The B-2 Spirit heavy bomber was first introduced in the 1980s. When it appeared, this stealth bomber line was the technological masterpiece of US military aviation.

Introduce

In May 2019, the US Air Force released a video of the B-2 Spirit heavy strategic stealth bomber dropping two 13-ton GBU-57 bombs during a drill. With a length of about 6m (19.68 ft), a weight of up to 14 tons, this bomb is also known as the “Mother of All Bombs” because of the terrible destructive power.

According to The Drive, more than 20 years after being put into operation and 30 years after the start of the test flight program, B-2 Spirit is still a “silver bullet” of the US. The aircraft’s ability to carry nuclear weapons remains an important component of the US Nuclear Triad.

In addition, this aircraft is also capable of conventional strikes & deep penetration and possesses many other outstanding features, making it the tip of the US military’s aerial bomber-spear.

Upgrade program

Northrop Grumman has completed the installation phase and is preparing to test the upgraded B-2 Spirit, according to the Defense News. The US Air Force’s heavy bombers will be deeply modernized in both their electronic and self-defense systems in order to meet the ability to operate in today’s complex anti-access-airiel denial defense environments. Northrop Grumman representative added, if the test process goes well, the flight of the upgraded B-2 will take place soon.

Due to the unique nature of the US Airforces’s strategic bombers, the specific details of the upgrade package applied on B-2 aircraft were not disclosed. However, with public information from Northrop Grumman, the billion-dollar strategic bomber line will be re-equipped with the new electronic countervailing system, antenna and central control system.

Along with the new aviation equipment, the B-2 aircraft’s information display system was also changed accordingly. The new upgrade package will help pilots increase their ability to identify threats against B-2 aircraft and provide appropriate countermeasures.

Currently, the new upgrade package is only applicable on a few B-2 aircraft. After testing is completed, all 20 B-2s of the US Air Force will be fully upgraded.

Design

The B-2 Spirit heavy bomber was first introduced in the 1980s. When it appeared, this stealth bomber line was the technological masterpiece of US military aviation, with the ability to penetrate enemy air defenses to strike strategic level targets.

Initially B-2 was designed to infiltrate Soviet air defense networks and attack targets with nuclear weapons. After decades, however, the mission of the B-2 aircraft now includes precision strike with conventional weapons.

The B-2 Spirit is known as one of the most famous aircraft in the world and its also one of the most destructive aircraft. Speaking of the B-2 Spirit, people will remember its unique design, a flying wing design, meaning that it has no fuselage or tail.

From above, the appearance of B-2 is no different from the “double-W” shape. This tailless design helps to maximizes aerodynamic, lift force, and stealth capabilities. But, American stealth bombers had to sacrifice a few important features, especially maneuverability.

Basically this design turns the wings and fuselage into a unified unit, helping it minimize reflection of radar waves. The wings of the B-2 are inflated at the junction, forming an area similar to a traditional aircrafwt  fuselage but in theory, the B-2 has absolutely no body.

Also in the B-2 maintenance documents, there were no fuselage, only the control compartment, the bomb compartment and the two wings.

Without the tail, the B-2 could not balance horizontally with the fuselage. To overcome this weakness, the design engineers put in the body of the B-2 a balance pendulum.

Due to its complex flight characteristics and a low profile design, resulting in very limited visibility, the B-2 had to use computer help.

The aircraft required a 2-person crew, a pilot in the left and a mission commander on the right, a third additional crew could be needed.  Thanks to the aircraft’s high automation, one pilot can rest on long journeys while the other oversees the aircraft.

As mentioned, the B-2’s stealth comes from a combination of reduced acoustic, infrared, visual and radar signatures, to evade various detection systems. This allowed the reduction of Air Force escort aircraft. Optical stealth which some refer to as day stealthw is enhanced by dark anti-reflective paint. Imagine a black object at an altitude of 15,000 meters blended into the sky, it’s hard to detect it with conventional optical devices.

Powerplant

Equipped with four General Electric F118-100 jet engines, the B-2 Spirit was able to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 0.95. Surprisingly, the B-2’s engine was non-afterburning type, meaning its engine was no different from the commercial jets.

The cruising speed of B-2 is 900 km/h, the service ceiling is 15,200 m.

Spirit has a range of more than 11,000 km with internal fuel. If refueled in the air, it could fly around the world. B-2 Spirit once set a record of 34 continuous flying hours.

The aircraft took off from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri to attack targets in Libya, then returned to the United States. Pilots have traveled nearly 19,000 km with multiple aerial refueling.

Armament

B-2 Spirit has 2 internal bays for ordnance and payload that can carry 80 Mk82, GBU-38 JDAM bombs, weighing 225kg each, or 16 Mk84, GBU-31 bombs, weighing 925kg each, or up to 16 tactical nuclear bombs B61 or B83. The total weight of weapons is about 18 tons.

Operations

The US Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, and they are named after US states. B2 Bombers have been  regularly deployed to Guam island base to deterrence North Korea.

It is also a strategic weapon to deal with Russia and China. 20 years from its first overseas deployment, Spirit is still the only stealth strategic bomber in the world to enter production.

The B-2, together with the B-1 Lancer and the B-52 Stratofortress make up the US Air Force’s formidable nuclear deterrent triad.

Potential

In the future, the B-2 will be replaced by the B-21 Raider with more advanced features to help the US continue to dominate in the field of stealth strategic bombers.

However, the B-2 is still considered the pinnacle of aircraft manufacturing technology and is the first Flying Wing-designed aircraft to be served in large numbers in the US Air Force.

The cost of each B-2 was about $737 million in 1997, equivalent to $2.1 billion using today’s dollars.

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