B-2 Spirit at the 2005 Edwards AFB Air-show

It was disappointing when we heard over the radio scanner on Saturday that the B-2 Spirit display had been

cancelled because of mechanical problems, especially since I'd heard that the Edwards show is one of the

very few places where it's possible to see the B-2 banking at close range.   To be honest, we'd been hearing

its engines behind us for quite some time and we could see people working on it, so it didn't come as a total

surprise when the cancellation came through.   However, shortly afterwards there was the B-2 taxiing out for

its performance!   In this photo, not only can you see the "stealth bomber", but on the other side of the field in

the static display area you can see the F-117 "stealth fighter", which really should be the A-117 "stealth strike

plane", especially now that a true stealth fighter in the form of the F-22 Raptor is in service.

 

 

Here's the extraordinary beast on its takeoff run; with no vertical tail it looks completely other-worldly, but it

actually flies much like any other more conventional aircraft.   This one is called "The Spirit of New York",

and is based here at Edwards rather than at Whiteman air force base in Missouri, which is the only operational

base for them in the continental United States.   You can see that they've put the Edwards "ED" tail code on

the landing gear door, since there's no tail to put it on!

 

The unusual scoops on top of the engine pods are auxiliary air intakes which are needed to get extra air flow

into the engines at low speeds.   They're rather similar to the auxiliary intakes on top of Russian fighters, but

the purpose is different, the Russians using theirs to reduce the probability of damage from ingesting foreign

objects on the runway during takeoff.

 

With no tail the stealth bomber relies on the control surfaces along the rear of the wing to minimize side-to-side

yawing motion; you can see one of those control surfaces deployed here.   During a mission these control

surfaces would make the aircraft more visible to radar, so it's thought that yaw is then eliminated by the

onboard computer systems applying differing thrusts from the engines on either side.   The funny looking

"beaver tail" at the rear of the cabin can be moved up and down to help control the pitch of the aircraft.

 

The four non-afterburning engines are buried within the wing.   Apart from everything else, this makes the

aircraft very quiet, it just whispers past you even at low altitude.

 

The B-2 might look futuristic, but the basic design isn't new at all, the same manufacturer Northrop did two very similar designs just after world war two, the propeller driven B-35 shown on the left and the jet driven B-49 on the right

 

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The B-35 and B-49 never entered service, but they did provide the inspiration for the B-2, which has exactly the same 172 foot wingspan as its predecessors.

As I mentioned, Edwards is just about the only air-show in the world where you'll actually see a B-2 doing

a banking pass at a public display.   The air force's preference for very tame demonstrations is largely

due to the high cost of each aircraft - somewhere between $2.2 and $2.4 billion apiece, making it by far

the most expensive plane in the world.   This price tag is primarily due to the small number built, only 21

rather than the 132 which were originally planned.   It's fortunate that any entered service at all, the cost of

the program and the reduced need for it in a post cold war era could have meant that it never got into

operation - where would we aviation enthusiasts have been if that had happened!   Still, it's sobering to

think that this plane is actually worth about twice its weight in gold, a pretty penny if ever there was one! 

 

In this close up view you can see an auxiliary inlet below and just in front of each of the engine inlets which removes the turbulent boundary layer air flow before it enters the engine.   The removed air is then remixed

with the exhaust gases to reduce the temperature signature from the engines and so decrease the stealth bomber's visibility to infra-red tracking equipment.

 

 

That large windshield just begs to have a Hawaiian hula dancer doll rocking around behind it!   As you

can imagine, the downward view is not good, but a sophisticated radar system makes up for that.   The

windows are very large, which makes the aircraft appear somewhat smaller than it actually is.   A metal

mesh is built into the windows to decrease radar penetration, similar to the mesh in a domestic microwave

oven which serves a similar purpose - preventing electromagnetic radiation from escaping.

 

    The previous banking shots were taken from the crowd side, but this one was taken from the south side of Edwards, as were all of the runway shots. 

 

    The dark spot to the left of the cabin is a glass port for the astro-inertial navigation system, which locks onto stars to determine location.   At high altitude this system works even in daytime, and is similar to a system which was used on the SR-71 Blackbird.   All B-2s now incorporate GPS receivers to make navigation even more precise, but the astro-navigation system is retained because it can't be jammed.

 

    The "D" shape on the cabin roof behind the cockpit houses the aerial-refueling receptacle, which gives the B-2 a range limited only by the endurance of its crew.

 

click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format

   

The B-2 was first used in combat in March of 2003 over Serbia, and was later deployed during operations

in Afghanistan and Iraq.   On some of these missions the B-2 left Missouri, bombed the target, flew to the

US base on the small island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and then a new crew was put on board

to immediately fly a return mission back to Missouri.

 

    The old and the new flying together during the mass flyby at the end of the show, a 1990s B-2 Spirit with a 1950s B-52 Stratofortress.

    Despite its unrivalled ability to penetrate heavily monitored and defended airspace, the B-2 is actually inferior to the B-52 in a number of ways, especially in its bomb carrying ability - the B-2 can only take 40,000 pounds (18 tonnes) of weapons compared to the B-52's 70,000 pounds (32 tonnes).

    However, the Spirit has excellent range - 6500 miles (12000 kilometers) without refueling, and it was
 sometimes flown on round trip bombing missions over Iraq from Missouri.   These missions took over
30 hours, and apparently one flight of 50 hours was done, which certainly would have required in-flight

This pass with lowered undercarriage is another thing you won't see at other public air-shows.

 

Flying wings are very efficient aerodynamically, with much less drag than ordinary aircraft.   The B-2 likes

to get into the air and is a little reluctant to come down, so the crews actually put some effort into forcing

the plane on a downward trajectory when landing, much like naval aviators flying onto aircraft carriers.

 

This angle shows off the unusual air intakes, which are mounted far back on top of the wing and have an

unusual angled shape, all in order to reduce the radar cross section of the plane.   Jet turbine compressor

blades have a nasty tendency to "twinkle" on radar screens as they spin, so the air duct is "S" shaped so

the blades aren't visible from any angle.   On the F-117 Nighthawk the compressor blades are hidden by

metal mesh at the front of the intakes, but this isn't an ideal solution since it impedes the airflow.

 

There is no drag chute, but one of the B-2's design criteria was the ability to operate from any airfield

useable by a 727 airliner, so the ailerons are used as air brakes to slow the aircraft down.   This design

feature was also used on Northrop's earlier flying wing bombers, and it's referred to as a "rudderon" or

"deceleron" because the same panels which are deflected apart to decelerate the plane are also moved

in tandem to act as rudders or ailerons.

 


Check out the Highlights of the 2005 Edwards AFB Air Show, the F-22 Raptor display at the 2005 Edwards AFB Air Show, or the F-117 Nighthawk display at the 2002 Royal International Air Tattoo.

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