With the "flying wing" style that renders it virtually invisible come radar, the B-2 spirit bomber is truly a standout among military plane -- and likewise the world"s most expensive, at over $2 billion per aircraft.

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A product that the Cold War, it was initially designed to penetrate Soviet wait defenses and also carry both conventional and nuclear weapons. Yet shortly ~ its an initial flight, over 30 years ago in 1989, the loss of the Berlin wall ended the Cold War and no B-2 has ever before flown inside Russian airspace.
Nevertheless, it has actually seen its fair share of combat. The first B-2 was ceded in 1993 come Whiteman Air pressure Base in Missouri, where the fleet is based and still operates, and also its first operational usage was throughout the 1999 Kosovo War.
One the the most innovative flying makers in existence, the B-2 can reach a target anywhere in the world and also return come base, refueling in mid-air. No B-2 has ever been lost in combat.
"It is really among a kind, fully unlike any type of other airplane ever designed," Rebecca Grant, a B-2 and aerospace experienced who has flown in the share plane, stated in a call interview. "Seen indigenous the cockpit, the paris wing is therefore distinctive. That is very special -- much more of a sentient being than just a constant airplane. Maybe that"s why all of the B-2s room rumored come have unique personalities and also they"re frequently referred to as she."
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The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit very first flew in 1989 and also 21 B-2s space still in business with the us Air Force. It is designed come be totally invisible come radar. Credit: USAF/Getty photos North America/Getty Images
The idea of making a aircraft as a paris wing -- without a identify fuselage, a tail and also other protuberances -- is an early one in aviation, surfacing prior to World battle I in Germany and also the Soviet Union. Towards the finish of world War II, Nazi Germany built and tested the Horten Ho 229, a futuristic paris wing aircraft through rudimentary stealth features, come which the B-2 bears a striking resemblance. In the united States, this kind of style was pioneered by aircraft designer and also industrialist Jack Northrop, whose very first flying soup prototypes -- in tiny scale and also powered by propeller engines -- required to the skies in 1940.
Northrop"s work-related culminated in the YB-49, his first jet powered flying wing design, in 1947. Much ahead of its time, the project was held back by technological difficulties and also quickly scrapped. However, the job-related done ~ above the YB-49 was offered to kickstart the B-2 program --- the agency that provides it was started by Northrop self -- and although the planes are decades apart, lock have numerous similarities, consisting of the precise same wingspan.
A YB-49 prototype aircraft in 1950. Credit: Universal history Archive/Universal Images group Editorial/Universal Images group via Getty
The B-2 is one of three strategy bombers at this time in company in the us Air Force, together with the agile Rockwell B-1 Lancer, which an initial flew in 1974, and also the gargantuan Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, a legendary aircraft native the 1950s that has been continuous updated ever before since.
The B-52 first introduced the idea of flying a bomber at very high altitudes, to make it harder for anti-aircraft missiles to with it, when the B-1 do the efforts the opposite: paris so low and also fast that radar would have trouble choose it up. No strategy was perfect no one immune to adversary fire, and Cold battle tensions were calling because that the ultimate nuclear deterrent: a bomber capable of moving atomic weapons while being essentially undetectable by enemy air defenses.
A B-1 Lancer, a B-2 Spirit and a B-52 Stratofortress execute a flyover at Barksdale Air pressure Base. Credit: David Wa / Alamy share Photo
This dream became a reality in the 1970s v the introduction of stealth, a set of technologies that do an aircraft an overwhelming or impossible to spot for radar. "It was a Cold war product, but likewise a product of a large technological breakthrough in designing an plane to it is in stealthy," claimed Grant.
"The mission the the B-2 was to elude Russian waiting defenses, both their surface-to-air missiles and their top-line fighter aircraft. And also that"s still its mission this particular day -- come elude the ideal enemy air defenses where we discover them."
A B-2 is complied with by two F-117s, an previously stealth plane with a strikingly different style approach, conquered by level panels and jagged edges instead of smooth curves. Credit: USAF/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
To carry out so, the plane includes a range of features, many of them classified, that mask the from view. "The an initial is the shape, which alters the radar reflection," said Grant.
Radar -- an acronym because that "radio detection and ranging" -- was designed during world War II and also works by sending an power pulse with the air and also waiting because that it to bounce off objects such together airplanes, and then come back. The intensity and also angle of this reflection gives the size and location that the target.
Unlike various other aircraft, the B-2"s flying wing design doesn"t have actually any huge vertical shapes, such as a tail, for radar waves to bounce off. In fact, the smooth surface ar is designed come scatter radar tide completely, so that practically none go back to the source, making the aircraft appear as tiny as a bird. Ironically, the principles used for this were very first exposed by a Russian physicist, Pyotr Ufimtsev, in a 1962 publication which the Soviet Union reputed of no nationwide security value, therefore clearing it because that publication.
"There are also radar-absorbing coatings and materials, and you can"t see its engines since they space tucked away in the aft section, to protect against producing any heat signature," grant said. A warmth signature is a dead giveaway that a airplane is in the sky, and the B-2"s developers went come lengths to obfuscate it, also using the exact same kind the heat-absorbing tiles that protected the room Shuttle throughout re-entry, placed near the engine exhaust.
An on-board system alerts the crew if the plane is producing contrails -- the vapor trails that kind when ice cream crystals coalesce about aircraft exhaust gases -- allowing them to adjust altitude. Finally, the B-2 is very quiet, and also can only be heard once it"s pass overhead.
These features, known collectively as low observable technology, room not constantly in operation, but are activated when the airplane needs to come to be invisible. Amongst other things, pilots have to press a button in the cockpit significant "PEN," to penetrate opponent defenses. "Just like any type of combat aircraft, as soon as you"re near the danger you carry out a entirety bunch of things to acquire ready come penetrate. Lock won"t tell you the entirety procedure, but it"s true -- they execute stealth up once they come near the target area," said Grant.
B-2 missions have actually lasted as long as 44 constant hours -- such together one flown in 2001 indigenous Missouri to Afghanistan during operation Enduring liberty -- i beg your pardon is why there is a flat room behind the cockpit where among the 2 pilots have the right to rest, in addition to facilities come store and heat food, and a toilet.
A B-2 soul Stealth Bomber receive fuel indigenous a KC-135 Stratotanker. Credit: USAF/Getty images North America/Getty Images
While no B-2 has ever been lost in combat -- the aircraft doesn"t even have protective weapons -- one was ruined in one accident in 2008, when it crashed quickly after takeoff indigenous Andersen Air pressure Base top top Guam (the pilots ejected safely). An additional B-2 was severely damaged in a fire in 2010 and sustained considerable repairs before coming ago into service.
All B-2s are called after a united state state (except two, "Spirit that America" and also "Spirit of Kitty Hawk") and also are among the many high-maintenance airplane in existence, and also tens of hours of servicing are necessary for every hour of flight. The delicate skin that the plane, i beg your pardon provides additional stealth, have to be stored at cool temperature, requiring air-conditioned hangars that add to the high operating costs.
The 21 B-2s the were built likewise had come bear every the costs connected with the program"s research and development, i m sorry would have actually been an ext evenly spread over a larger number of aircraft. "That made their sticker price upwards the $2 billion every -- that would have been much an ext reasonable had actually they constructed 132 as originally planned," stated Grant.
A B-2 spirit Stealth Bomber called "Spirit that Alaska" at Whiteman Air force Base. Credit: USAF/Getty pictures North America/Getty Images
Because that the tiny fleet and also its classified technologies, the B-2 is a coveted plane to fly, and also only a couple of stathundred pilots have ever boarded one. "They have a an extremely rigorous selection procedure, but one thing they place great value on is personality and also compatibility -- you have to be the ideal kind of human being to paris those 40-hour objectives with a two-person crew," described Grant.
"It flies choose a regular plane, but it has actually some distinct features. When you fly, you"re best up top top the former edge, therefore the view is really different and it take away some real skill to refuel and to land."
Through the years, the plane has received upgrades come its flight systems, communications and also weapons. That is quiet firmly part of the US"s nuclear triad deterrent, in addition to intercontinental ballistic missiles based upon land and also aboard submarines.

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Its days, however, could be numbered: the B-2"s follower is currently in development. Dubbed the B-21 Raider, it"s shrouded in secrecy and also expected to debut at some point after 2025. The new plane will certainly take on the same duty as the existing one, however it will be designed making complete use of the technological advancements that have arisen since the B-2 was very first conceived, end 40 years ago.