B-2A Spirit stealth bomber, Northrop Grumman

B-2 Spirit stealth bomber

Revealed on November 22, 1988, the B-2A is a stealth strategic bomber which resulted from a program started in 1978. The first of six prototypes made its maiden flight on July 17, 1989 with testing scheduled to be completed in 1997. The B-2 is shaped in the form of a 'flying wing', with smoothly contoured surfaces and rounded edges to help deflect radar. Engine exhausts are positioned above and back of the wing front-edge to help reduce infrared signatures. The USAF plan to acquire a total of 20 B-2A aircraft.

The B-2 will probably only be built in small numbers (currently 21 have been ordered), because the cost of replacing all the old B-52's is considered to be far too high. The B-2 is a stealth bomber, a flying wing design with a smooth, rounded upper surfaces, but angular wingtips and a double-W trailing edge. The four engines are deeply buried in the midwing section. The B-2 is difficult and expensive to operate, with 124 maintenance hours per flight hour.

Development of the ATB (Advanced Technology Bomber) began in 1978; the programme was revealed to the public in 1981, when Northrop's design was chosen over a Lockheed/Rockwell proposal. Although no details of the design were revealed, it was widely assumed that the aircraft would be a "flying wing" design, based on Northrop's experience with the XB-35 and YB-49, and this was confirmed when the first prototype was rolled out on 22 November 1988. It made its first flight on 17 July 1989, and the first production B-2 was delivered to the USAF in 1993. Production plans have been drastically cut from 135 aircraft to only 20, of which the last is expected to be delivered in 1997. The aircraft was officially named "Spirit" in February 1994; Northrop became Northrop Grumman in May 1994.

Vital statistics (B-2A): length 21.03 m, span 52.42 m, empty weight 72575 kg, max weight 168434 kg, max speed 1103 km/h, range 13898 km, payload 22370 kg; power plant: four 84.51 kN General Electric F118-100 turbofans.

On 23 februari 2008 a B-2 stealth bomber crashed at an air base on Guam just after take off, but both pilots ejected safely.

Prime contractor: Northrop Grumman Corporation
Nation of origin: USA
Function: Strategic stealth bomber
Crew: 2/3
Year: 1989
In-service year: Complete delivery by 2000
Engine: Four General Electric F118-GE-110 non-afterburning turbofans, 19,000 lb thrust each
Wing span: 52.43 m
Wing Area: 465.5 m2
Length: 21.03 m
Height: 5.18 m
Weight: 168434 kg
Ceiling: 16765 m
Speed: 1103 km/h
Range: 18,520 km with one air refuel
Armament: Up to 80,000 lb including 16 B61/B83 nuclear bombs, 80 Mk82 1,000 lb bombs or 16 Mk84 2,000 lb bombs, 36 M117 750 lb fire bombs, 36 cluster bombs, or 80 Mk36 1,000 lb sea mines
Unit cost: 800-1300 million USD


The B-2 Spirit is a multi-role bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions. A dramatic leap forward in technology, the bomber represents a major milestone in the U.S. bomber modernization program. The B-2 brings massive firepower to bear, in a short time, anywhere on the globe through previously impenetrable defenses.


Along with the B-52 and the B-1B, the B-2 provides the penetrating flexibility and effectiveness inherent in manned bombers. Its low-observable, or "stealth," characteristics give it the unique ability to penetrate an enemy's defenses and threaten its most-valued, and heavily defended, targets. Its capability to penetrate air defenses and threaten effective retaliation provide a strong, effective deterrent and combat force well into the 21st century.

The revolutionary blending of low-observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload gives the B-2 important advantages over existing bombers. Its low-observability provides it greater freedom of action at high altitudes, thus increasing its range and a better field of view for the aircraft's sensors. Its unrefueled range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles (9,600 kilometers). The B-2's low observability is derived from a combination of reduced infrared, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual and radar signatures. These signatures make it difficult for the sophisticated defensive systems to detect, track and engage the B-2. Many aspects of the low-observability process remain classified; however, the B-2's composite materials, special coatings and flying-wing design all contribute to its "stealthiness."

The B-2 has a crew of two pilots, an aircraft commander 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. The B-2 is intended to deliver gravity nuclear and conventional weapons, including precision-guided standoff weapons. An interim, precision-guided bomb capability called Global Positioning System (GPS) Aided Targeting System/GPS Aided Munition (GATS/GAM) is being tested and evaluated. Future configurations are planned for the B-2 to be capable of carrying and delivering the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. B-2s, in a conventional role, staging from Whiteman AFB, MO; Diego Garcia; and Guam can cover the entire world with just one refueling. Six B-2s could execute an operation similar to the 1986 Libya raid but launch from the continental U.S. rather than Europe with a much smaller, more lethal, and more survivable force.


The B-2 development program was initiated in 1981, and the Air Force was granted approval in 1987 to begin procurement of 132 operational B-2 aircraft, principally for strategic bombing missions. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the emphasis of B-2 development was changed to conventional operations and the number was reduced to 20 operational aircraft, plus 1 test aircraft that was not planned to be upgraded to an operational configuration. Production of these aircraft has been concurrent with development and testing.

The first B-2 was publicly displayed on Nov. 22, 1988, when it was rolled out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, Calif. Its first flight was July 17, 1989. The B-2 Combined Test Force, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards AFB, Calif., is responsible for flight testing the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development aircraft as they are produced. Five of the six developmental aircraft delivered to Edwards are still involved in continuing flight testing. The first test aircraft is currently kept in flyable storage.

Whiteman AFB, Mo., is the B-2's only operational base. The first aircraft, Spirit of Missouri, was delivered Dec. 17, 1993. Primary maintenance responsibility for the B-2 is divided between Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Okla. for avionics software (contractor); Ogden Air Logistics Center, Hill AFB, Utah for landing gear and trainers (contractor); and the Northrop-Grumman facility at Air Force Plant 42 at Palmdale for periodic depot maintenance.

The prime contractor, responsible for overall system design and integration, is Northrop Grumman's B-2 Division. Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Vought Aircraft Co., Hughes Radar Systems Group and General Electric Aircraft Engine Group are key members of the aircraft contractor team. Another major contractor, responsible for aircrew training devices (weapon system trainer and mission trainer) is Hughes Training Inc. (HTI) - Link Division, formerly known as C.A.E. - Link Flight Simulation Corp. Northrop-Grumman and its major subcontractor HTI, excluding Link Division, is responsible for developing and integrating all aircrew and maintenance training programs.

General Characteristics
Primary function: Multi-role heavy bomber.
Prime Contractor: Northrop B-2 Division.
Contractor Team: Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Vought Aircraft Co., and General Electric Aircraft Engine Group and Hughes Training Inc. -- Link Division
Power Plant/Manufacturer: Four General Electric F-118-GE-100 engines
Thrust: 17,300 pounds each engine
Length: 69 feet (20.9 meters)
Height: 17 feet (5.1 meters)
Wingspan: 172 feet (52.12 meters)
Speed: High subsonic
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,152 meters)
Takeoff Weight (Typical): 336,500 pounds (152,635 kilograms)
Range: Intercontinental, unrefueled
Armament: Nuclear or conventional weapons
Payload: 40,000 pounds (18,144 kilograms)
Crew: Two pilots, with provisions for a third crew station
Date Deployed: December 1993
Unit cost:The B-2 is the most expensive plane ever built. Estimates for the costs per plane range from US$1.157 billion [1] to $2.2 billion
Air Force Inventory: Active force: 20 planned (operational aircraft); ANG: 0; Reserve: 0

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