Significant American Military Aircraft: 1861-2020, tells the story of flight from the perspective of the country’s most important airplanes. Presented in order of first flight, the book profiles aircraft firsts … first to go to war, first vertical flight, first jet, first stealth, among many others. Also included are those airplanes whose achievements make them all-time icons of American Military aircraft. The book covers every category of airplane … reconnaissance, fighter, bomber, VTOL, trainer, cargo, stealth, and drone. The reader meets engineers and pilots, learns all aspects of aviation technology, and relives unique flying experiences, all told in a lively manner.
– First flight: 1918
– Manufacturer: Dayton Wright Airplane Company
– Significance: First unmanned airplane
Modern day cruise missiles trace their lineage to Charles Kettering’s Bug. Developed during WWI as an unmanned aerial torpedo, its cruising speed was just fifty miles per hour and maxed out at around seventy-five miles per hour. Even after two successful test flights, the Bug never reached the battlefield despite hundreds of thousands of dollars sunk into forty-five aircraft.
Most people think unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, colloquially referred to as drones, as a relatively recent invention, especially as weapons of war. They first flew over a century ago, when the airplane itself was less than a decade and a half old. It was an unmanned guided aircraft, aimed by aligning it to a target, its range controlled by an ingenious device designed by its creators. The weapon, intended for launch behind the trenches of World War I Europe, flew over the men huddled within them, and then detonated at targets otherwise unreachable behind enemy lines. It was a flying bomb.
Hesitant generals among the Allies questioned the wisdom of an unmanned bomb flying over the heads of their men, with no means of controlling it once launched. Its development proved too late for use in the European War, but subsequent testing showed its promise as a weapon. Despite its never being mass produced, the Kettering Bug brought together some of the leading industrialists and inventors of the day, Charles Kettering, Elmer Sperry, Orville Wright, and others, and their ingenuity created a device which was the forerunner of today’s drones and cruise missile.
Development of the Kettering Bug, formally called the Kettering Aerial Torpedo, started in April 1917 in Dayton, Ohio after the U.S. Army asked inventor engineer Charles F. Kettering, one of the premier technologists of his time, to design an unmanned flying bomb with a range of forty miles. Between 1904 and 1909 the patent office awarded Kettering twenty-three patents for inventions, including a system which preceded the modern credit card, as well as for an electric cash register. Later he invented the electric starter and the generator for automobiles. Kettering assembled his team, including Orville Wright, one of the famous Wright brothers, and Elmer Sperry, widely considered the world’s foremost authority on navigational instruments and control systems which used servo motors to respond to signals from gyroscopic sensors, and Thomas Midgley, the man who developed leaded gasoline, as well as Freon, and got to work.
Kettering’s vision for the aircraft was an expendable bomb, used once, rather than a device for delivering a bomb and returning to from whence it came. In his opinion, landing such an aircraft with existing technology was impossible, and there were time constraints to consider. He proposed the aircraft carry fuel and explosives, and little else. Since it wasn’t going to land at the end of its mission it would have no undercarriage. Instead it launched from reusable sleds. His team agreed with the proposals, as did the Army when he relayed his concepts to General George Squier, the man responsible for procuring aircraft for the Army. General Squier used Kettering’s recommendations when he wrote the contract specifications.
Cost was a concern. The Kettering team was engineering a giant artillery shell, and the costs of the deliverable were to be in line with those. The airframe itself was wood and fabric, but the guidance components were costly. Kettering also feared the costs of the engines for his aerial weapons would be prohibitive. In 1918, aircraft engines were large, heavy, expensive, and temperamental. Kettering needed an engine which was small, inexpensive, and reliable. It also had to be simple to install, given that the planned weapon assembly was in the field just prior to launch. Kettering turned to Ralph DePalma, the winner of the 1915 Indianapolis 500, and the owner of DePalma Manufacturing Company. DePalma designed a lightweight, two stroke motor, four cylinders and air cooled, which was perfect for Kettering’s needs.
They designed an airframe which was blunt nosed to accommodate the DePalma engine, about twelve feet in length. They designed the wings for field attachment, making shipping easier. Overall, the wing span was about fifteen feet. The airframe could hold sufficient fuel for a range of about fifty miles. It was an ungainly looking contraption. Its fuselage consisted of papier mache reinforced with wood laminate and its smooth twelve foot wings made of cardboard. Kettering’s invention looked like a propeller driven torpedo with wings. It had a small gyroscope which kept its heading true. A small aneroid barometer, so sensitive it triggered when moving it from the desk top to the floor, controlled elevation. An ingenious arrangement of cranks and bellows produced by the Aeolian Company of New York City, the nation’s largest manufacturer of pump organs and player pianos, controlled its flight. It took off from a small four wheeled carriage, which rolled down a portable aiming track. There were three factors needed to set flight duration to target, wind direction, wind speed, and actual distance to target. Using these figures, the number of engine revolutions necessary to carry the Bug to its destination was calculated and a cam was set. When the engine had made that number of revolutions, the cam dropped, shutting off the engine and releasing the wings. The Bug’s torpedo shaped fuselage, carrying high explosive, would then plunge to earth. It was a technical marvel for its time.
Kettering launched the first Bug into the air on Saturday, September 14, 1918. It crashed after a flight of about 300 feet. Engine problems were determined to be the culprit. In early October another test resulted in a flight of less than fifteen seconds, with the Bug circling after launch and diving upon the launchers. One of the witnesses, General Arnold, said, “After a balky start before the distinguished assemblage, it took off abruptly, but instead of maintaining horizontal flight, it started to climb. At about 600 to 800 feet, as if possessed by the devil, it turned over, made Immelmann turns, and, seeming to spot the group of brass hats below, dived on them, scattering them in all directions. This was repeated several times before the Bug finally crashed without casualties.”
Kettering Bug on Launch Rails
After several adjustments a second demonstration took place. The Bug was set to fly at fifty miles per hour and the dignitaries piled into cars to give chase so they could witness it crashing into the ground. Unfortunately, instead of flying straight, it went off course and circled the city of Dayton, cars in pursuit. The main concern wasn’t what might happen if it crashed in the city, but whether the enemy might get wind of the Kettering Bug. The entourage searched the vicinity where they thought it had come down and came upon some excited farmers who reported a plane crash, but they couldn’t find the pilot. One of the passengers in the pursuit team was a flying officer, General Arnold, dressed in a leather coat and goggles. A quick thinking colonel explained that he was the pilot who jumped out of the plane in his parachute. General Arnold said, “Our secret was secure. The awed farmers didn’t know that the U.S. Air Corps had no parachutes yet.”
On October 22nd, another test of the aircraft took place. This time the Bug achieved its programmed altitude, flew its programmed distance, and descended on its preselected target. The power to fly and operate the controls was a forty horsepower Ford engine, which cost fifty dollars, putting the total price per Bug at only $400. Including 300 pounds of explosive, its total weight was just 600 pounds. The government was impressed and ordered 20,000 Kettering Bugs, but production reached only fifty before World War I ended on November 11, 1918 and none found use in combat.
Through the rest of October and into November Kettering and his team built and flew Bugs in a test and evaluation program, assisted by Army personnel. When the war in Europe ended, all testing of the Bug immediately halted. Construction of new Bugs also stopped. In late November Kettering and Orville Wright went to Washington for a meeting with the Secretary of War. Secretary of War Newton Baker who needed to advise the President, Woodrow Wilson, on weapons and potential weapons which were subject to discussion at the upcoming peace conference. Though the Bug was still a secret program, Wilson made several oblique references to its existence in public speeches, calling it one of the most destructive weapons yet devised by the military for use in war.
The plan to rapidly develop and deploy a new type of weapon, designed and built jointly and in secrecy between a small Army team and civilian engineers and scientists, can rightly be called America’s first black program. James Doolittle wrote the Army’s final report on the test and evaluation of the Kettering Bug eight years after testing halted. The report contained several recommendations which stressed the desirability of continuing research into unmanned flying vehicles, using radio signals to control the flight from the ground.
Kettering Bug specifications
• Armament: 180 lbs. of high explosive
• Engine: One De Palma 4-cylinder of 40 hp
• Maximum speed: 120 mph
• Range: 75 miles
• Span: 14 ft. 11 1/2 in.
• Length: 12 ft. 6 in.
• Height: 4 ft. 8 in.
• Weight: 530 lbs. loaded
– First flight: 1989
– Manufacturer: Northrop Corporation
– Significance: First stealth bomber
B-2 Stealth Bomber
Northrop created the first unique looking B-2 stealth bomber in 1988 and sent it into flight the following year. By 1993 the first Spirit Bomber had joined the Air Force’s fleet, demonstrating its ability to defeat anti-aircraft defense systems. It can carry out attacks at altitudes of 50,000 feet and house up to 40,000 pounds of nuclear or conventional armament.
The Northrop B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is a heavy strategic bomber, featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses. It requires only a crew of two. The B-2 is a flying wing aircraft, meaning that it has no fuselage or tail. It has significant advantages over previous bombers due to its blend of low observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload. Low observability provides a greater freedom of action at high altitudes, thus increasing both range and field of view for onboard sensors.
The bomber can deploy both conventional and thermonuclear weapons, such as up to eighty 500 pound class Mk 82 JDAM Global Positioning System guided bombs, or sixteen 2,400 pound B83 nuclear bombs. The B-2 is the only acknowledged aircraft that can carry large air to surface standoff weapons in a stealth configuration.
Development started under the Advanced Technology Bomber, ATB, project during the Carter administration, and its expected performance was one of the President’s reasons for the cancellation of the Mach 2 capable B-1 bomber. The ATB project continued during the Reagan administration, but worries about delays in its introduction led to the reinstatement of the B-1 program. Program costs rose throughout development. Designed and manufactured by Northrop, the cost of each aircraft averaged $737 million, in 1997 dollars. Total procurement costs averaged $929 million per aircraft, which includes spare parts, equipment, retrofitting, and software support. The total program cost, which included development, engineering, and testing, averaged $2.1 billion per aircraft in 1997. Because of its considerable capital and operating costs, the project was controversial in the U.S. Congress. The winding down of the Cold War in the latter portion of the 1980s dramatically reduced the need for the aircraft intended for penetrating Soviet airspace and attacking high value targets. During the late 1980s and 1990s, Congress slashed plans to purchase 132 bombers to twenty-one. In 2008, a B-2 was destroyed in a crash shortly after takeoff, though the crew ejected safely. Twenty B-2s are in service with the United States Air Force.
The B-2 is capable of all altitude attack missions up to 50,000 feet, with a range of more than 6,900 miles on internal fuel and over 11,500 miles with one midair refueling. It entered service in 1997 as the second aircraft designed to have advanced stealth technology after the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk attack aircraft. Though designed originally as primarily a nuclear bomber, the B-2’s first combat saw it dropping conventional, non-nuclear ordnance in the Kosovo War in 1999. It later served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.
By the mid-1970s, military aircraft designers had learned of a new method to avoid missiles and interceptors, known today as stealth. The concept was to build an aircraft with an airframe that deflected or absorbed radar signals so that little reflected back to the radar unit. An aircraft with radar stealth characteristics flew nearly undetected and attacked only by weapons and systems not relying on radar. Although other detection measures existed, such as human observation, infrared scanners, and acoustic locators, but their relatively short detection range or poorly developed technology allowed most aircraft to fly undetected, or at least untracked, especially at night.
In 1974, DARPA requested information from U.S. aviation firms about the largest radar cross section of an aircraft that would remain effectively invisible to radars. A key improvement was the introduction of computer models used to predict the radar reflections from flat surfaces where collected data drove the design of a faceted aircraft. By the summer of 1975, when DARPA started the Experimental Survivability Testbed project, Northrop’s plans were maturing. Northrop had a classified technology demonstration aircraft, the Tacit Blue in development in 1979 at Area 51. It developed stealth technology, LO, low observables, fly by wire, curved surfaces, composite materials, electronic intelligence, and battlefield surveillance. The stealth technology developed from the program found its way into other operational aircraft designs, including the B-2 stealth bomber.
By 1976, these programs had progressed to a position in which a long range strategic stealth bomber appeared viable. President Carter became aware of these developments during 1977, and it appears to have been one of the major reasons for cancelling the B-1. Further studies occurred in early 1978, by which point the Have Blue, F117, platform flew and proved the concepts. During the 1980 presidential election campaign in 1979, Ronald Reagan repeatedly stated that Carter was weak on defense, and used the B-1 as a prime example. In response, on Aug. 22, 1980, the Carter administration publicly disclosed that the United States Department of Defense was working to develop stealth aircraft, including a bomber. The Advanced Technology Bomber program began in 1979. Full development of the black project followed under the code name Aurora. After the evaluations of the companies’ proposals, the ATB competition narrowed to the Northrop/Boeing and Lockheed/Rockwell teams with each receiving a study contract for further work. The Northrop proposal was code named Senior Ice.
The Northrop team’s ATB design won over the Lockheed/Rockwell design on Oct. 20, 1981. The Northrop design received the designation B-2 and the name Spirit. The bomber’s design changed in the mid-1980s when the mission profile changed from high altitude to low altitude, terrain following. The redesign delayed the B-2’s first flight by two years and added about $1 billion to the program’s cost. The secret research and development on the B-2 cost an estimated twenty-three billion dollars by 1989. MIT engineers and scientists helped assess the mission effectiveness of the aircraft under a five year classified contract during the 1980s.
Both during development and in service, considerable effort took place to maintain the security of the B-2s design and technologies. Staff working on the B-2 required a level of special access clearance, and underwent extensive background checks carried out by the Air Force.
For the manufacturing, Northrop acquired and heavily rebuilt a former Ford automobile assembly plant in Pico Rivera, Calif. The plant’s employees swore to complete secrecy regarding their work. To avoid the possibility of suspicion, components purchase typically went through front companies, military officials would visit out of uniform, and staff members routinely subjected to polygraph examinations. The secrecy extended so far that access to nearly all information on the program by both Government Accountability Office and virtually all members of Congress itself was severely limited until the mid-1980s. Northrop was the B-2’s prime contractor, major subcontractors included Boeing, Hughes Aircraft, GE, and Vought Aircraft.
In 1984the FBI arrested Thomas Cavanaugh, a Northrop employee, for attempting to sell classified information from Northrop’s Pico Rivera factory to the Soviet Union. Cavanaugh received a life sentence to life in prison and released on parole in 2001.
The B-2’s first public demonstration occurred on Nov. 22, 1988, at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. This viewing was heavily restricted, and all guests prohibited seeing the rear of the B-2. However, Aviation Week editors found that there were no airspace restrictions above the presentation area and took aerial photographs of the aircraft’s then secret rear section with suppressed engine exhausts.
On July 17, 1989, the Northrop B-2 Spirit made its first flight, a two hour sortie from U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., to Edwards Air Force Base. Northrop test pilot Bruce Hinds and Col. Richard S. Couch, the B-2 Combined Test Force director, flew the stealth bomber. This marked the first time that a flying wing aircraft had flown over the Mojave Desert in nearly four decades.
In October 2005, the FBI arrested Noshir Gowadia, a design engineer who worked on the B-2’s propulsion system, for selling B-2 related classified information to foreign countries. Gowadia received a sentence of thirty-two years in prison for his actions.
The development and construction of the B-2 required pioneering use of computer aided design and manufacturing technologies, due to its complex flight characteristics and design requirements to maintain very low visibility to multiple means of detection. The B-2 bears a resemblance to earlier Northrop aircraft, the YB-35 and YB-49, both flying wing bombers that canceled in development in the early 1950s, allegedly for political reasons. The resemblance goes as far as B-2 and YB-49 having the same wingspan. The YB-49 also had a small radar cross section. The leading edges of the wings angle at thirty-three degrees and the trailing edge has a double W shape.
Approximately eighty pilots fly the B-2. Each aircraft has a crew of two, a pilot in the left seat and mission commander in the right, and has provisions for a third crew member if needed. For comparison, the B-1B has a crew of four and the B-52 has a crew of five. The B-2 is highly automated, and unlike most two seat aircraft one crew member can sleep in a camp bed, use a toilet, or prepare a hot meal while the other monitors the aircraft. Extensive sleep cycle and fatigue research improved crew performance on long sorties. Advanced training is at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
There are two internal bomb bays in which munitions are stored either on a rotary launcher or two bomb racks. The carriage of the weapons loadouts internally results in less radar visibility than external mounting of munitions. The B-2 is capable of carrying 40,000 pounds of ordnance. Nuclear ordnance includes the B61 and B83 nuclear bombs, and the AGM-129 ACM cruise missile.
Because of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Air Force decided to equip the B-2 for conventional precision attacks as well as for the strategic role of nuclear strike. The B-2 features a sophisticated GPS-Aided Targeting System that uses the aircraft’s APQ-181 synthetic aperture radar to map out targets prior to deployment of GPS aided bombs, GAMs, later superseded by the Joint Direct Attack Munition, JDAM. In the B-2s original configuration, the B-2 carried up to sixteen GAMs or JDAMs. An upgrade program in 2004 raised the maximum carriable capacity to eighty JDAMs.
The B-2 has various conventional weapons in its arsenal. It is able to equip Mark 82 and Mark 84 bombs, CBU-87 Combined Effects Munitions, GATOR mines, and the CBU-97 Sensor Fuzed Weapon. In July 2009, Northrop Grumman reported the B-2 was compatible with the equipment necessary to deploy the 30,000 pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, MOP, intended to attack reinforced bunkers. Up to two MOPs could be equipped in the B-2s bomb bays with one per bay, the B-2 is the only platform compatible with the MOP.
One B-2 avionics system is the low probability of intercept AN/APQ-181 multi-mode radar, a fully digital navigation system that integrated with terrain following radar and Global Positioning System guidance, NAS-26 astro-inertial navigation system, and a Defensive Management System, DMS, to inform the flight crew of possible threats. The onboard DMS is capable of automatically assessing the detection capabilities of identified threats and indicated targets. The DMS detects radar emissions from air defenses to allow changes to the auto-router’s mission planning information while in flight so it can receive new data quickly to plan a route that minimizes exposure to dangers.
The cockpit accommodates two crew members. It is equipped with a color, nine tube, Electronic Flight Instrumentation System, EFIS, which displays flight, engine, and sensor data and avionics systems and weapons status. The pilot can choose to activate the appropriate selection of flight and mission equipment for take off mode, go to war mode and landing mode by using a simple three way switch.
For safety and fault detection purposes, an on board test system links with the majority of avionics on the B-2 to continuously monitor the performance and status of thousands of components and consumables. It also provides post-mission servicing instructions for ground crews. Many of the B-2’s 136 standalone distributed computers, including the primary flight management computer, changed to a single integrated system. Thirteen EMP resistant MIL-STD-1750A computers control the avionics, all interconnected through 26 MIL-STD-1553B busses. Other system elements connect via optical fiber. Due to the B-2’s composite structure, it is required to stay forty miles away from thunderstorms, to avoid static discharge and lightning strikes damaging the electronics.
In order to address the inherent flight instability of a flying wing aircraft, the B-2 uses a complex quadruplex computer controlled fly by wire flight control system that can automatically manipulate flight surfaces and settings without direct pilot inputs in order to maintain aircraft stability. The flight computer receives information on external conditions such as the aircraft’s current air speed and angle of attack via pitot static sensing plates, as opposed to traditional pitot tubes which would impair the aircraft’s stealth capabilities. The flight actuation system incorporates both hydraulic and electrical servo-actuated components. It features a high level of redundancy and fault diagnostic capabilities.
Northrop investigated several means of applying directional control that would not infringe on the aircraft’s radar profile, eventually settling on a combination of split brake rudders and differential thrust. Engine thrust became a key element of the B-2s aerodynamic design process early on. Thrust not only affects drag and lift but pitching and rolling motions. Four pairs of control surfaces are located along the wing’s trailing edge. While most surfaces are used throughout the aircraft’s flight envelope, the inner elevons are normally only in use at slow speeds, such as landing. To avoid potential contact damage during takeoff and to provide a nose down pitching attitude, all of the elevons remain drooped during takeoff until a high enough airspeed occurs.
The B-2s low observable, stealth characteristics enable the undetected penetration of sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses and to attack even heavily defended targets. This stealth comes from a combination of reduced acoustic, infrared, visual and radar signatures, multi-spectral camouflage, to evade the various detection systems that used to detect and direct attacks against an aircraft. The B-2s stealth enables the reduction of supporting aircraft required to provide air cover, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, SEAD, and electronic countermeasures, making the bomber a force multiplier. The B-2 has a radar cross section of one and one-tenth square feet.
To reduce optical visibility during daylight flights, the B-2 uses an anti-reflective paint. The undersides are dark because it flies at high altitudes, 50,000 feet, and at that altitude a dark grey painting blends well into the sky. There is an upward facing light sensor which alerts the pilot to increase or reduce altitude to match the changing illuminance of the sky. The aircraft includes contrail sensor that alerts the crew when they should change altitude. The B-2 is vulnerable to visual interception at ranges of twenty miles.
The bomber does not always fly stealthily. When nearing air defenses pilots stealth up the B-2, a maneuver whose details are secret. The aircraft is stealthy, except briefly when the bomb bay opens. The B-2s clean, low drag flying wing configuration not only provides exceptional range but is also beneficial to reducing its radar profile. The flying wing design most closely resembles a so called infinite flat plate, as vertical control surfaces dramatically increase RCS, the perfect stealth shape, as it would lack angles to reflect back radar waves. Without vertical surfaces to reflect radar laterally, a reduction of side aspect radar occurs. Radars operating at a lower frequency band, S or L band are able to detect and track certain stealth aircraft that have multiple control surfaces, like canards or vertical stabilizers, where the frequency wavelength can exceed a certain threshold and cause a resonant effect. The B-2 is composed of many curved and rounded surfaces across its exposed airframe to deflect radar beams. This technique, known as continuous curvature, made possible by advances in computational fluid dynamics, and first tested on the Northrop Tacit Blue.
Burying the engines, four General Electric F118-GE-100 turbofans, deep inside the fuselage minimizes the thermal visibility or infrared signature of the exhaust. At the engine intake, cold air from the boundary layer below the main inlet enters the fuselage mixes with hot exhaust air just before the nozzles. According to the Stefan–Boltzmann law, this results in less energy, less thermal radiation in the infrared spectrum, and a reduced heat signature. The resulting cooler air flows over a surface composed of heat resistant carbon fiber reinforced polymer and titanium alloy elements, which disperse the air laterally, in order to accelerate cooling. The B-2 lacks afterburners as the hot exhaust would increase the infrared footprint. Breaking the sound barrier would produce an obvious sonic boom as well as aerodynamic heating of the aircraft skin which would also increase the infrared footprint.
The use of various radar absorbent materials to absorb and neutralize radar beams delivers additional reduction in the radar signature. The majority of the B-2 consists of a carbon graphite composite material that is stronger than steel, lighter than aluminum, and absorbs a significant amount of radar energy. Northrop Grumman developed a radar absorbent coating to preserve the B-2’s stealth characteristics while drastically reducing maintenance time. Four independently controlled robots apply the new material, known as Alternate High Frequency Material, AHFM.
The B-2 uses unusually tight engineering assembly tolerances to avoid leaks that could increase its radar signature. Innovations such as alternate high frequency material and automated material application methods improve the aircraft’s radar absorbent properties and reduce maintenance requirements. In order to protect the operational integrity of its sophisticated radar absorbent material and coatings, each B-2 parks inside a climate controlled hangar large enough to accommodate its 172 foot wingspan. The need for specialized hangars arose in 1998 when the Air Force found that B-2s passing through Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, did not have the climate controlled environment maintenance operations required.
The first operational aircraft, christened Spirit of Missouri, arrived at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., on Dec. 17, 1993. The B-2 reached initial operational capability on Jan. 1, 1997. Depot maintenance for the B-2 uses U.S. Air Force contractor support and managed at Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
The B-2s combat debut was in 1999, during the Kosovo War. It was responsible for destroying thirty-three percent of selected Serbian bombing targets in the first eight weeks of U.S. involvement in the War. During this war, six B-2s flew non-stop to Kosovo from their home base in Missouri and back, totaling 30 hours. Although the bombers accounted fifty sorties out of a total of 34,000 NATO sorties, they dropped eleven percent of all bombs.
In response to organizational issues and high profile mistakes made within the Air Force, all of the B-2s, along with the nuclear capable B-52s and the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, moved to the newly formed Air Force Global Strike Command on Feb. 1, 2010.
Being a B-2 pilot means experiencing the rush of takeoff and the pressure of weapons drops while flying in the nation’s only stealth bomber. But it also involves having to manage nap times with your co-pilot during daylong plus flights. “After you do a few, anything under twenty hours doesn’t seem like a big deal,” said Capt. Chris Thunder Beck.
At the outset of a B-2 mission, most pilots will spend a lot of time planning missions as well as learning how to balance obligations like takeoff, weapons activity, and aerial refueling with rest, said Lt. Col. Niki Rogue Polidor, a B-2 pilot. “When you’re faced with a twenty-four hour mission, or a long duration mission, you really get into the details of who is going to do what task, and how we’re going to manage our sleep,” she said. The timing of every task needs to be set in advance “so that we’re both prepared to be in the seat, ready to go, for all the air refueling and the weapons activity, and then of course landing.”
Usually, pilots can work in naps, each numbering a couple hours, but “it depends on our route of flight, where our refuelings are place along that route, and where our weapons activity is,” Polidor said.
Whiteman Air Force Base maintains a staff of doctors and physiologists that specialize in how protracted flying can impact the human body. These officials help pilots learn techniques to improve their performance over long endurance missions, and update experienced pilots with new information about how to prevent fatigue.
“There is a way you can shift that circadian rhythm back and forth by getting the appropriate amount of sleep, shifting your sleep schedule and even modifying diet,” said Capt. Caleb James, a doctor with the 509th Medical Group. For especially long missions, James said doctors will prescribe medication “in the event that those members need that little bit of extra push to help them stay focused on the mission.”
• Crew: 2: pilot (left seat) and mission commander (right seat)
• Length: 69 ft 0 in
• Wingspan: 172 ft 0 in
• Height: 17 ft 0 in
• Wing area: 5,140 sq ft
• Empty weight: 158,000 lb
• Gross weight: 336,500 lb
• Max takeoff weight: 376,000 lb
• Fuel capacity: 167,000 pounds
• Powerplant: 4 × General Electric F118-GE-100 non-afterburning turbofans, 17,300 lbf thrust each
• Maximum speed: 630 mph at 40,000 ft altitude / Mach 0.95 at sea level
• Cruise speed: 560 mph at 40,000 ft altitude
• Range: 6,900 mi
• Service ceiling: 50,000 ft
• Wing loading: 67.3 lb/sq ft
• Thrust/weight: 0.205
2 internal bays for ordnance and payload with an official limit of 40,000 lb maximum estimated limit is 50,000 lb
80× 500 lb class bombs (Mk-82, GBU-38) mounted on Bomb Rack Assembly (BRA)
36× 750 lb CBU class bombs on BRA
16× 2,000 lb class bombs (Mk-84, GBU-31) mounted on Rotary Launcher Assembly (RLA)
16× B61 or B83 nuclear bombs on RLA
Standoff weapon: AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) and AGM-158 Joint Air to surface Standoff Missile (JASSM)