(Photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith)

With its precision, stealth, long-range capability and payload capacity, the B-2 Spirit is one of the most versatile airframes in the Air Force's inventory. The combination of its unique capabilities enables global reach and allows the Air Force to bypass the enemy's most sophisticated defenses.


The B-2 Spirit's low-observable, or stealth, characteristics give it the ability to penetrate an enemy's most sophisticated defenses and threaten its most valued, and heavily defended targets. Its ability to penetrate air defenses and threaten effective retaliation provides a strong deterrent and combat capability to the Air Force well into the 21st century.

Development

The revolutionary blending of low-observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload capacity gives the B-2 important advantages over existing bombers. Its low observability provides greater freedom of action at high altitudes, increasing its range and providing a better field of view for aircraft sensors. Its unrefueled range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles.

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 stealth attributes.

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

(US Air Force photo by Gary Ell)

Operational history

The first B-2 was publicly displayed Nov. 22, 1988, in Palmdale, California and flew for the first time on July 17, 1989. The B-2 Combined Test Force at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, was responsible for flight testing, engineering, manufacturing and developing the B-2.

Whiteman AFB, Missouri, is the only operational base for the B-2. The first aircraft, Spirit of Missouri, was delivered Dec. 17, 1993. Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, is responsible for managing the B-2's maintenance.

The B-2's combat effectiveness and mettle was proved in Operation Allied Force, where it was responsible for destroying 33 percent of all Serbian targets in the first eight weeks, flying nonstop from Whiteman AFB to Kosovo and back.

In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the B-2 flew one of its longest missions to date from Whiteman AFB to Afghanistan and back. The B-2 completed its first-ever combat deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying 22 sorties from a forward operating location, 27 sorties from Whiteman AFB and releasing more than 1.5 million pounds of munitions.

A B-2 Spirit drops Joint Direct Attack Munitions separation test vehicles over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Aug. 8, 2003.

(US Air Force photo)

The aircraft received full operational capability status in December 2003. On Feb. 1, 2009, Air Force Global Strike Command assumed responsibility for the B-2 from Air Combat Command.

On Jan. 18, 2017, two B-2s attacked an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria training camp 19 miles southwest of Sirte, Libya, killing more than 80 militants. The B-2s dropped 108 500-pound precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs. These strikes were followed by an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle firing Hellfire missiles. The 34-hour-round-trip flight from Whiteman AFB was made possible with 15 aerial refuelings conducted by KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender crews from five different bases.

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing refuels a U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit from the 509th Bomb Wing during a mission that targeted Islamic State training camps in Libya, Jan. 18, 2017.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton)

After getting pulled from theater in 2010, the B-2s rejoined the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-1B Lancer in continuous rotations to Andersen AFB, Guam, in 2016. The Continuous Bomber Presence mission, established in 2004, provides significant rapid global strike capability demonstrating U.S. commitment to deterrence. The mission also offers assurance to U.S. allies and strengthens regional security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Bomber rotations also provide the Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Pacific Command global strike capabilities and extended deterrence against any potential adversary while also strengthening regional alliances and long-standing military-to-military partnerships throughout the region.

U.S. military members stand with players of the Kansas City Royals during a military recognition ceremony at Kauffman Stadium as a B-2 Spirit performs a flyover, Kansas City, Mo., Sept. 11, 2018.

(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)

Did you know

  • The B-2 can fly 6,000 nautical miles unrefueled and 10,000 nautical miles with just one aerial refueling, giving it the ability to fly to any point in the globe within hours.
  • The B-2 has a crew of two pilots—a pilot 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.

Active squadrons

  • 13th Bomb Squadron established in 2005.
  • 393rd Bomb Squadron established in 1993.

Both squadrons are located at Whiteman AFB and fall under Air Force Global Strike Command.

Aircraft stats

  • Primary function: multi-role heavy bomber
  • Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp.
  • Contractor Team: Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Hughes Radar Systems Group, General Electric Aircraft Engine Group and Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc.
  • Power plant: four General Electric F118-GE-100 engines
  • Thrust: 17,300 pounds each engine
  • Wingspan: 172 feet
  • Length: 69 feet (20.9 meters)
  • Height: 17 feet (5.1 meters)
  • Weight: 160,000 pounds (72,575 kilograms)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 336,500 pounds (152,634 kilograms)
  • Fuel capacity: 167,000 pounds (75750 kilograms)
  • Payload: 40,000 pounds (18,144 kilograms)
  • Speed: high subsonic
  • Range: intercontinental
  • Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
  • Armament: conventional or nuclear weapons
  • Crew: two pilots
  • Unit cost: Approximately $1.157 billion (fiscal 1998 constant dollars)
  • Initial operating capability: April 1997
  • Inventory: active force: 20 (1 test)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 0.95 (550 knots, 630 mph, 1,010 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet altitude
  • Cruise speed: Mach 0.85[63] (487 knots, 560 mph, 900 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet altitude
  • Range: 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 kilometers (6,900 miles))
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,200 meters)

(Source: AF.mil)

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.