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A product the the Cold War, that was initially designed to pass through Soviet wait defenses and also carry both conventional and nuclear weapons. However shortly ~ its first flight, over 30 years back in 1989, the fall of the Berlin wall ended the Cold War and no B-2 has ever flown within Russian airspace.
Nevertheless, it has seen its same share of combat. The an initial B-2 was yielded in 1993 come Whiteman Air force Base in Missouri, whereby the fleet is based and also still operates, and also its first operational use was during the 1999 Kosovo War.
One the the most innovative flying devices in existence, the B-2 deserve to reach a target anywhere in the world and return to base, refueling in mid-air. No B-2 has ever been shed in combat.
"It is really one of a kind, completely unlike any other airplane ever designed," Rebecca Grant, a B-2 and also aerospace professional who has actually flown in the classified plane, claimed in a phone call interview. "Seen native the cockpit, the flying wing is for this reason distinctive. It is an extremely special -- more of a sentient being than simply a regular airplane. Probably that"s why all of the B-2s space rumored come have distinctive personalities and also they"re often referred to as she."
The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit very first flew in 1989 and 21 B-2s room still in company with the us Air Force. It is designed come be completely invisible to radar. Credit: USAF/Getty images North America/Getty Images
The idea of making a aircraft as a flying wing -- without a definite fuselage, a tail and other protuberances -- is an early one in aviation, surfacing prior to World battle I in Germany and the Soviet Union. Towards the end of world War II, Nazi Germany built and tested the Horten Ho 229, a futuristic flying wing aircraft v rudimentary stealth features, come which the B-2 bears a striking resemblance. In the unified States, this kind of design was pioneered by plane designer and also industrialist Jack Northrop, whose an initial flying wing prototypes -- in little scale and also powered by propeller engines -- required to the skies in 1940.
Northrop"s job-related culminated in the YB-49, his very first jet powered paris wing design, in 1947. Far ahead the its time, the job was held ago by technical difficulties and quickly scrapped. However, the work-related done on the YB-49 was offered to kickstart the B-2 regime --- the agency that provides it was established by Northrop himself -- and although the plane are decades apart, castle have plenty of similarities, including the specific same wingspan.
A YB-49 prototype plane in 1950. Credit: Universal background Archive/Universal Images group Editorial/Universal Images team via Getty
The B-2 is just one of three strategy bombers currently in business in the united state Air Force, along with the agile Rockwell B-1 Lancer, which an initial flew in 1974, and the gargantuan Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, a legend aircraft indigenous the 1950s that has been continually updated ever before since.
The B-52 first introduced the idea of paris a bomber at an extremely high altitudes, to do it harder because that anti-aircraft missiles to with it, while the B-1 tried the opposite: flying so low and also fast the radar would have trouble choose it up. Neither strategy to be perfect no one immune to adversary fire, and also Cold war tensions to be calling for the ultimate atom deterrent: a bomber capable of moving atomic tools while being virtually undetectable by adversary air defenses.
A B-1 Lancer, a B-2 Spirit and also a B-52 Stratofortress perform a flyover at Barksdale Air force Base. Credit: David Wa / Alamy stock Photo
This dream ended up being a reality in the 1970s v the advent of stealth, a set of innovations that do an aircraft complicated or impossible to spot for radar. "It to be a Cold war product, but also a product the a large technological breakthrough in making an plane to be stealthy," claimed Grant.
"The mission that the B-2 was to elude Russian wait defenses, both your surface-to-air missiles and also their top-line fighter aircraft. And that"s still its mission this particular day -- to elude the ideal enemy air defenses wherever we find them."
A B-2 is followed by two F-117s, an earlier stealth plane with a strikingly different architecture approach, dominated by flat panels and jagged edges instead of smooth curves. Credit: USAF/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
To do so, the plane includes a variety of features, countless of lock classified, the mask it from view. "The an initial is the shape, which transforms the radar reflection," claimed Grant.
Radar -- an acronym because that "radio detection and also ranging" -- was designed during civilization War II and also works by sending an power pulse through the air and also waiting because that it come bounce turn off objects such as airplanes, and then come back. The intensity and angle the this reflection gives the size and also location of the target.
Unlike various other aircraft, the B-2"s paris wing design doesn"t have any huge vertical shapes, such together a tail, for radar waves to bounce off. In fact, the smooth surface is designed to scatter radar tide completely, so that virtually none go back to the source, do the airplane appear as little as a bird. Ironically, the ethics used for this were very first exposed by a Russian physicist, Pyotr Ufimtsev, in a 1962 publication which the Soviet Union deemed of no nationwide security value, hence clearing it for publication.
"There are additionally radar-absorbing coatings and materials, and also you can"t check out its engines due to the fact that they room tucked far in the aft section, to prevent producing any heat signature," approve said. A warmth signature is a dead giveaway the a aircraft is in the sky, and also the B-2"s designers went come lengths to obfuscate it, even using the very same kind that heat-absorbing tiles that defended the space Shuttle throughout re-entry, placed near the engine exhaust.
An on-board device alerts the crew if the plane is developing contrails -- the vapor trails that type when ice crystals coalesce approximately aircraft exhaust gases -- enabling them to readjust altitude. Finally, the B-2 is very quiet, and can only be heard when it"s pass overhead.
These features, known collectively as low observable technology, space not constantly in operation, however are activated as soon as the aircraft needs to come to be invisible. Amongst other things, pilots have to press a switch in the cockpit significant "PEN," come penetrate foe defenses. "Just like any kind of combat aircraft, as soon as you"re close to the hazard you execute a totality bunch of things to get ready come penetrate. Lock won"t tell girlfriend the whole procedure, however it"s true -- they carry out stealth up when they come near the target area," claimed Grant.
B-2 missions have lasted as long as 44 constant hours -- such together one flown in 2001 indigenous Missouri come Afghanistan during operation Enduring flexibility -- which is why over there is a flat an are behind the cockpit where among the 2 pilots can rest, together with facilities to store and heat food, and a toilet.
A B-2 soul Stealth Bomber receives fuel indigenous a KC-135 Stratotanker. Credit: USAF/Getty pictures North America/Getty Images
While no B-2 has ever been lost in combat -- the plane doesn"t also have defensive weapons -- one was destroyed in one accident in 2008, once it crashed shortly after takeoff from Andersen Air pressure Base on Guam (the pilots ejected safely). Another B-2 to be severely damaged in a fire in 2010 and also sustained comprehensive repairs before coming back into service.
All B-2s are called after a united state state (except two, "Spirit of America" and "Spirit the Kitty Hawk") and also are amongst the many high-maintenance airplane in existence, and tens of hrs of servicing are required for each hour of flight. The vulnerable skin that the plane, which provides extr stealth, must be stored in ~ cool temperature, request air-conditioned hangars that contribute to the high operating costs.
The 21 B-2s that were built also had to bear all the costs linked with the program"s research and also development, i m sorry would have actually been more evenly spread over a larger number of aircraft. "That made your sticker price upwards the $2 billion every -- the would have actually been much an ext reasonable had actually they developed 132 as initially planned," said Grant.
A B-2 soul Stealth Bomber named "Spirit the Alaska" at Whiteman Air force Base. Credit: USAF/Getty photos North America/Getty Images
Because of the tiny fleet and also its share technologies, the B-2 is a coveted plane to fly, and also only a couple of stathundred pilots have ever boarded one. "They have a an extremely rigorous an option procedure, however one thing they place great value ~ above is personality and also compatibility -- you need to be the appropriate kind of person to paris those 40-hour objectives with a two-person crew," described Grant.
"It flies favor a continuous plane, yet it has some distinct features. When you fly, you"re ideal up top top the former edge, therefore the view is an extremely different and also it take away some real skill to refuel and also to land."
Through the years, the plane has got upgrades come its flight systems, communications and weapons. The is quiet firmly part of the US"s nuclear triad deterrent, together with intercontinental ballistic missiles based upon land and also aboard submarines.
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Its days, however, might be numbered: the B-2"s follower is currently in development. Dubbed the B-21 Raider, it"s shrouded in secrecy and also expected to debut at some point after 2025. The brand-new plane will take ~ above the same function as the present one, but it will be designed making complete use that the technological advancements that have developed since the B-2 was very first conceived, over 40 year ago.