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B-2 Spirit and B-21 Raider Draw Inevitable Comparisons

B-2 Spirit, B-21 Raider Draw Unavoidable Comparisons (Updated).

Bomber B-2

Air Force photo

PALMDALE, California — Only a few minutes before the new B-21 Raider was rolled out of its hangar in Northrop Grumman’s high desert facility, its predecessor the B-2 Spirit flew above the crowd as a company employee sang the National Anthem.

Comparisons between the two strategic bombers are inevitable as they are similar in shape — both so-called “flying wings.”

Northrop Grumman also built the B-2, which made its public debut in Air Force Hangar 42 at the contractor’s Palmdale factory almost 34 years ago.

Prior to the roll-out ceremony for the Raider, Northrop’s program manager for the B-2 Shaugn Reynolds stood in front of the Spirit of California, one of the 20 stealthy bombers remaining in the Air Force inventory.

“As the world’s only long-range penetrating strike platform, you can tell them the flying wing is here and alive and well,” He told reporters.

It may look so, but it’s not the same aircraft that the Air Force began operating at the tail end of the Cold War.

Reynolds stated that the Spirit of California was finishing a year-long renovation, where its stealth coating was removed and replaced by the most advanced radar-resistant material.

“Then we go through modifications — both structurally and with the avionics components — and refurbish them, pulling it all back together within 365 days,” He said. He said that B-2s are subject to a refit every nine years.

You can compare the new tech and materials to the iPhones a decade ago with what the public uses today. “That’s the technology advancements that you’re seeing here on the material side,” He said.

He was not allowed to talk about specifics but the radar cross measurement is the number that the program uses for assessing how “invisible” The B-2 is for enemy sensors, “significantly improved” He said that he was amazed at how it performed ten years ago.

He stated that the refurbished B-2 will undergo flight checks and be returned to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

Choosing the flying wing design wasn’t a given, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics Andrew Hunter, told reporters later. “There were thousands of designs proposed and this was the winning design,” He said.

Kathy Warden, Northrop Grumman’s president and CEO, stated, “We iterated … on thousands of designs before picking the design that met the aircraft requirements, and the flying wing is the best alternative for meeting those requirements and affordability targets,” She said.

The company’s experience building a stealthy flying wing has helped in the development of the B-21 Raider, Reynolds said.

“We look at the B-2 as risk reduction for the B-21,” He said. He added that one of the greatest benefits to building both flying wings was in manufacturing techniques.

“We still have technicians that are still with the company that did the [B-2] production line,” He said. He added that they are experts in the manufacturing process.

Meanwhile, the B-21’s development has helped keep the B-2 relevant as some of the technologies in the new program have been integrated into Spirit, he said.

One similarity between the two bombers Northrop Grumman and the Air Force wouldn’t want to see is the B-2’s history in Congress. The original plan was to build more than 70 bombers. However, program costs escalated with the Cold War approaching and only 21 Spirits were built. One Spirit was later lost in a crash.

The Air Force aims to acquire 100 B-21 raiders for $550 million each by 2010. Hunter and Warden confirmed the program is on-time and within budget, but did not update the cost per aircraft.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Shaugn Reynolds’ first name.

Topics: Air Force News, Air Power, Tactical Aircraft

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