June 17, 2019, marked the 30th anniversary of the B-2 Spirit Bomber’s first flight. The majestic and incredibly fast aircraft changed the way the U.S. surveilled the skies and charged into battle. It has a slew features that help make it the best stealth bomber on the market. One of its neatest tricks is that once it reaches a certain altitude, it’s invisible to the human eye. You might’ve walked under a few and didn’t even notice it! Continue reading to discover more about the B-2 Spirit and all of its stealthiness.
A $737 Million Price Tag
Did you know they projected the B-2 stealth bomber to have a unit cost of $737 million when first designing it in the ’80s? Well, after adding on research and development, that number shot up to $2.1 billion!
This aircraft, constructed with Northrop Grumman’s technology, was a breakthrough technologically speaking and featured many intimidating features. With that, it’s also a cause for headache for Congress and taxpayers. There are many polarizing facts that make this aircraft so incredible.
Cutting The Number Of Units
Grumman originally had a plan to make 132 B-2 Spirits. This sounds like a lot, but that number ended up getting cut after the Soviet Union collapsed, and there was no longer a need for a dense amount of bombers.
You might guess that, instead, they only made about 50 or even 30, but no. The number of B-2s dropped from initially being 132, down to 21. That’s over 100 cuts in production! It would have been cool to know there were that many at large.
In battle, knowing where your enemies will strike from is one of the best advantages you can have. With the advent of radar, pilots have the pleasure of seeing where their next opponent is.
Designers had “continuous curvature” in mind when designing the B-2. Continuous curvature is a tactic where the curved, exposed surfaces can deflect radar. That’s a major upper hand to have while soaring through the air. You don’t want anyone to have a clue where you are.
Indefinite Range And Flight Time
Designers almost always design bombers with range in mind, but the B-2 is a bit different. The B-2 has an extremely long range of operations. Without stopping for fuel, the B-2 can travel over 6,000 miles, which is impressive.
When you refuel it, the bomber can go places long thought impossible. It’s able to reach any inhabited point on Earth with little support. This allows America to have an unrivaled competitive advantage over lots of other countries.
Their Own Personality
Due to there being only 21 of these magnificent bombers out there, aircrews get to know them all pretty well. Each B-2 has its own personality and individual maintenance needs. This might sound surprising, but it makes sense when you consider the different missions each plane might go on.
All of this means that there are some colorful moments that happen with this carrier. Pilots don’t have a tough time with it, however, as they tend to avoid having personal favorites.
Keeping Up With The Rest Of The World
Military aviation never ceases to evolve. Some of the leading powers in the world, including China and Russia, constantly try and develop their own kind of stealth aircraft. They’re also trying to come up with ways to negate the advantage America has with the B-2.
Due to all of this, U.S.A. intelligence works overtime to make the right improvements to continue to remain top in class when it comes to stealth.
Prone To Accidents
While most military aircraft are tough to pilot, the more advanced they are, the harder control can be. The pilots train hard, but accidents still take place. Keeping up with the obscurities of the B-2 results in plenty of unique issues.
For example, in 2008, the Spirit of Kansas crashed while doing a routine takeoff at the Andersen Air Force Base located in Guam. The Air Force declared a moisture buildup as the source of the problem.
Updating A Design
It’s not unheard of for aircraft to take design details from past models. What good is having a reference if you don’t use it? Well, the B-2 took from a nice looking past ancestor.
While it looks unique, the YB-49 “Flying Wing” predated the B-2. It carried a stealth look that the B-2 would end up taking but adjusted it by adding the continuous curvature design. Kudos to the design team for that.
The Features On The Aircraft
It isn’t a top-notch aircraft if it doesn’t have its fair share of on-board amenities. While it isn’t a private jet looking to take you to a tropical island, the B-2 does have some nice perks while you’re in the air.
It comes with a bed, a hot plate for food, and a toilet. The bed is really a folding cot that’s right behind the ejection seat area, so we’re sure the pilots are careful.
Carrying A Large Load
The B-2 Bomber is the last aircraft you want to go into battle against or have sent to your battlefield. This majestic aircraft can hold sixteen 2,400-pound B83 nuclear bombs. That sounds like a lot of trouble.
On top of that, it has an official limit of 40,000 pounds of ordinance, so it can carry an insane amount of precision-guided munitions. That translates to the doom of your squad if a B-2 gets sent to handle you.
A Unique Name
Since there is only a small amount of the B-2s out there in the world, each one has its own name. They’re named after a state, which is more than fitting.
There’s one called the Spirit of New York, and another called Spirit of Alaska. They all begin with “Spirit,” so it isn’t too difficult to remember. The Spirit of Washington sustained severe damage in 2010 but quickly got repaired so that it could carry out missions.
Reaching Incredible Speeds
What’s fast for you? A car reaching 60 MPH in 2.5 seconds? That sounds impressive, but that isn’t anywhere near the sheer speed the B-2 possesses when it reaches its max.
At its fastest, the B-2 Bomber can travel at speeds of Mach 0.95. Mach 0.95 translates to 630 MPH! Imagine being in the air, glued to your seat moving at a rate like that. It would be utterly insane traveling across the skies like that.
One Of Three
Currently, there are two other strategic bombers that the U.S. Air Force utilizes. That means, not only do they have all the capabilities of the B-2 at their disposal, but there are others that help in the field in a major way.
The other two are the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-1 Lancer. With plans to retire the B-2 in the early 2030s, we’re sure there is going to be another that picks up right where it left off.
The Public Gets To See
When the military or even the government for that matter, spend a ton of money on something, then the people want to know what their tax dollars go towards. In 1988, the public got its first look at the B-2 Bomber.
This happened at an intriguing time in American history, so maybe America wanted to ensure its citizens that things were going to become better.
Launched With Intention
Before a groundbreaking invention comes to fruition, there are baby steps that need to happen. The B-70 and B-1A were the tiny steps that helped the B-2 Bomber come into our lives.
They had a design that helped them fly beyond interceptor aircraft as the technology for stealth slowly became a reality. Then, the B-2 program came about to pursue the creation of a true stealth bomber. It looks like they succeeded and with flying colors.
Northop Grumman Wins
If you’re going to create something that hasn’t been on the market before, you might want to have the best of the best help you during the process. That’s why Northrop Grumman was the team to help design the B-2 Bomber.
Northrop Grumman beat out the competition thanks to their previous experience. They’ve built the YB-35 as well as the YB-49, so that was all the good acumen they needed to take on this once in a lifetime opportunity.
First Time In Combat
After spending so much money and effort on the B-2, the day would eventually come for it to have its first battle. That moment came in 1999 as the B-2 was in the Kosovo War.
It wasn’t a fail, but it wasn’t a huge success, either. Out of 34,000 bombings, the B-2 only flew 50 of those during the clash. Still, it managed to deliver 11 percent of the total bombs in those intense battles.
Special Brake System
On top of all the effective features we’ve mentioned already, there are more that make the B-2 as special as it is. One of the other great things about it is that it uses split brake-rudders as well as differential thrust.
These characteristics allow it to keep its radar cross-section low and as small as a pigeon. This is all possible even when the aircraft maneuvers through the air. That’s a great level of design.
Hiding The Engines
Wait, there’s more! You couldn’t have thought that was the last of all the features that make the B-2 so special. There’s a nice little hack that comes with the engine placement that’s crucial for this bomber.
Designers placed the engine deep in the wing, but for a very strategic reason. This conceals the blades from radar and helps minimize the heat signature so that infrared tracking systems have a hard time picking it up.
Leaking Sensitive Information
It’s never a smart thing to try and give out sensitive information because it usually always ends badly for you. A Northrop employee by the name of Thomas Cavanaugh learned the hard way in 1984.
He attempted to leak information of the design to the Soviet Union and wound up arrested. Now, you’re probably wondering what he was going to get in return for revealing the intel – it was $25,000. During the ’80s, that might’ve been worth more, but not worth your freedom.
Terrible Outcome For Noshir Gowadia
Similarly to Thomas Cavanaugh, another man faced harsh punishment for giving up the secrets. The sad part is, his actions came decades later in 2005. He should’ve learned from the last guy’s mistake.
Noshir Gowadia was an engineer who worked on the B-2’s propulsion system that wanted to spill the beans. He sold B-2 classified information to other countries and was slapped with 32 years of prison time in October 2005. Now he has all the time in the world to think about his actions.
A “Gray Project”
It’s not often that the U.S. produces something as valuable and powerful as the B-2 Bomber. The stealth bomber entered development as a “Gray Project,” which means it was a secret to the public.
You see how they arrested folks for revealing information, so that’s a telling sign that they didn’t want anyone to know about this aircraft until it was complete. Only a select number of government agencies and officials knew that the ultimate bomber was getting made.
Special Radar Tech
Raytheon AN/APQ Active Electronically Scanned Array radar is the name of the tech the lines the B-2 and allows to be the best in class. Not only can the aircraft remain invisible but it can spot others with fascinating accuracy.
The B-2 can spot enemy hostiles in the air thanks to one of the most supreme radars to ever be released. Not only can it not get detected, but it’s going to more than likely find you before you find it.
Everything Was Top Secret
By now, you know how much of a secret the development and all things surrounding the B-2 can be. People went to prison over this stealth bomber and more might in the future.
Before the developmental process ended, things became really intense security-wise. The military would purchase many of the parts using phony companies. They would also take trips to production sites out of uniform on top of employees getting subjected to random polygraph tests.
A Very Special Underpainting
The B-2 just won’t quit when it comes to special features that help make it nearly impossible to see. Not only does radar have a tough time tracking this aircraft, but at a high enough altitude, the human eye can’t even see it!
The trick is the special paint used on the bottom of the B-2. It’s an anti-reflective paint that blends with the sky once it gets high enough and boosts its invisibility to radar.
A common limitation that some aircraft run into is that they can only receive maintenance at a central location. The B-2 doesn’t adhere to that obstacle thanks to a transportable hangar system.
The systems allow the B-2 to get service in foreign locations, instead of having to go all the way back to Missouri. For reference, the size of the portable hangar is 250 feet wide, 126 feet long, and 55 feet high. Talk about convenient.
Cost Of Maintenance Is More Than A Mansion
As one would imagine, keeping these bombers up and running is no cheap expense. If you had to take a guess, would you reckon that it costs nearly $3.4 million per month for maintenance?
We wouldn’t have imagined either, but that’s the case. A huge factor is the “low-observable” skins. They require air-conditioned hangars that are at least large enough to fit a 172-foot wingspan. The B-2 needs a lot of space in a cool place.
Stealth Mode Activated
As cool as being “invisible” in the sky sounds, it’s not realistically something the B-2 perpetually has active. The stealth mode isn’t something that’s always on, so it needs to be activated.
Pilots of the B-2 wait until it’s time to get unseen before they initiate the stealth mode. When approaching air defenses, that’s when they turn it on by doing a series of moves that the public doesn’t know. It’s vital that none but the authorized know about it.
The B-2 is an innovative machine in many ways. We’ve discussed all of the countless ways it’s been able to become the best stealth bomber on the market, but there’s another feature to it that makes it even better.
The B-2 is one of the first aircraft to use the fly-by-wire system. That means, instead of using mechanical movements to control flaps, the pilots operate that on a computer that controls steering. That’s some next-level flying!
Watcher Of The Land
The B-2 Bomber didn’t get designed with so many helpful features for them to never get utilized. With it able to avoid enemy radar better than any other aircraft, the B-2 is a great spy aircraft.
The U.S. has sent it to Guam to keep a watch on North Korea before, as well as other areas we don’t know about yet. There are probably countless other areas the bomber patrols as well.