The Most Expensive Aircraft Ever Built: Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit

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The Northrop (later Northrop Grumman) B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is an American heavy strategic bomber, featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses. Designed during the Cold War, it is a flying wing design with a crew of two. The B-2 is the only acknowledged aircraft that can carry large air-to-surface standoff weapons in a stealth configuration.

The B-2 development program was initiated in 1981, and the Air Force was granted approval in 1987 to begin procurement of 132 operational B-2 aircraft, principally for strategic bombing missions. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the emphasis of B-2 development was changed to conventional operations and the number was reduced to 20 operational aircraft, plus 1 test aircraft that was not planned to be upgraded to an operational configuration. Production of these aircraft has been concurrent with development and testing.

The B-2 Spirit is a low-observable, strategic, long-range, heavy bomber capable of penetrating sophisticated and dense air-defence shields. 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.” It is capable of all-altitude attack missions up to 50,000ft, with a range of more than 6,000nm unrefuelled and over 10,000nm with one refuelling, giving it the ability to fly to any point in the world within hours. Its distinctive profile comes from the unique ‘flying wing’ construction. The leading edges of the wings are angled at 33° and the trailing edge has a double-W shape.

The aircraft carries all its weapons internally and is fitted with two separate weapons bays in the centre of the aircraft. The B-2 stealth bomber has the capacity to carry up to 40,000lb of weapons, including conventional and nuclear weapons, precision-guided munitions, gravity bombs and a range of maritime weapons. The aircraft is powered by four General Electric F118-GE-100 turbofan engines internally mounted in the body of the wings.

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