B-2 Spirit

The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit is a multi-role stealth heavy bomber, capable of deploying both conventional and nuclear weapons. It is operated exclusively by the United States Air Force. Its development was a milestone in the modernization program of the U.S. Department of Defense. The B-2's second-generation stealth technology is intended to aid the aircraft's penetration role in order to survive extremely dense anti-aircraft defenses otherwise considered impenetrable by combat aircraft.


The B-2 started life as a black project known as the High Altitude Penetrating Bomber (HAPB), then became the Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB), and later became the B-2 Spirit. An estimated US$23 billion were secretly spent for research and development on the B-2 in the 1980s. An additional expense was caused by changing its role in 1985 from a high-altitude bomber to a low-altitude bomber, which required a major redesign.

The first B-2 was publicly displayed on November 22, 1988, when it was rolled out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, where it was built. Its first public flight was on July 17, 1989. The B-2 Combined Test Force, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, is responsible for flight testing the engineering, manufacturing and development aircraft.

The original procurement of 135 aircraft was later reduced to 75 in the late 1980s. In his 1992 State of the Union Address, President George H.W. Bush announced total B-2 production would be limited to 20 aircraft (later increased to 21 by refurbishing a test aircraft). This reduction was largely a result of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which effectively rendered void the Spirit's primary mission.

The cost of the B-2 program in 1994 dollars was reported at $727 million per plane, however the total cost of the program with development, spares, and facilities averaged over $2.1 billion per plane as of 1997 according to the B-2 program office.



With the B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer, the U.S. military claims that the B-2 provides the versatility inherent in manned bombers. Its low-observable, or "stealth," characteristics give it the ability to penetrate an enemy's most sophisticated defenses and attack its most heavily defended targets.

The blending of low-observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload gives the B-2 significant advantages over previous bombers. Its range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km) without refueling. Also, its low-observation ability provides the B-2 greater freedom of action at high altitudes, thus increasing its range and giving a better field of view for the aircraft's sensors. With its GPS Aided Targeting System (GATS) combined with GPS-aided bombs such as Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), it can use its passive electronically scanned array APQ-181 radar to correct GPS errors of targets and gain much better than laser-guided weapon accuracy with "dumb" gravity bombs with a GPS-aided "smart" guidance tail kit attached. It can bomb 16 targets in a single pass when equipped with 1,000 or 2,000-pound bombs, or as many as 80 when carrying 500-lb bombs.

The B-2's stealth comes from a combination of reduced acoustic, infrared, visual and radar signatures, making it difficult for defences to detect, track and engage. Many aspects of the low-observability process remain classified; however, the B-2's composite materials, special coatings and flying wing design contribute to its stealth abilities. The B-2 uses radar absorbent material and coatings, that have required climate-controlled hangars for maintenance.

The B-2 has a crew of two; a pilot in the left seat and mission commander in the right, compared to the B-1B's crew of four and the B-52's crew of five.

Operational history

The first operational aircraft, christened ''Spirit of Missouri'', was delivered on December 17 1993. The B-2 fleet is based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Depot maintenance for the B-2 is accomplished by United States Air Force contractor support and managed at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Originally designed to employ nuclear weapons, modern usage has shifted towards a flexible role with conventional and nuclear capability.

The prime contractor, responsible for overall system design and integration, is Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon), General Electric Aircraft Engines and Vought Aircraft Industries, are members of the aircraft contractor team. Another contractor, responsible for aircrew training devices (weapon system trainer and mission trainer) is Link Simulation & Training, a division of L-3 Communications formerly Hughes Training Inc. (HTI). Link Division, formerly known as CAE - Link Flight Simulation Corp. Link Simulation & Training is responsible for developing and integrating all aircrew and maintenance training programs.



The B-2 has seen service in three separate campaigns. Its debut was during the Kosovo War in 1999. The B-2 first introduced the satellite guided JDAM in combat use. Since then, the aircraft has operated over Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the Iraq campaign, B-2s were temporarily operated from Diego Garcia. Later missions to Iraq launched from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. This resulted in missions lasting over 30 hours and one mission of over 50 hours. B-2 crews have been used to pioneer sleep cycle research to improve crew performance on long flights, as well as the use of "Go pills" and "no-go pills". The B-2 is highly automated, and unlike single-seat fighters, one crewmember can sleep, use a flush toilet or prepare a hot meal while the other monitors the aircraft.

The Pentagon's Operational Test and Evaluation 2003 Annual Report noted that the B-2's serviceability for FY03 was still inadequate, mainly due to maintenance on the B-2's Low Observable materials. The evaluation also noted that the Defensive Avionics suite also had shortcomings with ''pop-up threats''. Despite these problems the B-2 reached full operational capability in December 2003. The B-2 maintained high mission capable rates for Operation Iraqi Freedom, dropping 583 JDAMs during the campaign.

Recent events

Noshir Gowadia, a design engineer that worked on the B-2's propulsion system, was arrested in October 2005 for selling classified information related to the B-2 to foreign countries. His trial is scheduled for February 12 2008.

Northrop Grumman announced on April 28 2009 that it had delivered the first B-2A Spirit stealth bomber back to the US Air Force after it had been equipped with newly developed modernized radar developed by Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, California under contract to Northrop Grumman. The upgraded aircraft was officially handed back to the USAF’s 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Missouri on March 17 and is the first of several operational B-2As that will be equipped with the new radar as part of the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the USAF’s B-2 Radar Modernization Program, (RMP). The new radar units include a new advanced electronically scanned array antenna, power supply and modified receiver/exciter.


United States Air Force

List of B-2 bombers

Designation Tail # Formal name
AV-1 82-1066 Spirit of America
AV-2 82-1067 Spirit of Arizona
AV-3 82-1068 Spirit of New York
AV-4 82-1069 Spirit of Indiana
AV-5 82-1070 Spirit of Ohio
AV-6 82-1071 Spirit of Mississippi
AV-7 88-0328 Spirit of Texas
AV-8 88-0329 Spirit of Missouri
AV-9 88-0330 Spirit of California
AV-10 88-0331 Spirit of South Carolina
AV-11 88-0332 Spirit of Washington
AV-12 89-0127 Spirit of Kansas
AV-13 89-0128 Spirit of Nebraska
AV-14 89-0129 Spirit of Georgia
AV-15 90-0040 Spirit of Alaska
AV-16 90-0041 Spirit of Hawaii
AV-17 92-0700 Spirit of Florida
AV-18 93-1085 Spirit of Oklahoma
AV-19 93-1086 Spirit of Kitty Hawk
AV-20 93-1087 Spirit of Pennsylvania
AV-21 93-1088 Spirit of Louisiana
AV-22–AV-165 canceled canceled

B-2 on display

Because of their cost, rarity and combat value it is unlikely any B-2 will be placed on permanent display in the near future (or anytime before airframe retirement). However, they are periodically on temporary ground display at various air shows, including one at Tinker Air Force Base, Midwest City, Oklahoma in June 2005. In 2004 the static test mock-up for the B-2 was placed on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. The mock-up had been used for structural testing, and at one point was tested to the point of destruction. The Museum's restoration team spent over a year reassembling the fractured airframe, and patches can clearly be seen on the exterior of the airframe where fractured sections have been reattached.

From 1989 to 2004, the South Dakota Air and Space Museum located on the grounds of Ellsworth Air Force Base displayed a 10-ton, 3/5 scale mock-up of a stealth bomber built by North American Honda in 1988 for a national automobile campaign. The mock-up is not an actual replica of a B-2, but was close enough to create a stir that Honda had cracked national security, as the B-2 project was still officially classified in 1988. Honda donated the model to the Museum in 1989, with the stipulation the model be destroyed if it was replaced with a different aircraft. The Honda Stealth was dismantled and replaced with a B-1 Lancer aircraft in 2005.

A B-2 Spirit participated in the Air Force Memorial dedication ceremony on October 14 2006.


  • CNN - B-2 stealth bombers make combat debut - March 24 1999
  • Donald, David, ed. ''Black Jets: The Development and Operation of America's Most Secret Warplanes''. Norwalk, Connecticut: AIRtime Publishing

Inc., 2003. ISBN 1-880588-67-6.

  • Richardson, Doug. ''Northrop B-2 Spirit'' (Classic Warplanes). New York: Smithmark Publishers Inc., 1991. ISBN 0-8317-1404-2.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Northrop B-2 Spirit". ''Modern Military Aircraft'' (Aviation Factfile). Rochester, Kent, UK: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN


  • ''The World's Great Stealth and Reconnaissance Aircraft''. New York: Smithmark, 1991. ISBN o-8317-9558-1.

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