July 17, 2019 marked 30 years since the B-2 Spirit first took to the skies and became our nation’s premier long-range strike bomber. The B-2, a Northrop Grumman engineering marvel and legendary aircraft, spelled a quantum leap for technology and American air superiority. Even today, the B-2 continues to perform, inspire and pave the way forward.
1 – An Engineering Marvel
To bring the B-2 to life, Northrop Grumman had to invent all components from scratch. That list included tools, a software laboratory, composite materials, special test equipment, and 3-D modeling and computer systems. Related manufacturing processes were also created.
2 – Why it’s No. #1
When the U.S. must go to war, the B-2 is there on the first night. The B-2 went into enemy territory on Night One in support of Operation Allied Force (Serbia); Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan); Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) and twice in Libya in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn and Operation Odyssey Lightning. The B-2, one of the most survivable aircraft in the world, is the only aircraft to combine long-range, stealth and a heavy payload on a single platform.
3 – Legendary Combat Debut
The B-2 saw its first operational use during Operation Allied Force. Two B-2s flew more than 31 hours from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to Kosovo. They attacked multiple targets, then flew directly back. The B-2s flew less than 1 percent of the total missions, yet destroyed 33 percent of the targets during the first eight weeks of conflict.
4 – Beast Mode: Longest Aerial Combat Mission in History
The B-2 holds the record for longest air combat mission in history. In 2001, the Spirit of America and five other B-2s were the first to enter Afghan airspace for a record setting 44-hour mission. The aircraft’s performance is even more impressive in that the B-2 made a quick pit stop for a 45-minute crew and service change with engines still running. It then flew back to Missouri for another 30-hour flight for a total of more than 70 consecutive hours.
5 – Red Carpet Realness
When Hollywood needs a “super bomber” to make a cameo and fight off a giant monster or an alien invasion, the red carpet is rolled out for the B-2. With an unmistakable silhouette and flying wing design, it’s easily one of the most recognized aircraft in the world. It has appeared in movies including “Independence Day,” “Armageddon,” “Iron Man 2,” “Cloverfield,” “Airplanes,” “Rampage” and, most recently, “Captain Marvel.”
6 – The Team Today
Northrop Grumman continues to upgrade and enhance the B-2’s capabilities, and service every B-2 aircraft. From the extensive programmed depot maintenance that ranges from the complete restoration of the jet’s exterior surfaces to software engineering, testing and development. Our employees also lead vehicle engineering, logistics and product support for the aircraft.
7 – By the Numbers
The B-2 is 69 feet long, 17 feet high and has a wingspan of 172 feet, half the length of a football field. The aircraft can reach a high subsonic speed and reach an altitude of more 50,000 feet. Its intercontinental range allows it to travel 6,000 nautical miles without refueling and 10,000 nautical miles with only one refueling. It can reach any point in the world within hours and carries a payload of 20 tons.
8 – The Quiet Warbird
The B-2 Spirit’s stealth characteristics, or low observable technologies are all about making the aircraft harder to detect. When you couple the B-2 Spirit’s ability to reduce acoustic, infrared, electromagnetic, visual and radar signatures with a high aerodynamic flying wing design,
special coatings and composite materials – you get a potent and unique capability able to penetrate the most sophisticated enemy defenses and hold at risk high value, heavily defended targets.
9 – Winged Evolution
Jack Northrop first imagined the flying wing design 80 years ago in his garage. From the Avion Experimental #1 in 1929, to the flying wing designs of the 1940’s such as the N-M9 Flying Wing, XP-79B Flying Ram, XB-35, YB-49 and the YB-35, it is easy to see how Jack’s legacy inspired the B-2 Spirit.
10 – The Ultimate Trophy
The B-2 Spirit won the Collier Trophy 1991, the aerospace industry’s most prestigious award for the design, development, production, and flight testing of the B-2 Spirit, which has contributed significantly to America's enduring leadership in aerospace and the country's future national security.