The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is not precisely new, with an even newer version, the B-21 Raider, coming shortly. And yet, there is no chance that Russia or China could match the capabilities of this decades-old stealth bomber anytime soon. Here is how one expert detailed the B-2: I once saw a B-2 Spirit bomber in action at an air show. The Air Force told us this was a rare public glimpse of the stealth flying wing as only 21 were produced. It was impressive and awe-inspiring as it went through its paces during the expo. This airplane was designed to change the balance of the Cold War with its power and long-range. Costing at least $2 billion each in today’s dollars, the bomber showed how the Air Force viewed the B-2 as a huge asset.
You May Not Know This
The B-2 has enjoyed a colorful history. There was once a husband and wife who were both B-2 pilots. Lt. Col. John Avery and Lt. Col. Jennifer Avery were the first husband and wife pilot team to fly the stealth bomber.
First Woman To Fly A B-2 Happened in 2002
There were only 700 people in history to have crewed the B-2. The B-2 has five airmen on board – two pilots, two navigators and one electronic warfare officer. 500 people have been pilots over the years with ten women aviators. The first woman pilot to fly a B-2 in 2002 was Lt. Col. Jennifer Avery. Yes that’s the same woman who married John Avery – the other B-2 pilot to make the husband and wife team. Avery recalled her mix of excitement and nerves that made her forget a key piece of her flight uniform on that historic day – her left-hand glove.
Small Problem on that First Flight By a Woman Pilot
Aerotech News recounted the first mission with a woman aviator on the B-2. “When she was collecting her parachute, helmet and other gear, she grabbed two right-handed gloves. Avery didn’t realize this until she was in the cockpit, and it was time to taxi. So, she wore one glove backwards and hoped the instructor pilot sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with her didn’t notice. He did.” But it was a successful flight, nonetheless.
Crew Members Can Warm Up a Cup of Coffee With the Microwave
The B-2 had to be modified for woman pilots who flew with male pilots. The airplane’s bathroom needed a privacy curtain. Sometimes the flight could last dozens of hours with the record flight having a 44 hour duration. The airplane even has a bed to take quick naps and a microwave to warm up chow.
The Build Up to Drop Bombs
Long missions are a fact of life for the crew. Captain Mike Haffner, a B-2 pilot with the 13th Bomb Squadron, told Defense News that the main thing is to stay alert. “When you get started in that mission, [it’s important] to not get lulled into a false sense of security because you feel like you have 12 hours or more to get over to the target area,” he said. “You’ve got to be productive and get things done, so you can start taking turns taking naps and getting ahead of that, because as soon as you get behind the power curve, it’s kind of hard to recover.”
Doctors Study Long-Distance Flight Effects
The bomber has a fly-by-wire system, and some pilots describe the experience akin to the way a commercial airliner would feel at the controls. The crew can choose to drink coffee to stay awake, but that creates the need for more bathroom breaks. There is even medical staff at Whiteman Air Force Base Missouri, where the bomber is kept, that studies how long-distance flight affects the human body.
Fast Facts About the B-2
The B-2 program began when Jimmy Carter was president in the late 1970s. Originally, the Air Force wanted over 100 bombers but budget cuts after the Cold War nixed that number and now only 20 are operational. Designers claim the airplane has a radar signature the size of a “pigeon.” It first went to combat in Kosovo in 1999. No B-2 has ever been lost in a conflict, but it costs $135,000 an hour to operate.
The B-2 will eventually be replaced by the next-generation B-21 Raider. It’s enjoyed a good ride. I can’t think of another warplane with both a husband and wife as pilots. These crews prove that people can withstand almost two full days in an airplane. Try to get to an air show someday so you can see that big flying wing approach you, it is will be a flight you’ll always remember.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.