A B-2 in flight.
The B-2 Spirit is a unique stealth heavy bomber built with flying wing and is built by Northrop Grumman for the United States Air Force. They are designed to penetrate areas of highly dense anti-aircraft defenses that would be hard or impossible to penetrate by conventional aircraft.
The B-2 Spirit was the product of Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB) project that began in 1979. The project came down to two contestants. One from Northrop/Boeing and the other from Lockheed/Rockwell. Each received a study contract for further work. On October 20, 1981 the Northrop/Boeing design was chosen over the Lockheed/Rockwell design and received the designation B-2 and the name "Spirit". A procurement of 132 aircraft was planned and was later reduced to 75. When the Soviet Union fell in the early 1990s and the B-2's primary cold war mission was effectively eliminated. Budgetary issues brought the B-2's production to a halt in 1992 with 20 having been produced. In 1996 a prototype model of the B-2 was converted to operational standards of the time bringing the number of B-2's to 21.
The B-2's "stealth" capabilities come from composite materials, special coatings and flying wing design, which reduces the number of leading edges. Many of the specifics of the B-2's "stealth" remain classified. The engines are buried within the wing to conceal the induction fans and hide their exhaust. Each B-2 requires a climate-controlled hangar large enough for its 172-foot wingspan to protect the operational integrity of its sophisticated radar absorbent material and coatings. The U.S. Air Force reports its range as approximately 6,000 nautical miles (6,900 mi; 11,000 km). It combines GPS Aided Targeting System (GATS) with GPS-aided bombs such as Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). This uses its passive electronically scanned array APQ-181 radar to correct GPS errors of targets and gain much better than laser-guided weapon accuracy when "unguided" gravity bombs are equipped with a GPS-aided "smart" guidance tail kit. It can bomb 16 targets in a single pass when equipped with 1,000 or 2,000-pound (450 kg or 900 kg) bombs, or as many as 80 when carrying 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. The B-2 has a crew of two: a pilot in the left seat, a mission commander in the right, and has provisions for a third crew member if needed.
The first operational aircraft, christened Spirit of Missouri, was delivered to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, where the fleet is based, on 17 December 1993. The B-2 reached initial operational capability (IOC) on 1 January 1997.
The B-2 has seen service in four campaigns. Its combat debut was during the Kosovo War in 1999. It was responsible for destroying 33% of selected Serbian bombing targets in the first eight weeks of U.S. involvement in the War. During this war, B-2s flew non-stop to Kosovo from their home base in Missouri and back. The B-2 was the first aircraft to deploy GPS satellite guided JDAM "smart bombs" in combat use in Kosovo.
War in Afghanistan
The B-2 has been used to drop bombs on Afghanistan in support of the War in Afghanistan. With the support of aerial refueling, the B-2 flew one of its longest missions to date from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri to Afghanistan and back.
War in Iraq
During the War in Iraq, B-2s operated from Diego Garcia and an undisclosed "forward operating location". Other sorties in Iraq have launched from Whiteman AFB. This resulted in missions lasting over 30 hours and one mission of over 50 hours. The designated "forward operating locations" have been previously designated as Gaum and RAF Fairford, where new climate controlled hangars have been constructed. B-2s have conducted 27 sorties from Whiteman AFB and 22 sorties from a forward operating location, releasing more than 1.5 million pounds of munitions, including 583 JDAM "smart bombs" in 2003.
Operation Odyssey Dawn
In March 2011, B-2s were the first US aircraft into action in Operation Odyssey Dawn, the UN mandated enforcement of the Libyan no-fly zone. Three B-2s dropped 40 bombs on a Libyan airfield in support of the UN no-fly zone.
On 23 February 2008, a B-2 crashed on the runway shortly after takeoff from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. The crash of the Spirit of Kansas, 89-0127, which had been operated by the 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and which had logged 5,100 flight hours, was the first ever crash of a B-2. The two officer crew attempted to save the bomber, but as one of its wings began to "hook" the ground, they ejected from the aircraft and survived the crash. The aircraft was completely destroyed, a total loss estimated at US$1.4 billion. Chief of Air Combat Command General John Corley stated that the B-2 "rotated early, rotated excessively, stalled, and then dragged the left wingtip". The pilots then ejected and the aircraft ran off the side of the runway and burned. No munitions were on board, because the crew was reportedly flying the aircraft, along with three other B-2s and respective crews, to Whiteman Air Force Base following a temporary deployment to Guam. A B-2 already in the air was called back to Andersen following the crash, where it and the other B-2s were grounded until an initial investigation into the crash was complete. The commander of the 509th Bomb Wing, Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak, followed up on the incident by temporarily suspending flying operations for all 20 remaining B-2s to review procedures. The findings of the investigation stated that the B-2 crashed after "heavy, lashing rains" caused water to enter skin-flush air-data sensors, which feed angle of attack and yaw data to the computerized flight-control system. The water distorted preflight readings in three of the plane's 24 sensors, causing the flight-control system to send an erroneous correction to the B-2 on takeoff. Because of the faulty readings, the flight computers determined inaccurate airspeed readings and incorrectly indicated a downward angle for the aircraft, which contributed to an early rotation and an un-commanded 30-degree pitch up and left yaw, resulting in the stall. The B-2 fleet returned to flight status on 15 April 2008.
Specifications (B-2A Block 30)
- 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
- Fuel Capacity: 167,000 pounds (75,750 kilograms)
- Maximum speed: Mach 0.95 (550 knots, 630 mph, 1,010 km/h) at 40,000 ft altitude / Mach 0.95 at sea level
- Cruise speed: Mach 0.85 (487 knots, 560 mph, 900 km/h) at 40,000 ft altitude
- 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
- 2 internal bays for 50,000 lb (23,000 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, GBU-28, and GBU-57A/Bs as well. The Spirit is also designated as a delivery aircraft for the AGM-158 JASSM when the missile enters service.
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