2013: Year of the B-2 ‘Spirit’

year of b2 2

I came across a photo (below) of a U.S. Air Force general briefing an Army general about “B-2 bomber operations.”

My immediate smart-alecky thought for a caption was something like “This is how we fly an airplane in the Air Force, general.”

But looking a little closer into the occasion for the photo, I will refrain from such comments.

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The photo depicts Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, left, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing, briefing Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about B-2 bomber operations and maintenance on Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

While I am not sure about the reason for the visit by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Whiteman, I would not be surprised if it is related to the fact that the year 2013 has been designated “Year of the B-2,” celebrating the 20th anniversary of the delivery of the first B-2 Spirit, the “Spirit of Missouri,” to Whiteman Air Force Base on Dec. 17, 1993. Throughout the year, the 509th Bomb Wing, the world’s only B-2 Spirit stealth bomber unit, will be marking other milestones in the life of this venerable aircraft.

According to Capt. John Severns of the 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs at Whiteman AFB in Missouri:

The first occurred 14 years ago, when B-2 bombers flying from Whiteman AFB were the first manned aircraft to engage in hostilities during Operation Allied Force on March 24, 1999. Operation Allied Force was a NATO military operation launched to force Yugoslavia’s president, Slobodan Milosevic, to end a campaign of violence by Serbian forces against the people of Kosovo.

Ten years ago, B-2s operating from Whiteman Air Force Base and other forward locations participated in the opening salvos of Operation Iraqi Freedom, dropping dozens of bombs on high-value targets in Baghdad on March 20, 2003. Operation Iraqi Freedom marked the highest-intensity bombardment ever conducted by B-2s, with the aircraft dropping over a million pounds of ordnance during the opening days of the war.

Finally, and most recently, three B-2s took off from Whiteman AFB on March 22, 2011 and flew more than 6,000 miles to Libya, where they took part in Operation Odyssey Dawn, a NATO operation to enforce a UN no-fly zone to prevent Muammar Gaddafi from using his air forces to attack civilians. The aircraft destroyed a series of hardened aircraft shelters at an airfield near Sirte, and resulted in the nearly complete destruction of Gaddafi’s air forces.

Joint operations in the Pacific

A B-2 Spirit and 16 other aircraft from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fly over the USS Kitty Hawk, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike groups in the western Pacific Ocean during Exercise Valiant Shield 2006. (U.S. Navy photo/Chief Photographer’s Mate Todd P. Cichonowicz)

On March 28, 2013, six days after Severns’piece was published, when North Korea’s Kim Jong-un was rattling his missiles, the United States flew two of these mighty birds from Whiteman AFB, Mo., to the Korean peninsula and back on a 37-1\2-hour, non-stop flight, in what U.S. officials say was “a diplomatic sortie,” and one that may have drummed some common sense and reason, if not some healthy fear, into the young dictator’s mind — but not before young Kim Jong-un had “persnally” selected and placed Austin, Texas, in the crosshairs of his missiles.

Whatever one thinks of the past, present and future military missions of the B-2 “Spirit” multi-role bomber, this aircraft represents a dramatic achievement in military aircraft technology, bringing massive nuclear or conventional firepower to bear, “in a short time, anywhere on the globe through previously impenetrable defenses.”

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A B-2 Spirit from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base receives post flight maintenance at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Whitney)

These are some of its features:

The B-2 provides the penetrating flexibility and effectiveness inherent in manned bombers. Its low-observable, or “stealth,” characteristics give it the unique ability to penetrate an enemy’s most sophisticated defenses and threaten its most valued, and heavily defended, targets. Its capability to penetrate air defenses and threaten effective retaliation provides a strong, effective deterrent and combat force well into the 21st century.

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The B-2 flies over the Utah Testing and Training Range at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, during a test run in which the B-2 dropped 80 inert Joint Direct Attack Munitions. (Photo by Bobbie Garcia)

The revolutionary blending of low-observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload gives the B-2 important advantages over existing bombers. Its low-observability provides it greater freedom of action at high altitudes, thus increasing its range and a better field of view for the aircraft’s sensors. Its unrefueled range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles (9,600 kilometers).

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 “stealthiness.”

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.

Whiteman AFB, Mo., is the only operational base for the B-2. The first aircraft, Spirit of Missouri, was delivered Dec. 17, 1993. Depot maintenance responsibility for the B-2 is performed by Air Force contractor support and is managed at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Okla.

B-2 Maintenance

A B-2 Spirit, the “Spirit of South Carolina,” stands ready for maintenance inside a dock at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., May 3, 2013. U.S. . Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Shelby R. Orozco

The prime contractor, responsible for overall system design and integration, is Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector. Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Hughes Radar Systems Group, General Electric Aircraft Engine Group and Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc., are key members of the aircraft contractor team.

And these are its “General Characteristics”:

Primary function: Multi-role heavy bomber
Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp. and 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 (52.12 meters)
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 98 constant dollars)
Initial operating capability: April 1997
Inventory: Active force: 20 (1 test)

Read more here.

CODA: B-2s are named after States of the Union. Here’s the “Spirit of Texas”

spirit of texas

For an interesting “timeline” of the B-2 development, please click here

Images:DOD

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist