Here’s What They Don’t Tell You About The B-2 Stealth Bomber


The B-2 is a technology marvel, and even today, many years after its first introduction, it remains one of the most feared aircraft in existence.

The idea of an aircraft that could avoid missiles and interceptors was something that was first considered by the American military aircraft designers in the mid-1970s. A few years later, plans were well underway to construct such an aircraft, and in 1988, the aircraft, now christened the B-2 Stealth Bomber (also known as the B-2 Spirit) was unveiled to the public.

The aircraft featured a revolutionary bat-wing design and had advanced stealth capabilities that made it almost invisible to spot with radar systems. It was a game-changer in many ways and together with the F-117 Nighthawk, placed the American Air Force on a new pedestal above other world powers.

Only 21 B-2 Stealth bombers were ever built; 20 functional units and a prototype for testing. The prototype was later converted to a fully operational unit during the Clinton administration. All the existing B-2 Bombers have their home base at the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri though they sometimes operate out of forward stations like the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

The B-2 is internationally feared engineering marvel, but here are some facts about the B-2 not many are aware of.

15. The B-2 Has Been Around For A While

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The bat-winged bomber made its debut to the public in November, 1988 dispelling myths about its actual existence. About 7 months later, it took to the skies on its maiden flight. That’s over 3 decades ago now but the B-2 Stealth bomber continues to be an integral part of the United States Strategic Command.

14. One Of A Kind

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In spite of the fact that the B-2 Spirit debuted over 30 years ago, it remains the only stealth bomber in active service (though countries like Russia and China are reportedly working on their own versions). This is a reflection of the incredible amount of research and development that goes into creating that stealthy design; converting it from sketches on the drawing board to an actual aircraft in the skies.

13. Long-Range Missions

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The B-2 Stealth Bomber is an aircraft specially designed to penetrate deep into hostile territory and drop its deadly load over enemy positions. 20-Hour Bombing missions are not uncommon and in 2001, a B-2 set the record for the longest bombing run in history when it flew non-stop for 44 hours, from Missouri to hit targets in Afghanistan.

12. How They Are Named

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There are 20 B-2 Stealth Bombers in active service and all but 2 are named after American states. The only exceptions are the Spirit of America (the last B-2 Bomber off the production line) and the Spirit of Kitty Hawk, believed by a few superstitious souls to be possessed after its engines once fired up mysteriously while it was parked in the hangar, unmanned.

11. Manned By The Elite

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The B-2 Bombers are the pride of the American air force and are cared for by a select few, chosen only after a very rigorous assessment of their capabilities. As at September, 2019, only 498 pilots had qualified to pilot the alien bomber. Apart from the pilots, there are the engineers and other ground personnel who work round the clock to ensure the bombers are ready to deploy on short notice.

10. Female Stealth Bomber Pilots


There are about 500 pilots qualified to fly the B-2 Stealth bomber and as at September, 2019, that number included a total of 10 female pilots who had successfully passed through the program. Arguably, the most famous of that small cluster is Lt. Col. Jennifer “Wonder” Avery; she remains the only female pilot to have flown the B-2 Bomber in actual combat.

9. They Don’t Come Cheap

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The B-2 Spirit costs about $737 million per unit. That number rapidly increases to a mind-boggling $2.1 billion when you factor in the research and development costs and the upgrades carried out to keep them relevant in today’s modern military force. It’s no wonder then that the Air Force only has 20 units.

8. Battle Tested

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The magnificent Bombers were not just built as a deterrent force but have actively been involved in several military conflicts since their introduction, dropping non-nuclear military ordnance. The B-2s were first deployed in combat during the 1999 war in Kosovo. Since then, they have flown several combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

7. It May Soon Be Replaced

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After being in active service for over 30 years, there will come a time when the B-2 system upgrades will only make the bombers marginally more effective. The Air Force knows this and is currently working on a next-generation replacement, codenamed the B-21 Raider for now. According to reports, a prototype is already being built and the first set may be operational within the next decade.

6. Very Early Origins

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The first B-2 Stealth Bomber might have made its maiden flight in 1993 but designs for a bat-winged aircraft were being considered as far back as 1949. The image here depicts the YB-49, a flying wing-jet developed by Northrop, the company that eventually won the contract to build the B-2 Bombers.

5. Fearsome Weapons Platform

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As far as bombers go, the B-2 Spirit has few equals when it comes to the impressive array of weapons it can bring to bear in battle. The aircraft has 2 bomb bays that can carry 16 1,088kg B83 nuclear bombs or 2 14,000kg GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator bombs. They can also be fitted to carry a large number of smaller high explosive bombs that can rain down in a continuous shower over enemy positions.

4. B-2 Upgrade Program

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The Air Force has continually been upgrading the bombers to keep them relevant in today’s combat environment. This includes improvements to parts such as the aft deck and bomb bays. Additional components like the Lockheed Martin integrated processing unit (IPU) and EHF satellite communications equipment have also been added to make the bomber even more effective in combat.

3. The B-2 Spirit of Kansas Incident

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In 2008, during a particularly cold night on the Island of Guam, the Spirit of Kansas bomber had just taken off on a bombing mission before faulty sensors sent it plunging back to earth. The pilots tried all they could to avoid a crash but were forced to eject after one of the wings gouged the earth. The resulting crash went into the record books as the most expensive aircraft crash in history.

2. Then There Was The Spirit Of Washington…

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2 years later, another B-2 almost suffered the fate of the Spirit of Kansas on the same island when one of the engines caught fire as it was preparing for take-off. After losing one other B-2 bomber, the government was determined to repair this one and restore it to flight status. The repairs took almost 4 years to complete and cost over $100 million. This image shows the Spirit of Washington taking to the skies after the extensive repair work.

1. They Are Not Completely Invisible

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The B-2 Stealth bomber is not completely invisible to radar and other detection systems. The aircraft does have a radar cross-section that, though not enough to get a precise fix, can still help highly advanced radar systems plot their general location. More recently, China announced that they have developed a detection system that can accurately identify stealth aircraft at a distance of 100 km.