10 Awesome Facts About The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit

Its flying wing structure, along with composite materials and rare coatings help make the B-2 Spirit a top covert military bomber.

The B-2 Spirit bomber, also known simply as the Stealth Bomber, is a heavy strategic aircraft that was manufactured by Northrop Grumman. The flying wing military design of the B-2 was initially developed as part of the Advanced Technology Bomber or ATB project during the Carter years.

The promise offered by the B-2 Spirit was a contributing factor in Carter’s decision to cancel the Mach 2 B-1A bomber. The project continued through the Reagan era before the first B-2 flight in 1989. The Northrop Grumman bomber was not officially introduced until the mid-’90s, however.

Let’s take a look at some fascinating facts surrounding the history and abilities of the B-2 Spirit bomber.

10. Top Secret Origins Of The B-2 Spirit

When the B-2 Spirit was being designed and developed, the program was classed as a black project. This meant that anyone working on the program needed secret clearance before releasing any information to the public. With that said, more personnel within the U.S. federal government knew about the B-2 project than was the case with the more secretive Lockheed F-117 program.

However, a Northrop employee, Thomas Patrick Cavanaugh, was arrested in 1984 as he intended to sell classified information to the U.S.S.R. Cavanaugh would spend sixteen years in jail before being released on parole.

Knowledge of the B-2 Spirit remained largely under lock and key until the mid-’80s when more details became available. In the present, anyone working on the B-2 often, if not always, undergo a detailed background check and require special-access clearance.

9. The Magic Of Stealth

The B-2’s use of stealth technology is one of its most notable advantages. The B-2 Spirit is capable of minimizing its aerial signatures, whether in relation to infrared, acoustics, electromagnetism, or radar.

Its highly aerodynamic flying wing structure, along with composite materials and rare coatings, also assists in making the B-2 Spirit a top covert military bomber. The B-2 Spirit is therefore a great choice for penetrating complex defenses and protecting important, defended targets.

8. Individually Named Spirit Aircraft

Northrop Grumman has produced a total of 21 B-2s. Aside from Spirit of America, each Stealth Bomber is named after a U.S. state, beginning with the Spirit of Texas, which became active in March 1994. Other B-2s include the Spirit of New York, Spirit of California, and Spirit of Arizona.

A 22nd aircraft was proposed but never made. In February 2010, the Spirit of Washington suffered severe fire damage but was subsequently repaired and is still in operation today. The same cannot be said of the ill-fated Spirit of Kansas (a.k.a AV-12), which crashed in February 2008. Although AV-12 was destroyed shortly after taking off, the crew survived, as they had safely ejected just in time.

7. The B-2 Spirit Is Subsonic But Effective

The Stealth Bomber’s speed falls short of Mach 1, with a top speed of 630mph (Mach 0.95) at sea level. Its cruise speed lands around 560mph at an altitude of 40,000 feet. With that being said, the B-2 Spirit can reach up to 50,000 feet and it has a range of up to 6900 miles.

Despite lacking the supersonic speeds of aircraft like the Mach 2.5 General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, the service ceiling and stealthy qualities of the B-2 Spirit make it a compelling bomber. The B-2 Spirit can travel up to 11,500 miles with a single refueling and notably, it can refuel mid-air.

6. Large Hi-Tech Winged Design

One standout feature of the Northrop B-2 Spirit is its design, whereby the entire aircraft resembles a giant wing. The origins of this design began with the founder of the Northrop Corporation (later Northrop Grumman), Jack Northrop, who first envisioned such an aircraft structure in the 1920s and ’30s.

Other cold war flying designs dating back to the 1940s included the N-M9 Flying Wing, XB-35, and the YB-49. Its flying wing design means high aerodynamic efficiency, thanks, in part to a lack of tail or fuselage.

5. The B-2 Spirit’s Use In War

The B-2 is suited to attack missions at a range of attitudes of up to 50,000 feet. Mid-air refueling is also advantageous for the B-2 during war campaigns. The B-2 was designed with a cold-war nuclear scenario considered, whereby it would perform deep-penetrating nuclear strikes thanks to its stealth.

The B-2 saw its combat debut during the Kosovo War in 1999. It successfully took out 33% of selected Serbian targets within two months of U.S. aerial intervention. The B-2 bomber was unsurprisingly utilized as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

B-2s were also used during the Iraq War and the 2011 international intervention in Libya. More recently, two B-2 bombers killed about 85 ISIS militants in January 2017 during an aerial attack on a training camp.

4. The B-2 Spirit Set An Aerial Record During The Afghan War

The Stealth Bomber claimed the record for the longest aerial combat mission of all time in 2001. The Spirit of America led five additional Spirit B-2s into Afghan airspace for a record time of 44 hours following 9/11. In fact, the B-2 made a short stopover for 45 minutes and underwent a service change while the engines continued to run, emphasizing its incredible capabilities.

3. The B-2 Has Two Internal Bays For Up To 80 Bombs

The B-2 Spirit has two internal bays for payload and ordnance. The aircraft can deploy a mix of thermonuclear and conventional weapons with a payload capacity of 40,000 lb. This could translate to a total of eighty 500 lb class bombs (e.g., GBU-38 or MK-82), thirty-six 750 lb CBU class bombs, sixteen 2,000lb class bombs (e.g., GBU-31 or MK-84), or two GBU-57 precision-guided bombs, among other combinations. The Stealth Bomber is the only aircraft officially recognized as being able to carry large standoff weapons in stealth mode with air-to-surface capabilities.

2. The Stealth Bomber Won The Collier Trophy In 1991

In 1991, the B-2 Spirit claimed the most reputable award in aerospace in the form of the Collier Trophy. The Northrop Corporation was honored with this award for their production, test flights, design and development of the Stealth Bomber. This eminent award has been granted to innovative companies since 1911. Other victors over the years include the Bell X-1, Boeing 747, F-22 Raptor, and Mars Curiosity Rover.

1. The B-2 Spirit Is Still In Flight Today

A total of 20 Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirits continue to operate today. Northrop Grumman regularly updates and enhances the abilities of each aircraft for reasons of maintenance and to keep up with the times. Modern upgrading includes software engineering, development, and testing.

This incredible military bomber is employed by the U.S. Air Force and is set to continue until 2032. At that point, the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider will replace the B-2 alongside other bombers. The B-2 Spirit is a marvel in military history, and even if it retires a little over a decade from now, it will be remembered for its unique design and stealth capabilities.

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