After a decade of top secret development and controversy, the B-2 stealth bomber is unveiled at a ceremony at Northrop’s plant in Palmdale, Calif. The aircraft is the most advanced jet ever made, with extensive use of composite materials, sensors and systems to reduce all aspects of its signature — radar, electronic and infrared.
But with Cold War tensions already declining, the program for 132 jets came under fire for high cost even before the new four-engine bomber made its first flight. Eventually, the program was capped at 21 planes that cost some $40 billion to develop and deliver. The B-2 was eventually named the Spirit.
The program was born during the Carter administration to develop a new generation of strategic bomber capable of penetrating ever improving Soviet air defenses. During the Vietnam War, the Air Force alone lost more than 1,700 aircraft to hostile action, including 19 B-52 bomber — the first one was lost on Nov. 22, 1972, during the heaviest bomber strike on North Vietnam.
The expected capabilities of the B-2 prompted the Carter administration to cancel the B-1 conventional bomber, then a supersonic aircraft. Development delays and rising costs, however, prompted the Reagan administration to restart a restructured B-1 effort.
Of 21 B-2s delivered, one crashed at Anderson Air Base in Guam on Feb. 23, 2008. Two years later another B-2 was seriously damaged by tailpipe fire, also at Anderson.