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What is a Stealth Bomber?

By Josie Myers
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Stealth Bomber, or B-2, is a long range bomber with the able to fly nearly undetected into enemy airspace, appearing as small as a bird on radar. It can carry large artillery, including nuclear bombs. It is effective at all altitudes, able to reach around the world in merely hours, and can fly 6,000 nautical miles (11,112 kilometers) without refueling.

The Stealth Bomber was to be a replacement for the B-52 bomber and took nearly 10 years and billions of dollars to develop. Northrop Grumman began delivery of the first functional B-2 bomber in late 1993. The United States Air Force (USAF) gave the stealth bomber a reliability grade of 90% for its first three years of use. Published assessments claimed that two stealth bombers could do the job of 75 other aircraft.

From a visual perspective, the stealth bomber's "flying wing" construction is truly unique. The body of the plane is remarkably narrow and flat, giving the appearance of virtually no body. The leading edges are angled at 33 degrees, while the rear edges form a "W" shape. The plane is coated in a black paint with radar-absorbing coating. The black color helps to keep the bomber hidden during nighttime missions.

The overall goal of the stealth bomber is to deliver weapons in a precision manner quickly without ever having to engage in combat. In order to achieve this goal, it has numerous design features. These deviations from conventional aircraft allow it to be nearly undetected in enemy airspace.

In order to go undetected, the stealth bomber must be extraordinarily quiet, from both a radar and an audio perceptive. The four engines are buried deep within the plane to muffle sound. Instead of releasing exhaust behind like a conventional aircraft, the B-2 cools its exhaust in a special chamber and then vents the cooled exhaust above the body. This keep it from being an easy target for heat-seeking missiles and protects is from ground sensors that would sense the heat from the bottom of the plane.

The cockpit holds two crew members. There are three settings for pilots to choose from: take-off mode, go-to-war mode, and landing mode. These three functions are changed by flipping a three way switch.

Weapons are held in bays in the center of the plane. It can carry 40,000 lbs (18,143 kg) of weapons at one time. These include conventional and nuclear bombs, precision-guided munitions like bunker busting ground bombs and strategic cruise missiles, gravity bombs and a wide range of maritime weapons.

The future use of the B-2 Stealth Bomber appears to be a bit unsure. The original USAF plan was for 132 bombers to be in service, but after 35 years there were still only 21. Stealth planes in general have largely been admired as the future of military service aircraft, but the track record of purchase has yet to prove if they will be a large force in the United States or otherwise.

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Discussion Comments
By anon76001 — On Apr 08, 2010

The B-2 "Spirit" is a truly amazing aircraft, when it's flying. The B-52 (Buff), was/is a more reliable and dependable bird. Also there are many problems with the B-1 Lancer. Enough said?

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