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B-2 Spirit

The B-2 Spirit is a multi-role bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions.

Along with the B-52 and B-1B, the B-2 provides the penetrating flexibility and effectiveness inherent in manned bombers. Its low-observable, or "stealth," 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 provide an effective deterrent and combat force well into the 21st century.

The 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, an aircraft commander 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 B-2 is intended to deliver gravity nuclear and conventional weapons, including precision-guided standoff weapons. An interim, precision-guided bomb capability called Global Positioning System (GPS) Aided Targeting System/GPS Aided Munition (GATS/GAM) is being tested and evaluated. Future configurations are planned for the B-2 to be capable of carrying and delivering the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile.

B-2s, in a conventional role, staging from Whiteman AFB, MO; Diego Garcia; and Guam can cover the entire world with just one refueling. Six B-2s could execute an operation similar to the 1986 Libya raid but launch from the continental U.S. rather than Europe with a much smaller, more lethal, and more survivable force.



The B-2 development program was initiated in 1981, and the Air Force was granted approval in 1987 to begin procurement of 132 operational B-2 aircraft, principally for strategic bombing missions. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the emphasis of B-2 development was changed to conventional operations and the number was reduced to 20 operational aircraft, plus 1 test aircraft that was not planned to be upgraded to an operational configuration. Production of these aircraft has been concurrent with development and testing.

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 as they are produced. Three of the six developmental aircraft delivered at Edwards are continuing flight testing.

Whiteman AFB, Mo., is the B-2's only operational base. 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 prime contractor, responsible for overall system design and integration, is Northrop Grumman's Military Aircraft Systems Division. Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Hughes Radar Systems Group and General Electric Aircraft Engine Group are key members of the aircraft contractor team. Another major contractor, responsible for aircrew training devices (weapon system trainer and mission trainer) is Hughes Training Inc. (HTI) - Link Division, formerly known as C.A.E. - Link Flight Simulation Corp. Northrop Grumman and its major subcontractor HTI, are responsible for developing and integrating all aircrew and maintenance training programs.

The Air Force is accepting delivery of production B-2s in three configuration blocks--blocks 10, 20, and 30. Initial delivery will be 6 test aircraft, 10 aircraft in the block 10 configuration, 3 in the block 20 configuration, and 2 in the block 30 configuration.

Block 10 configured aircraft provide limited combat capability with no capability to launch conventional guided weapons. The Block 10 model carries only Mk-84 2,000-pound conventional bombs or gravity nuclear weapons. B-2s in this configuration are located at Whiteman Air Force Base and are used primarily for training.

Block 20 configured aircraft have an interim capability to launch nuclear and conventional munitions, including the GAM guided munition. The Block 20 has been tested with the Mk-84, 2,000-pound, general-purpose bombs and the CBU-87/B Combined Effects Munition cluster bombs (low-altitude, full-bay release).

Block 30 configured aircraft are fully capable and meet the essential employment capabilities defined by the Air Force. The first fully configured Block 30 aircraft, AV-20 Spirit of PENNSYLVANIA, was delivered to the Air Force on 07 August 1997. Compared to the Block 20, the Block 30s have almost double the radar modes along with enhanced terrain-following capability and the ability to deliver additional weapons, including the Joint Direct Attack Munition and the Joint Stand Off Weapon. Other features include incorporation of configuration changes needed to make B-2s conform to the approved radar signature; replacement of the aft decks; installation of remaining defensive avionics functions; and installation of a contrail management system.

All block 10, 20, and test aircraft are to eventually be modified to the objective block 30 configuration. This modification process began in July 1995 and is scheduled to be completed in June 2000.

The B-2 fleet will have 16 combat-coded aircraft by the second quarter of FY00,


Link-16 Providing Line-of-Sight (LOS) data for aircraft-to-aircraft, aircraft-to-C2, and aircraft-to-sensor connectivity, Link-16 is a combat force multiplier that provides U.S. and other allied military services with fully interoperable capabilities and greatly enhances tactical Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence mission effectiveness. Link-16 provides increased survivability, develops a real-time picture of the theater battlespace, and enables the aircraft to quickly share information on short notice (target changes).

Connectivity DoD requires survivable communications media for command and control of nuclear forces. To satisfy the requirement, the Air Force plans to deploy an advanced Extremely High Frequency (EHF) satellite communications constellation. This constellation will provide a survivable, high capability communication system. Based on favorable results from a funded risk reduction study, the B-2 will integrate an EHF communication capability satisfying connectivity requirements.

Digital Engine Controller - The current analog engine controllers are high failure items, and without funding, ACC will be forced to ground aircraft beginning approximately FY08. Replacement of the engine controllers will improve the B-2s performance and increase supportability, reliability, and maintainability. Computers/Processors - With advances in computer technology and increased demands on the system, the B-2s computers will need to be replaced with state-of-the-art processors. Although reliable, maintaining the present processors will become increasingly difficult and costly.

Signature Improvements - The B-2s signature meets operational requirements against todays threats. As advanced threats proliferate, it will be prudent to investigate advanced signature reduction concepts and determine if it is necessary to improve the B-2s low observable signature. CANDIDATE LONG TERM UPGRADES BEYOND FY 15 TOTAL The basis for the useful life of the B-2 includes data from initial Developmental Test and Evaluation analysis. Data indicates the aircraft should be structurally sound to approximately 40,000 flight hours using current mission profiles. Analysis further suggests that the rudder attachment points are the first structural failure item. The B-2 has not implemented an ASIP similar to the other bombers, and this makes it difficult to predict the economic service life and attrition rate. However, a notional projection, based on the B-52, predicts one aircraft will be lost each 10 years. This attrition rate, plus attrition due to service life, will erode the B-2 force below its requirement of 19 aircraft by 2027.

Tactical delivery tactics use patterns and techniques that minimize final flight path predictability, yet allows sufficient time for accurate weapons delivery. For conventional munitions. Bomb Rack Assembly (BRA) weapons delivery accuracies depend on delivery altitude. For a weapons pass made at 5,000 ft above ground level [AGL] or below, the hit criteria is less than or equal to 300 feet. For a weapons pass made above 5,000 feetAGL, the hit criteria is less than or equal to 500 feet. Similarly, Rotary Launcher Assembly (RLA) delivery of conventional or nuclear weapons (i.e. Mk-84, B-83, B-61) is altitude dependent. For a weapons pass made at 5,000 feet AGL or below, the hit criteria is less than or equal to 300 feet. For a weapons pass made above 5,000 ft AGL, the hit criteria is less than or equal to 500 feet. The hit criteria for a weapons pass made with GAM/ JDAM munitions is less than or equal to 50 feet.

B-2 Image Gallery


Primary function: Multi-role heavy bomber.
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp.
Contractor Team: Boeing Military Airplanes Co.,
General Electric Aircraft Engine Group
Hughes Training Inc., Link Division
Power Plant/Manufacturer: Four General Electric F-118-GE-100 engines
Thrust: 17,300 pounds each engine (7,847 kilograms)
Length: 69 feet (20.9 meters)
Height: 17 feet (5.1 meters)
Wingspan: 172 feet (52.12 meters)
Speed: High subsonic
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,152 meters)
Takeoff Weight (Typical): 336,500 pounds (152,635 kilograms)
Range: Intercontinental, unrefueled
16 B61
16 B83
16 AGM-129 ACM
16 AGM-131 SRAM 2
80 MK82
16 MK84
36 CBU87
36 CBU89
36 CBU97
8 GBU 27
8 AGM-154 JSOW
Payload: 40,000 pounds (18,000 kilograms)
Crew: Two pilots
Unit cost: Approximately $2.1 billion [average]
Year Deployed: 1994
Inventory: Total: 21; Active force: 16 (planned operational aircraft)

Aircraft # Name [*] Ordered Delivered
AV- 1 82-1066 Fatal Beauty n/a 17 Jul 89
AV- 2 82-1067 Spirit of ARIZONA
Ship From Hell
[Murphy's Law]
n/a 19 Oct 90 20 Mar 98
AV- 3 82-1068 Spirit of NEW YORK
Navigator / Ghost
[Afternoon Delight]
n/a 18 Jun 91 10 Oct 97
AV- 4 82-1069 Spirit of INDIANA
n/a 02 Oct 92 22 May 99
AV- 5 82-1070 Spirit of OHIO
Fire and Ice [Toad]
n/a 05 Oct 92 18 Jul 97
AV- 6 TOV&V 82-1071 Spirit of MISSISSIPPI
Black Widow / Penguin
[Arnold the Pig]
n/a 02 Feb 93 23 May 98
AV- 7 88-0328 Spirit of TEXAS
Pirate Ship
1987 29 Aug 94 31 Aug 94
AV- 8 88-0329 Spirit of MISSOURI 1987 11 Dec 93 17 Dec 93
AV- 9 88-0330 Spirit of CALIFORNIA 1988 16 Aug 94 17 Aug 94
AV-10 88-0331 Spirit of S. CAROLINA 1988 29 Dec 94 30 Dec 94
AV-11 88-0332 Spirit of WASHINGTON 1989 27 Oct 94 30 Oct 94
AV-12 89-0127 Spirit of KANSAS 1989 16 Feb 95 17 Feb 95
AV-13 89-0128 Spirit of NEBRASKA 1990 26 Jun 95 28 Jun 95
AV-14 89-0129 Spirit of GEORGIA 1990 25 Sep 95 14 Nov 95
AV-15 90-0040 Spirit of ALASKA 1991 12 Jan 95 24 Jan 96
AV-16 90-0041 Spirit of HAWAII 1991 21 Dec 95 10 Jan 96
AV-17 92-0700 Spirit of FLORIDA 1992 29 Mar 96 3 Jul 96
AV-18 93-1085 Spirit of OKLAHOMA 1993 13 May 96 15 May 96
AV-19 93-1086 Spirit of KITTY HAWK 1993 30 Aug 96
AV-20 93-1087 Spirit of PENNSYLVANIA 1993 05 Aug 97
AV-21 93-1088 Spirit of LOUISIANA 1993 10 Nov 97
AV-22-76 Cancelled
AV-77-133 Cancelled
AV-134-165 Cancelled


Each stealth bomber has at least three designations. The Air Vehicle [AV] number [eg, AV-1], indicative of the aircraft's construction sequence within the stealth bomber program. The tail number [eg 82-1066] is part of the general Air Force numbering system in which the first two digits are the year in which the plane was authorized, and the last four digits are the aircraft's unique serial number. The planes also have both formal and informal names, which is an unusual [though increasingly common] practice. For a long time we had a bit of difficulty providing robust correlation among these three designation systems, since Whiteman AFB and Dave Hastings did't have their stories straight on Spirit of OHIO and Spirit of ARIZONA. While we think that we have finally gotten these ducks lined up, any additional corrections would be vastly appreciated.

Following the naval precedent in which battleships, and subsequently whatever ship the Navy regarded as its capital ship [currently ballistic missile submarines, but it was nuclear powered cruisers for a while] were named after states, operational B-2 aircraft are named after states, with the annoying exception of Spirit of KITTY HAWK. States so honored are generally those with a close association [operational, political, or otherwise] with the program. This would seem to place an upper limit of 50 on the number of aircraft that can eventually be expected to be produced, though one imagines that additional states can be admitted to the Union if the need arises.

Test aircraft have a somewhat less illustrious, and less definitive, naming system. Sources vary as to the names that have at times been used in connection with these airfraft, and we provide all names that have been reportedly associated with these vehicles [with the less certain names in [] parentheses]. As they enter operational service, these aircraft are given more dignified state names, as recently happened with AV-2 Spirit of OHIO.

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Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Tuesday, November 30, 1999 5:24:23 AM