Manufacturer: Northrop Grumman Corp.
Power Plant: Four General Electric F118-GE-100 engines
Payload: 40,000 pounds
Speed: High subsonic
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
Armament: Conventional or nuclear weapons
Crew: Two pilots
Designed during the Cold War as the world’s first low-observable or “stealth” strategic bomber, the B-2 Spirit harkens back to the designs of revalutionary engineer Jack Northrop. His “flying wing” design first debuted in 1949 as the YB-49 but was not adopted by the Air Force at the time. The B-2 Spirit is a multi-role bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions. The bomber represents a major milestone in the U.S. bomber modernization program and brings massive firepower to bear anywhere on the globe through previously impenetrable defenses.
The B-2 provides the penetrating flexibility and effectiveness inherent in manned bombers. Its low-observable characteristics give it the unique ability to penetrate an enemy's most sophisticated defenses and threaten its most valued, and heavily defended, targets. Its capability to penetrate air defenses and threaten effective retaliation provides 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, 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.
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 Air Force Base, Calif., is responsible for flight testing the engineering, manufacturing and development aircraft on the B-2.
Whiteman AFB, Mo., is the only operational base for the B-2. The first aircraft, Spirit of Missouri, was delivered Dec. 17, 1993. Depot maintenance responsibility for the B-2 is performed by Air Force contractor support and is managed at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Okla.
The combat effectiveness of the B-2 was proved in Operation Allied Force, where it was responsible for destroying 33 percent of all Serbian targets in the first eight weeks, by flying nonstop to Kosovo from its home base in Missouri and back. Allegedly it was a B-2 Spirit which dropped the bombs that destroyed the Chinese embassy in Sarajevo.
In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the B-2 flew one of its longest missions to date from Whiteman to Afghanistan and back. The B-2 completed its first-ever combat deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying 22 sorties from a forward operating location as well as 27 sorties from Whiteman AFB and releasing more than 1.5 million pounds of munitions.
The aircraft received full operational capability status in December 2003. On Feb. 1, 2009, the Air Force's newest command, Air Force Global Strike Command, assumed responsibility for the B-2 from Air Combat Command.