Saturday, September 30, 2023

Sneaky B-2 Stealth Bomber Image May be Reason for Strict B-21 Reveal

  • The US Air Force unveiled its stealth bomber, B-21 Raider, on December 2.
  • Officials tightened control over how much of the bomber was visible, and security was tight.
  • It could have been an effort not to repeat what happened last time a sneaky bomber was revealed.

Security was tight when the US Air Force revealed its new stealth bomber B-21 Raider stealth bomber December 2.

Journalists and spectators were unable to see the front of the aircraft, so details were difficult to discern. The event was held on a runway, and it was not in open air.

Instead, the rollout was done after sunset at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale plant, California. The bomber was partially in a hangar. This could be due to what happened last time the Air Force revealed a stealth bomber.

On November 22, 1988, as armed guards patrolled the tarmac and a Huey helicopter circled overhead, the world got a chance to see the B-2 Spirit — the predecessor of the B-21 in look and function — at the same Palmdale facility.

The B-2’s front was not visible to the public, as was the case with the B-21. This was frustrating for those who wanted a view of the rear of B-2, including the distinctive trailing edges, engine exhausts, and tailing edges of the tailless flying wing bomber. These would provide clues about the aircraft’s capabilities as well as its stealthiness.

Despite Pentagon efforts to limit the amount of B-2 that could be seen, the bomber’s unique characteristics were soon visible to the rest of the world through a series events worthy of a spy story or a comedy.

“Why should they care?”

B-2 stealth bomber rollout Palmdale

The B-2A rollout ceremony at Plant 42 in Palmdale, November 22, 1988.

US Air Force

Aviation Week magazine’s photographers and reporters were able to get a close-up view of the B-2 through security gaps at the Pentagon. It was an incredible feat of aviation journalism.

“One of our driving functions was to get us into this mod was, “Hey, they were going to pull that thing out of their hangar into open, I can guarantee that the Russians will have a satellite overhead,” William Scott (retired Aviation Week editor) said about the effort to get the photo.

“And if they don’t care that the Russians see the trailing edge or not, why should the powers be concerned about the American people?” Scott told Aviation Week in an articleAbout the photo scoop published on a day that coincided with the B-21’s launch.

The team considered many options, including flying a hot air balloon over the B-2. This idea was dropped because of safety concerns. Eventually they noticed that FAA’s notice to airmen — an alert known as a NOTAM — didn’t restrict flights in the area that were above 1,000 feet.

Aviation Week editor Michael Dornheim, and photographer Bill Hartenstein flew a rented Cessna 172 from Palmdale Airport on the weekend before the B-2 was revealed.

“Dornheim performed several circuits, touch-and-gos in order to dispel any suspicions from air traffic control, while Hartenstein tested out various telephoto lenses to ensure he would have the best images,” Aviation Week senior editor Guy Norris wrote.

When the big day arrived, security kept the crowd within 200 feet of the aircraft’s front while the Huey helicopter, which hovered low, kept an eye on intruders. Hartenstein took photo after picture of the Cessna flying overhead, but it went unnoticed.

Scott stated that Hartenstein and Dornheim were “just giddy” when the plane landed. “They weren’t hollered at in anyway by ATC,” Scott stated. [air traffic control]I told them that I hadn’t seen anyone looking up.”

The team raced to meet Thanksgiving week deadlines. Hartenstein’s film was dispatched on an overnight FedEx flight to New York and emerged in the pages of Aviation Week as a beautiful, full-color photo of the B-2 — its trailing edges and exhausts fully visible.

US Air Force B-2 stealth bomber

A US Air Force B-2 stealth bomber.

Mai/Getty Images

Scott received a call from Col. Richard Couch (director of the B-2 combined testing force at Edwards Air Force Base), a few days later. Couch said that some “civilians,” had promised that their heads would overturn the leak. Couch said that he told them “to forget it.” We thought you guys at Aviation Week would do such a thing anyway!”

Thirty-four more years later, security at B-21’s ceremony was tight on the ground and in flight.

According to Brian Everstine of Aviation Week, who covered this rollout, officials imposed “very, very strict cameras regulations” and banned reporters from bringing in cameras and recording devices into certain areas.

Everstine mentioned that in the risers, reporters were seated. A very ornery security officer measured tripods and cameras to make sure they weren’t higher than allowed. Check 6 podcast.

The US officials issued a NOTAM this year, closing the airspace above and beyond the event. Everstine said that the US officials didn’t remove the aircraft completely from the hangar. “Even though there were people above, you wouldn’t see the trailing edge.”

Secret, but not long

B-21 Raider bomber

A B-21 Raider in cover during a rehearsal to its unveiling ceremony at Plant 42, Palmdale, December 1.

US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Joshua M. Carroll

Is it really necessary to keep all this secret? Photographs can tell the enemy much about a weapon.

A certain amount of covertness is acceptable for stealth aircraft, which have surfaces that are designed to minimize radar waves.

An aircraft must, on the other hand to pass its tests, leave the hangar and be exposed to the public.

The first flight of the B-21 is expected to take place in mid-2023. More photos will be taken at that time. However, program officials claim they will keep the bomber’s tail area secret for as long as possible. according to Air & Space Forces Magazine.

This assumes that foreign spies aren’t already able to uncover the secrets.

B-21 Raider bomber

After its unveiling on December 2, the B-21 Raider.

US Air Force

Particularly, Beijing is suspected to be fueling its rapid military progress through the widespread theft of intellectual propertyMaterials included related to crucial hardware like aircraft engines.

In 2010, a Northrop engineer who was a former engineer was convicted for selling classified information — including details about the lock-on range for infrared missiles against the B-2 — to China.

Edward Snowden, whistleblower for the National Security Agency, released documents that suggested that in 2015 Chinese hackers had stolen plansFor the F-35. China almost certainly used the stolen data to create its J-21, J-31. stealth fightersThese are all possible. resemble the F-35.

Despite the secrecy surrounding B-21, it wouldn’t surprise if Russia and China knew more about the matter. $700 millionIt is more expensive than the US taxpayers who fund it.

Michael Peck is a defense journalist whose work has appeared among others such as Forbes, Defense News and Foreign Policy magazine. He is a master’s student in political science. Follow him on Twitter LinkedIn.

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