Happy Thursday, FighterSweep Fans! On this day in 1993, Northrop-Grumman delivered the very first “Stealth Bomber,” the Spirit of Missouri, to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Any B-2A Spirit lovers out there?

The original ATB or “Advanced Technology Bomber” program came to life when Jimmy Carter was President. The goal was to build and mass-produce an aircraft able to slip through air defense systems undetected and strike high-value or strategic targets. Designed and manufactured by Northrop-Grumman, the ATB project developed through the Reagan Era, ultimately revealed to the public in 1988.

The B-2 is an expensive beast, with total costs running about $930 million dollars per copy. The original plan was for a total of 132 examples, which would have been amazing, but with the drawn-down of defense spending during the Clinton Administration, that number was cut to a total of 21.

B-2A Spirit at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
A Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirit sits at idle power, awaiting a hot crew swap during the Integration Phase of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

All of the aircraft are still flying, with the exception of the Spirit of Kansas, which crashed shortly after takeoff at Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam in February of 2008. Thankfully, both pilots ejected safely, but the aircraft was a total loss. The remaining aircraft are expected to be in service with the United States Air Force until 2058. The B-2 is the pride and joy of the Air Force Global Strike Command, manned by the 509th Bomb Wing and the 131st Bomb Wing (Air National Guard), both at Whiteman.

The Spirit’s wheelhouse is long-range strike:  with an unrefueled range of more than 6,000 nautical miles, the B-2A has a 10,000 nautical mile range with just one visit to the tanker.  While the aircraft was originally envisioned as a major part of the United States’ nuclear capability, it has proven to be adept at all-altitude conventional attack as well. The aircraft’s first combat sorties were during Operation Allied Force in 1999, and also saw service in both Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

General characteristics

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  • Crew: 2: Pilot and Commander (co-pilot)
  • Length: 69 ft
  • Wingspan: 172 ft
  • Height: 17 ft
  • Empty weight: 158,000 lb
  • Loaded weight: 336,500 lb
  • Max. takeoff weight: 376,000 lb
  • Engines: 4 × General Electric F118-GE-100 non-afterburning turbofans, 17,300 lbs of thrust each
  • Fuel Capacity: 167,000 pounds

Performance

  • Maximum speed: Mach 0.95 (550 knots, 630 mph, 1,010 km/h) at 40,000 ft altitude / Mach 0.95 at sea level[148]
  • Cruise speed: Mach 0.85 (487 knots, 560 mph, 900 km/h) at 40,000 ft altitude
  • Range: 6,900 miles
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 ft
Northrop-Grumman_B-2A_Spirit
(Schematic courtesy of AeroWeb.org)

(Featured Photo by Scott Wolff)