This month marked the 25th anniversary of the first public flight of the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit “stealth bomber” on July 17, 1989. While the radical “flying wing” attracted a great deal of attention at the time, it was not a new concept, and in fact was similar to a planform seen before from Northrop in the shape of the YB-35 and YB-49 bombers. Controversial for its expense during its early development – it was literally worth more than its weight in gold in 1989 dollars – the B-2 production run was limited to 21 aircraft. Original plans to procure 132 B-2s collapsed along with the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The B-2 can attack from low level to 50,000 feet, and has a range of 6,000 miles unrefueled. B-2s have flown round-trip bombing missions from their base in Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., to Serbia, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. The bombers today remain one of the strongest assets supporting American deterrence and presence.
The Spirit can carry up to eighty 500-pound (230 kg) JDAM guided bombs, or sixteen 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear freefall bombs, as well as the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), Gator mines, and other munitions, including the 30,000-pound MOP, or Massive Ordnance Penetrator. The fleet continues to be upgraded with new radars, electronics, and other improvements.
The fleet stands at 20 today, after a B-2 crashed on takeoff from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Moisture in its air data sensors caused incorrect information on speed, pitch, and altitude to be sent to the flight computer, causing the aircraft to pitch up into a stall.