This information is reproduced with permission from AboveTopSecret.com
In the late 1950's the American CIA began
sending Lockheed U2 spy planes over the Soviet Union to take intelligence
photographs. The U2's flew at 80,000ft (24,000m) to be out of range of anti-aircraft
fire, but it then became clear that radar was not detecting them.
The F-117A Nighthawk is the world's first operational aircraft designed to exploit low-observable stealth technology. The unique design of the single-seat F-117A provides exceptional combat capabilities. About the size of an F-15 Eagle, the twin-engine aircraft is powered by two General Electric F404 turbofan engines and has quadruple redundant fly-by-wire flight controls. Air refuelable, it supports worldwide commitments and adds to the deterrent strength of the U.S. military forces.
The F-117A can employ a variety of weapons and is equipped with sophisticated navigation and attack systems integrated into a state-of-the-art digital avionics suite that increases mission effectiveness and reduces pilot workload. Detailed planning for missions into highly defended target areas is accomplished by an automated mission planning system developed, specifically, to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the F-117A.
The first stealth fighters were flown by Lockheed C-5 Galaxy cargo plane to Groom Dry Lake, where they took to the air for the first time in June 1981. Security was of a very extreme nature. Unauthorized ground personnel were required to remain indoors when a stealth jet emerged from its hangar. Test flights were made mostly at night, their schedule arranged to avoid overflights by Soviet reconnaissance satellites. The Nellis Range is also home to the Air Force's "Red Flag" air combat exercises, which involve aircraft and pilots of American and several foreign military aviation services. Those other aircraft were kept away from the Groom area by an airborne screen of security aircraft.
Despite the F-117A's 33 percent increase in physical size over the prototype, the stealth fighter's RCS measured between .01 and .001 square meters - about that of a small bird. For instance, compared to a McDonnell Douglas F-4G Phantom typically used for "Wild Weasel" anti-radar missions, which has a head-on RCS of 6 meters, the F-117 was able to get 90 percent closer to ground-based search radars, and 98 percent closer to airborne radars, before being detected.
The first F-117A was delivered in 1982. The F-117A production decision was made in 1978 with a contract awarded to Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, the "Skunk Works," in Burbank, California. The first flight was in 1981, only 31 months after the full-scale development decision. Air Combat Command's only F-117A unit, the 4450th Tactical Group, (now the 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.), achieved operational capability in October 1983.
Having outgrown the Groom Lake facilities, the stealth unit operates out of the remote Tonopah Test Range airfield in the northwest corner of the Nellis Range. Although overlooked by public land, the Tonopah facility is 40 desert miles from the nearest town.
Streamlined management by Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson AFB , Ohio, combined breakthrough stealth technology with concurrent development and production to rapidly field the aircraft. The F-117A program has demonstrated that a stealth aircraft can be designed for reliability and maintainability. The aircraft maintenance statistics are comparable to other tactical fighters of similar complexity. Logistically supported by Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan AFB, California, the F-117A is kept at the forefront of technology through a planned weapon system improvement program located at USAF Plant 42 at Palmdale, California.
The U.S. Air Force/Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is a strategic, long-range heavy bomber. Its low-observable stealth technology and all-altitude operational envelope give it the capability to penetrate the most sophisticated air defenses.
After being developed under a blanket of secrecy, the high-tech B-2 Stealth bomber was unveiled at the Northrop company's manufacturing plant in Palmdale, California, on 22 November 1988. An audience of invited guests and journalists was kept well away from the plane which was designed to slip through enemy radar defences without being detected and then drop up to 16 nuclear bombs on key targets.
Its first flight was July 17, 1989. The B-2 Combined Test Force located at Air Force Flight Test Center, part of Edwards Air Force Base, California, is responsible for the engineering, manufacturing and flight testing of the development aircraft as they are produced.
The prime contractor, responsible for overall system design and integration, is Northrop Grumman's Military Aircraft Systems Division. Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Hughes Radar Systems Group and General Electric Aircraft Engine Group are key members of the aircraft contractor team. Another major contractor, responsible for aircrew training devices (weapon system trainer and mission trainer) is Hughes Training Inc. (HTI) - Link Division, formerly known as CAE - Link Flight Simulation Corp. Northrop Grumman and its major subcontractor HTI, are responsible for developing and integrating all aircrew and maintenance training programs.
To help achieve radar invisibility, the bomber is coated with radar-absorbent paint on its leading edge. A similar technology is used underwater to foil sonar detection. Modern submarines are coated in a thick layer of a top-secret resin which is highly absorbent acoustically, and reflects only a minute amount of the energy transmitted by sonar detectors.
The B-2's low-observability means that it does not need an armada of support aircraft to accomplish a mission, and its large payload allows it to do the work of many smaller attack aircraft. The revolutionary blending of low-observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload gives the B-2 important advantages over existing bombers. Its low-observability provides it greater freedom of action at high altitudes, thus increasing its range and a better field of view for the aircraft's sensors. The Air Force has published a representative mission scenario showing that two B-2's armed with precision weapons can do the job of a package of 75 conventional aircraft. Only four crew members are put at risk in this mission, compared to 132 in the conventional aircraft package.
The B-2's low-observability is derived from a combination of reduced infra-red, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual and radar signatures. These signatures make it difficult for sophisticated defensive systems to detect, track and engage the B-2. Many aspects of the low-observability process remain classified; however, the B-2's composite materials, special coatings and flying-wing design all contribute to its "stealthiness."
The B-2 can fly more than 6,000 nautical miles unrefueled and more than 10,000 nautical miles with just one refueling, giving it the ability to fly to any point on the globe within hours.
Whiteman AFB, Missouri, is the B-2's only operational base. The first aircraft, Spirit of Missouri, was delivered on 17 December 1993. Depot maintenance responsibility for the B-2 is performed by Air Force contractor support and is managed at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.
Tests show that with its low observable characteristics, the B-2 is the most survivable aircraft in the world. Northrop Grumman Corporation, the prime contractor, produces the B-2 at facilities in Pico Rivera and Palmdale, California. For Further Reading On The B-2 Bomber Click Here .