‘Is that a UFO?’ or ‘That surely is not a plane!’ are the words coming out of almost everyone when the B-2 flew past them. Although the B-2 was not a UFO, it could disappear like one in a blink of an eye. A plane, so unmatched and different that people still do date is seen scratching their heads when they see one. US’s most formidable and mysterious of weapons is the sole best-known stealth aircraft in the world, capable of dropping both conventional and nuclear payloads.
The B-2 Spirit also known as the Stealth Bomber, is a heavy strategic bomber designed by the Americans during the Cold War to slip through the Soviet Union’s formidable integrated air defense network combining ground-based radars, surface-to-air missiles, aerial interceptors, and radar planes. The B-2 is also considered the world’s first low-observable or “stealth” strategic bomber. Capable of maxing out at Mach 0.95, or 630 mph while reaching up to 50,000ft during all-altitude attack missions. It also has a range of flying more than 6,000 nm unrefueled and over 10,000 nm with one refueling, giving it the ability to fly to any point in the world within hours. The B-2 is the only acknowledged aircraft that can carry large air-to-surface standoff weapons in a stealth configuration.
Apart from its flashy numbers, the biggest attention it gets is with its design. Its distinct ‘UFO’ shape comes from the unique, ‘flying wing’ construction. The swept wings which are about half the length of a football field—and its cockpit bulges organically from the surface like that of a 1950s-era sci-fi spaceship with the leading and trailing edges of the wings angled at 33° and 45 give the wings a double-W shape.
The B-2’s low-observable, or “stealth”, characteristics enable the undetected penetration of sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses and to attack even heavily defended targets. This stealth comes from a combination of reduced acoustic, infrared, visual, and radar which helps the B-2 in evading various detection systems that could be used to detect and be used to direct attacks against an aircraft. Another key aspect of the B-2’s low-observability is the Radar Absorbent Materials or RAM. The B-2’s intakes are mounted on the top of the wings and funneled air through S-shaped ducts to four F118 turbofans buried deep inside the plane, to avoid any weakened spot found in its stealthiness. This configuration dampens both the B-2’s acoustic and infrared signature.
Furthermore, the skin is coated with an elastomer (an elastic, rubber-like polymer) meant to ‘smooth away’ seams, screws, or joints between different materials which might create a chink in its stealthy geometry, after all, the B-2 has to go unnoticed. From the front, the B-2 is designed to remain low-observable from all angles as it is intended to penetrate deep into enemy airspace.
The bomber does not always fly stealthily; when nearing air defenses pilots, “stealth up” the B-2, a maneuver whose details are not known. The aircraft is stealthy, except briefly when the bomb bay opens. The B-2 is currently one of three strategic bombers in use by the US Air Force, the other two being the B-52 Stratofortress, and the B-1 Lancer.
The B-2 still has plans to rule the skies as the Air Force plans to retire them in the early 2030s. And if you ever wondered whether the B-2 Spirit has a toilet or not, let me assure you it has one, but consider the one in your house much better.
“It is really one of a kind, completely unlike any other plane ever designed.”Rebecca Grant