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Air Force celebrates the Year of the B-2

Published: Wed February 20th, 2013 via: US Air Force

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo.  -- Team Whiteman and Air Force Global Strike Command are celebrating a major milestone in Air Force history in 2013 by marking the 20th anniversary of the delivery of the first B-2 Spirit bomber to Whiteman Air Force Base.

"2013 is a significant year for the 509th Bomb Wing, Team Whiteman, and the entire United States Air Force," said Brig. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing. "For 20 years, the B-2 has defended America as a strategic deterrent, and when called upon by the commander-in-chief, the B-2 has led the way in combat for each of our nation's past four armed conflicts."

The B-2 program traces its origins back to the Advanced Technology Bomber of 1979, which was born at a time when the United States was interested in developing a new strategic bomber capable of striking targets in the Soviet Union.

Central to the new bomber was the concept of 'stealth,' or the ability to evade enemy radar through a combination of advanced materials and innovative aircraft design. These new capabilities would ensure that the bomber leg of the nuclear triad would remain a viable strike option, even in some of the world's most heavily defended airspace.

The 31st anniversary of a notable B-2 milestone occurred earlier this month; in 1981, Northrop Grumman Chief Test Pilot Dick Thomas flew the technology demonstrator TACIT BLUE for the first time, from a classified location in Nevada. TACIT BLUE was the first airplane to demonstrate low radar cross-section using curved surfaces. This flight came a year after Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract for a planned fleet of 127 aircraft.

Design and production continued through the 1980s, and the B-2 was first unveiled in 1988. Only a few years later, however, the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent cuts to the defense budget saw the planned fleet size drop first to 75 aircraft, then to its current size of 21 aircraft.

Each one is named for a state, except for two - the Spirit of Kitty Hawk and the Spirit of America.

"The introduction of the B-2 into America's arsenal truly can be considered a revolution in military aviation," said Dave Easley, 509th Bomb Wing historian. "The combination of its unique survivability and its tremendous bombing accuracy really marked the first time when the fundamental calculus of air combat changed from the number of aircraft sorties required to destroy a target, to how many targets could be destroyed by a single sortie."

The first major anniversary this year will be April 1, when the 509th Bomb Wing celebrates 20 years of service since its activation in 1993. April 1 will also be the 16th anniversary of the wing's declaration that the B-2 had achieved initial operational capability.

Throughout the year, the Air Force will celebrate other key milestones in the B-2 program, including each of the four combat deployments the B-2 has contributed to since its delivery to Whiteman Air Force Base.

Although it was originally designed as a strategic bomber, one of the earliest modifications to the B-2 enabled it to deliver conventional munitions, as well. Those capabilities were put to use in Kosovo in 1999, when B-2 bombers flew 1 percent of NATO sorties, but struck 11 percent of the alliance's targets.

The B-2 was America's first response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, striking Taliban positions in Afghanistan and opening the way for additional American forces to enter the country.

In 2003, B-2s dropped the first bombs in the "shock and awe" campaign that opened Operation Iraqi Freedom. B-2s were responsible for dropping more than a million pounds of bombs in total on Saddam Hussein's forces.

Most recently, the B-2 led the way in Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn, when three B-2s flew more than 25 hours from Whiteman AFB to destroy virtually the entire Libyan air force on the ground. The bombers dropped 45 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions on hardened aircraft shelters, destroying the planes and helicopters inside and removing Muammar Qaddafi's ability to harm his people from the air.

The year's most significant date will be Dec. 17, when the wing will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the delivery of the Spirit of Missouri, the first B-2 bomber to arrive at Whiteman. Dec. 17 was also the date when the 509th Composite Group, commanded by Col. Paul Tibbets Jr., was activated at Wendover, Utah, in 1944, and the date in 1903 when the Wright brothers made their first powered, heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, NC.

"The weapon system has come a long way from the simple spruce flyer of the Wright brothers," said Bussiere. "The B-2 remains our nation's most modern and effective form of defense, and will continue to protect our interests here and abroad for many years to come."

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