The Possibly Unstoppable Stealth Bomber, the B-2
The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber is One-Of-A-Kind: In late March 2022, a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit bomber flew from Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB), Missouri, to Australia in a fifty-hour round-trip flight, during which the multirole bomber integrated with five different fighter aircraft from the United States Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force.
While in flight, the Spirit refueled from a KC-135 tanker from the Alaska Air National Guard and was escorted by American F-16Cs and Australian F-35s, EA-18 Growlers, and F/A-18F Super Hornets as part of the training operations. The B-2 Spirit from the 509th Bomb Wing became the first such bomber to land at Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley. While the B-2 bomber will eventually be surpassed by the B-21 Raider, here are all of the key facts you need to know about the ‘Spirit’.
The Spirit in the Sky
The B-2 Spirit first entered service in 1997, and it has been touted as having “more firepower than an aircraft carrier.” Development of the heavy strategic bomber began under the “Advanced Technology Bomber” (ATB) project during the Carter administration in the 1970s – and has been cited for one of the factors that lead President Jimmy Carter to cancel the B-1A bomber program.
The multi-role B-2 was designed to penetrate dense anti-aircraft defenses and to deploy both conventional and thermonuclear ωεɑρσռs, including up to 80,500-pound class Global Positioning System-guided bombs, or 16 2,400-pound B83 nuclear bombs. The B-2 is also the only acknowledged aircraft that can carry large air-to-surface standoff ωεɑρσռs in a stealth configuration. The bombers can carry up to sixteen B-61 or megaton-yield B-83 nuclear gravity bombs on the rotary launchers inside its two bomb bays. The aircraft’s avionics are also hardened versus the electromagnetic pulses generated by nuclear blasts.
The B-2 first saw operational use in March 1999 as part of Operation Allied Force, NATO’s aerial bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo ധąɾ. Two B-2s flew more than 31 hours from Whiteman AFB in Missouri to Kosovo. The B-2s attacked multiple targets and then flew directly back to Whiteman. Though the B-2s flew less than one percent of the total missions, the bombers destroyed thirty-three percent of the targets during the first eight weeks of the conflict.
Few Crew Comforts
The B-2 Spirit is actually quite lean on creature comforts for the crew. Even as some pilots have flown missions that can stretch on for 24-hours or longer, most of the time they’re stuck in their seats. The pilots have no bed, and there is no refrigerator – so pilots often bring foam coolers packed with whatever food they’d like to have for the trip. The only room to stretch out is a small area behind the cockpit which is the width of the seats. There is a very crude toilet, which is little more than a stainless-steel bowl, and it is positioned near a microwave oven.
Only Twenty Are in Service
The United States Air Force had originally planned to purchase 132 of the B-2 stealth strategic heavy bombers, but following the end of the Cold ധąɾ and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the number was cut to just 21. In 2008, a B-2 was destroyed in a crash, while its crew ejected safely. The Air Force plans to operate the remaining B-2s until at least 2032, when the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider begins to enter service.
Given the small number of B-2 Spirits that are currently in service, only one B-2 test article – built without engines or instruments for static testing – is now on display in a museum. Meant to resemble the Spirit of Ohio, it is now in the Cold ധąɾ Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio. B-2s in the sky are also a rare sight. The Spirit makes only the occasional appearances at various air shows, but one did take part in a Super Bowl LV flyover in February – joined by a B-1B Lancer and B-52 Stratofortress. Otherwise, the best bet is to camp outside Whiteman AFB and hope to see one overhead.