Long shrouded by cold war mystique the most expensive plane ever built or designed, has finally emerged from the shadows to appear in a High Definition video by the United States Air Force. This came on the eve of the announced selection of Northrop Grumman as the winner of the Long Range Bomber Project, a $50 billion contest between Boeing-Lockheed and Northrop Grumman, by the Pentagon. Nobody knows what the successor B-3 will look like, nor how many of the super expensive jets will be ever made. Some twenty examples of the B-2 were made before a peace dividend was announced cutting off production of these birds in the late 1990's.
The photos were taken by this writer in the skies over New York Harbor fleet week in July 2000. It was eerie quiet as it wangled its wings to the crowd below, which included President William Clinton and yours truly on the deck of the United States aircraft carrier, John F. Kennedy, the silence as it passed by was mesmerizing. In a parade of a hundred ships and dozens of aircraft celebrating the new millenium, this one plane stole the show.
A few years later in a cigar lounge at the Union League Club of NY a B-2 pilot was there as a guest and described the joys of flying this special jet. Specifically the pilot flew the opening raid of the Iraq War in 2003, targeting a bunker rumored to be the hide out of Saddam Hussein. It was the opening act of what has since been called shock and awe. Strangely enough (that word is most appropriate for this aircraft) the pilot said the closest they came to being nervous was the approach from North America over Europe en route to Baghdad. Once past British air traffic controllers, the American pilot flicked off the transponders and the big plane went dark. Almost deliberately they flew the airspace over both Paris and Berlin, a deliberate middle finger to erst while allies absent from the effort to topple Saddam Hussein. Dark to civilian radar is one thing, but when this transponder went off, this two billion dollar bird went invisible to the entire radar command of the North Atlantic Treaty organization. NATO radars were designed to micromanage the airspace over Europe in case of a war with the Soviet Union, and with a flick of a switch, the bird just vanished.
Once the bombing run over Baghdad completed, they flew all the way back to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, but if you ever have the chance to speak to a B-2 pilot, this was the day they remembered best. Thirty thousand feet over Paris and utterly invisible.