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The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit (also known as the Stealth Bomber) is an American strategic bomber, featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is able to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons. The bomber has a crew of two and can drop up to eighty 500 lb (230 kg)-class JDAM GPS-guided bombs, or sixteen 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear bombs. The B-2 is the only aircraft that can carry large air-to-surface standoff weapons in a stealth configuration.
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 negatively affect the aircraft's stealth capabilities. The flight actuation system incorporates both hydraulic and electrical servoactuated components, and it was designed with a high level of redundancy and fault-diagnostic capabilities.
Northrop had investigated several means of applying directional control that would least 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-2's aerodynamic design process early on; thrust not only affects drag and lift but pitching and rolling motions as well. 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 has been attained.
The B-2's low-observable, or "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 to evade the various detection systems that could be used to detect and be used to direct attacks against an aircraft. The majority of the B-2 is made out of a carbon-graphite composite material that is stronger than steel and lighter than aluminium; perhaps most crucially, it also absorbs a significant amount of radar energy. Reportedly, the B-2 Spirit has a radar signature of about 0.1 m2.
In contrast to the flat surfaces of the earlier F-117 Nighthawk, the B-2 is composed of many curved and rounded surfaces across its exposed airframe to deflect radar beams. Additional reduction in its radar signature was achieved by the use of various radar-absorbent materials (RAM) to absorb and neutralise radar beams. The B-2's clean, low-drag flying wing configuration not only gives it exceptional range but is also beneficial to reducing its radar profile.
Another design feature is the placement of the engines, which are buried within the wing to conceal the engines' fans and minimize thermal visibility of the exhaust. The original design had tanks for a contrail-inhibiting chemical, but this was replaced in production aircraft by a contrail sensor that alerts the crew when they should change altitude. To reduce optical visibility during daylight operations, the B-2 is painted in an anti-reflective paint.
Innovations such as alternate high-frequency material (AHFM) and automated material application methods were also incorporated into the aircraft to enhance its radar-absorbent properties and lower maintenance requirements. In early 2004, Northrop Grumman began applying a newly-developed AHFM to operational B-2s. In order to protect the operational integrity of its sophisticated radar absorbent material and coatings, each B-2 is kept inside a climate-controlled hangar large enough to accommodate its 172-foot (52 m) wingspan
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
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); ANG: 0; Reserve: 0
Source: www.northropgrumman.com | www.af.mil | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Grumman_B-2_Spirit
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