepare a hot meal while the other monitors the aircraft.
The B-2’s low observational stealth capabilities are derived from a combination of reduced infrared, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual and radar signatures. These qualities make it difficult for defense systems to detect, track and engage the bomber.
The full specification of the B-2’s composite materials, special coatings and flying-wing design that contribute to its stealth properties, still remain classified.
However it is known that each B-2 requires a climate-controlled hangar large enough for its 172-foot (52 m) wingspan to protect the operational integrity of its high-tech radar absorbent material and coatings.
The B-2 bomber can carry up to eighty 500 lb (230 kg) class JDAM “smart” bombs, or sixteen 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear bombs.
It can deliver its full payload in a single pass and uses an advanced GPS Aided Targeting System (GATS) complete with a passive electronically scanned array APQ-181 radar to correct GPS errors of targets, in order to achieve greater accuracy than laser-guided dumb bombs.
The B-2 reached initial operational capability on 1 January 1997. It has since served in three combat missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The B-2 was responsible for destroying 33 percent of all Serbian targets in the first eight weeks of Operation Allied Force. It was the first aircraft to deploy GPS satellite guided JDAM smart bombs in Kosovo.
The B-2 was used to drop bombs on Afghanistan. In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the B-2 flew one of its longest missions to date from Whiteman to Afghanistan and back.
The B-2 was also deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying 22 sorties from a forward operating location as well as 27 sorties from Whiteman AFB, and releasing more than 1.5 million pounds of munitions.
The B-2’s proven combat performance led to declaration of full operational capability in December 2003.
- Primary Function: Multi-role heavy bomber
- Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Hughes Radar Systems Group, General Electric Aircraft Engine Group and Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc.
- Power Plant: Four General Electric F118-GE-100 engines
- Thrust: 17,300 pounds each engine
- Wingspan: 172 feet (52.12 meters)
- Length: 69 feet (20.9 meters)
- Height: 17 feet (5.1 meters)
- Weight: 160,000 pounds (72,575 kilograms)
- Maximum Takeoff Weight: 336,500 pounds (152,634 kilograms)
- Fuel Capacity: 167,000 pounds (75750 kilograms)
- Payload: 40,000 pounds (18,144 kilograms)
- Speed: High subsonic
- Range: Intercontinental
- Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
- Armament: Conventional or nuclear weapons
- Crew: Two pilots
- Unit Cost: Approximately $1.157 billion (fiscal 98 constant dollars)
- Initial Operating Capability: April 1997
- Inventory: Active force: 20 (1 test); ANG: 0; Reserve: 0
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