The ‘flying wing’ shaped Stealth Bomber (nicknamed ‘Spirit’) is a unique aircraft that’s designed to make it as invisible as possible. Its shape means there are very few leading edges for radar to reflect from, reducing its signature dramatically. This is further enhanced by the composite materials from which the aircraft is constructed and the coatings on its surface. These are so successful that despite having a 172-foot wingspan, the B-2’s radar signature is an astounding 0.1 square metres.
The B-2’s stealth capabilities, and aerodynamic shape, are further enhanced by the fact its engines are buried inside the wing. This means the induction fans at the front of the engines are concealed while the engine exhaust is minimised. As a result, the B-2’s thermal signature is kept to the bare minimum, making it harder for thermal sensors to detect the bomber as well as lowering the aircraft’s acoustic footprint.
The design also means the B-2 is both highly aerodynamic and fuel efficient. The B-2’s maximum range is 6,000 nautical miles and as a result the aircraft has often been used for long-range missions, some lasting 30 hours and in one case, 50. The B-2 is so highly automated that it’s possible for a single crew member to fl y while the other sleeps, uses the lavatory or prepares a hot meal and this combination of range and versatility has meant the aircraft has been used to research sleep cycles to improve crew performance on long-range missions. Despite this, the aircraft’s success comes with a hefty price tag. Each B-2 costs $737 million and must be kept in a climate-controlled hangar to make sure the stealth materials remain intact. These problems aside though, the Spirit is an astonishing aircraft, even if, chances are, you won’t see one unless the pilots want you to…
Inside the Spirit
The B-2 is an unusual combination of complexity and elegance, the entire airframe built around the concept of stealth and focused on making the aircraft as hard to detect as possible.
The B-2’s windows have a fine wire mesh built into them, designed to scatter radar.
Any radar returns are reduced by the composite materials used, which further deflect any signals.
Special heat-resistant material near the exhausts mean the airframe absorbs very little heat.
Rotary launch assembly (RLA)
The RLA allows the B-2 to deploy different weapons in quick succession.
Bomb rack assembly (BRA)
The bomb rack assembly can hold up to eighty 500lb bombs.
To further reduce the B-2’s signature, the engine intakes are sunk into the main body.
Landing gear doors
The landing gear doors are hexagonal to further break up the B-2’s radar profile.
The B-2 carries two crew, a pilot and a mission commander with room for a third if needed.
The B-2’s shape means it has very few leading edges, making it harder to detect on radar.
The B-2’s unique shape makes it unstable, and it relies on a computer to stabilise it and keep it flying.
The B-2’s four General Electric F118s don’t have afterburners as the heat these generate would make the aircraft easier to detect.
Year first deployed
Weight empty / max
158,000lb / 336,500lb
Mach 0.95 (604mph)
General Electric F118-GE-100 non-afterburning turbofans
The B-2 has two internal bays capable of holding 50,000lb of ordnance. Common payloads include:
– 80 x 500lb class bombs (Mk-82) mounted on the bomb rack assembly or BRA
– 36 x 750lb CBU class bombs on BRA
– 16 x 2,000lb class weapons (Mk-84, JDAM-84, JDAM-102) mounted on the rotary launched assembly (RLA)
– 16 x B61 or B83 nuclear weapons on the RLA