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30 years of Spirit: US Air Force celebrates the B-2 stealth bomber

You would be forgiven for mistaking it for a UFO, but the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit strategic bomber has become one of the greatest force multiplying platforms in support of US and allied operations around the world.

July marks 30 years since the Northrop Grumman-designed B-2 Spirit first took to the skies. Three decades later, the iconic flying wing is more advanced than ever and in a class of its own. Morphing with the times, the B-2’s avionics technology, stealth and armament have evolved to ensure US air dominance.

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Richard Sullivan, vice president and B-2 program manager, Northrop Grumman, said, "The individual contributions of our employees build on an enduring legacy of partnership and ingenuity with the US Air Force that is now 30 years strong and still going."

The B-2 program is a prime example of how blending original designs and experienced employees with innovative technologies, newly hired software engineers and first-time technicians can change the future of aviation for the better. It is also one of many qualities of the B-2 program that enables the stealth bomber fleet to remain ready.

The B-2 can lay claim to several accomplishments since its first flight 30 years ago. During its legendary combat debut in Operation Allied Force, the stealth bomber flew less than 1 per cent of the total missions, yet destroyed 33 per cent of the targets in the first eight weeks of the conflict. The B-2 also set a record with a 44-hour air combat mission in 2001.

Its ability to penetrate enemy territory undetected is why it’s been called to duty in the opening phases of several conflicts including Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Odyssey Dawn and Operation Odyssey Lightning.

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As the only US aircraft that combines stealth, long-range, heavy payload and precision munitions, its successes could not be more impactful as the US Air Force prepares to cross the threshold to a predominately stealth air force of low observable bombers, fighters and weapons. 

The B-2 is expected to be complemented by the Northrop Grumman-designed and built B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) beginning in the mid-2020s.

30 years of Spirit: US Air Force celebrates the B-2 stealth bomber
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