Tag Archives: B-2 Spirit

What’s this mysterious aircraft spotted at Edwards AFB? The secretive B-21 Raider, the RQ-180 drone or “just” a B-2?

The U.S. Air Force says it’s a “standard” B-2, but a pretty detailed analysis and some subtle details seem to suggest it might be something else.

The photographs you can find in this post were taken by three of our readers (Sammamishman, Zaphod58 and Fred) who have recently returned from a trip to monitor activities at Palmdale and Edwards Air Force Base, California.

These guys are not the average avgeeks. All the three either worked or are currently working around aircraft (one has worked on an Air Force Base ramp for many years and is well-respected as an aircraft guru, another works as an air medic and one is in the aerospace industry involved in advanced space and defense-related components) and they are extremely familiar with aircraft they observe and photograph with some high-end equipment. Sammamishman is the reader who sent us the video and photographs of the F-117s flying over Tonopah Test Range in 2016.

Among the things the trio photographed, there is also an unknown large flying wing type aircraft, hooked to a ground power unit, sitting on an apron located at Edwards South base between the hours of 10PM and 1AM on July 24-25, 2018.

The three spotters sent the images to the Air Force to determine if it is a classified article and subject to DoD censorship. After reviewing the images for a few days, the Air Force responded it was a B-2 Spirit.

“I however disagree with this story for several reasons that I will go into,” says “Sammamisham” in an email.

“Upon initial examination of the photos that night when we took them, it looked like a B-2 but under closer examination the proportions and fuselage configuration didn’t look right for a Spirit”.

The group has indeed produced an analytical analysis done on the shots that, provided it is correct, seems to indicate that the aircraft they observed that night at Edwards is not a B-2 Spirit.

The analysis is based on a stack of 40 separate images, assembled to reduce glare, taken from a distance of over 10 miles.

Here are the reasons why they believe it’s not a B-2.

– The spacing and size of what is assumed could be engine nacelles on either side of the center fuselage.
– Other bumps on the fuselage back that are odd or don’t seem to match the B-2.
– The larger pair of bay doors visible. The B-2 has multiple smaller bay doors for the bomb bay and engine access.
– The seemingly odd landing gear configuration.
– The slender wing section that curves oddly. The B-2’s wing should appear relatively thinker and straight at that view angle.

“Using the ground power unit, sitting next to it, as a measuring metric, (the AF uses Essex B809B-1 units with a 103″ length), we are able to estimate the height of the aircraft at 12.4′ and a wing span of around 130ish’. The B-2 is 17′ and 172′ respectively,” Sammamisham explains. “I also did a view angle comparison to the B-2 which also showed a difference in the wing tip flaps between this aircraft and the B-2. This aircraft was only out during the night hours. We returned the next morning to verify it was or wasn’t a B-2. The aircraft was no longer there (I have pics taken showing it gone). This, in my opinion, also lends credence to it not being a B-2 since it would be odd to pull a B-2 out to do ground tests during the night and early morning hours only.”

Using an Essex BD series power unit as a measuring tool it is possible to roughly determine the dimensions of the aircraft.

Let’s speculate. In fact, what at first glance seems to be a B-2 might really be something else considered we are basing our analysis on a cropped, blurry image taken at night from extreme distance (10 miles). Dimensions aside, there are some details that appear to be quite different from a standard Spirit stealth bomber: obviously we can’t rule out it’s a matter of perspective, objects in the line-of-sight, etc., but the differences in the spacing and dimensions of the engine nacelles (provided they are nacelles) are somehow evident.

The mysterious aicraft appears to be similar to a B-2. But our readers highlighted several alleged differences.

So, assuming the wing span is really 130ish and the aircraft is NOT a B-2 (as mentioned we are just speculating here), what is it?

We have a couple of options here but the one that seems more reasonable given its estimated dimensions, location and operating hours, is that the one depicted in the grainy shots is a secretive B-21 Raider bomber. The next generation long-range stealth bomber is known to be heading to Edwards AFB (so much so a B-21 Combined Test Force patch was already available on eBay months ago) for testing and the concept model of the B-21, has a lot of things in common with the B-2, including the position of the engine nacelles. Based on the B-21 Raider artwork released so far, the aircraft should be much similar to the B-2: the main difference is the “W” shaped trailing edge of the Raider that is an evolution from the Spirit’s sawtooth trailing edge.

Artist rendering of the B-21 Raider. (Wiki/NG)

The B-2’s wingspan is 172 feet, the B-21 has a payload requirement said to be between two thirds and half that of the B-2. That’s why the Raider will probably be lighter featuring a wing span smaller than that of the Spirit.

If you combine all these things and assume the measurements are correct we might be looking at an early Northrop Grumman B-21 article.

The location of the aircraft was: 34.903609, -117.873366
Our reader’s view spot was here: 34.761176, -117.800955

Less likely, it may also be a Northrop Grumman RQ-180.

In the Dec. 9, 2013 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Senior Pentagon Editor Amy Butler and Senior International Defense Editor Bill Sweetman revealed the existence of the RQ-180, a secret unmanned aerial system (UAS), designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, and scheduled to be operational with the U.S. Air Force by 2015.

Developed by Northrop Grumman since 2008-2009, the stealthy RQ-180 is designed to operate in “contested” or “denied” airspace, as opposed to the non-stealthy RQ-4 Global Hawk that are intended for “permissive” scenarios.

In their analysis back then, Sweetman and Butler said: “It is similar in size and endurance to the Global Hawk, which weighs 32,250 lb. and can stay on station for 24 hr. 1,200 nm from its base. The much smaller RQ-170 is limited to 5-6 hr. of operation. […] The aircraft uses a version of Northrop’s stealthy “cranked-kite” design, as does the X-47B, with a highly swept centerbody and long, slender outer wings. Northrop Grumman engineers publicly claimed (before the launch of the classified program) that the cranked-kite is scalable and adaptable, in contrast to the B-2’s shape, which has an unbroken leading edge. The RQ-180’s centerbody length and volume can be greater relative to the vehicle’s size.”

Aviation Week worked with artist Ronnie Olsthoorn to construct concept images of the RQ-180 based on its attributes, including its “cranked kite” design, but these artworks seem to have little in common with what our readers spotted at Edwards.

Nevertheless, considered the quality of the photographs we can’t completely rule out the aircraft is the new stealthy drone that was given a couple of fuselage humps/nacelles similar to the B-2’s.

A pretty famous Northrop Grumman artwork shows an airframe adaptable for bomber and transport roles that was patented in 2012: it bears resemblance to both the B-2 and the X-47B’s shape. If that is the real shape of the RQ-180, then the one at Edwards may well be the new stealthy drone, 4 or 5 of those are believed to be operational somewhere in the U.S.

Northrop Grumman was awarded a patent in 2012 for an airframe adaptable for bomber and transport roles. (Credit: U.S. Patent Office via AW&ST)

That said, let me say that the first time I saw the images I thought it was “just” a B-2 but further observations and Sammamisham’s account have made me a bit dubious. What do you think? It’s a B-2 or something else? Let us know using the comments section below or our Twitter, Instagram or Facebook pages.

Update Aug. 24, 15.30 GMT

Thanks to a Twitter follower (@Kiendl28) we have got a satellite image showing the aircraft on the apron at 18:05Z on Jul. 25. The resolution does not allow a clear identification but the fact the aircraft is parked in daylight seems to suggest there is nothing to hide and points towards the “standard” B-2.

The aircraft on the apron at Edwards at 18.04GMT on Jul. 25. The aircraft can be seen in the same position also on Aug. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. (Image credit: PlanetScope).

Image credit: Sammamishman, Zaphod58 and Fred for The Aviationist

Six B-52 Strategic Bombers Deploying To Guam To Replace Six B-1s And Join Three B-2Mes Already There

The U.S. Air Force bomber trio (B-52, B-2 and B-1) currently deployed to Guam: it’s the second time since August 2016.

Six B-52H bombers and approximately 300 Airmen from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, are deploying to Andersen AFB, Guam, in support of U.S. Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence mission. Two Stratofortresses have arrived in Guam on Jan. 15; the rest are expected to deploy in the next hours. They join six B-1s and three B-2s already in Guam.

The iconic B-52 bombers will relieve the B-1B Lancers that deployed from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, on Aug. 6, 2016, as part of their first CBP deployment in support of the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) deterrence efforts in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region in 10 years.

During their deployment, the 37th EBS conducted a variety of joint and bilateral training missions with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, South Korean air force and Royal Australian Air Force, including some symbolic shows of force against North Korea alongside the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B forward based in Japan.

The bomber trio at Guam in August 2016.

Noteworthy, at the beginning of their tour of duty in the Pacific in 2016, the B-1s replaced another B-52 detachment: the 69th EBS from Minot AFB, ND. Before the Stratofortress bombers started returning home, three B-2s arrived in Guam for a “short-term deployment”: exploiting the presence of the three bomber types on the very same forward operating base, on Aug. 17, 2016, the U.S. Air Force conducted the first coordinated operation in the U.S Pacific Command AOR (Area Of Operations) launching three aircraft (1x B-2, 1x B-52 and 1x B-1) in sequence from Andersen Air Force Base to conduct simultaneous operations in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia.

Considered the presence of B-52s, B-2s and B-1s once again together at the same time in Guam will give the U.S. Air Force the opportunity to launch again the trio in an integrated bomber operation in the Pacific similar to the one carried out in the Summer of 2016.

“The B-52H’s return to the Pacific will provide USPACOM and its regional allies and partners with a credible, strategic power projection platform, while bringing years of repeated operational experience. The B-52 is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (15,166.6 meters) and can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability. This forward-deployed presence demonstrates the continued commitment of the U.S.to allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region,” says the U.S. Air Force official release.

The B-52 deployment in support of the CBP missions brings again a constant (at least until the next rotation) nuclear bomber capability within striking distance of North Korea.

Meanwhile, four B-52H Stratofortress aircraft have arrived in the UK for theatre integration and training at RAF Fairford. The aircraft are from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and will conduct theatre integration and training in Europe.

Many “Buffs” deployed across the globe!

Are We Seeing B-21 Raider Development and Testing Activity at Area 51?

With New Projects in Development, and New Construction, The Area is Ramping Up.

We’re not sure what is happening inside (and close to) the restricted Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), but after visiting the area earlier this month, we are reasonably certain something significant is taking place right now. The massive area, reported to be 4,531 square miles, is one of the most secure national security sites and is closed to the public.

Earlier this month we drove the remote roads along the perimeter of the NTTR between Las Vegas, Nevada and Beatty, Nevada on the way to and from the Jedi Transition low-level flying area in Death Valley National Park. While this is one of the emptiest, most barren stretches of paved highway in the U.S. in just a few hours we made a number of interesting observations.

Sometime after 3:00 AM across from Creech AFB we saw a military-aged male with a beard in civilian clothes and a medium-sized piece of luggage or large lunch box board an airport-style shuttle bus and drive away on Highway 95 west of Creech. The vehicle drove a significant distance west and north on the highway before we lost sight of it. There is almost nothing out there. On the trip back that night we saw an F-117 fuselage covered by a tarp being transported on a flatbed truck in the dark west-bound on Highway 95. Earlier in the day someone had gotten photos of it by the side of the road.

In less than 24 hours, on one stretch of road at the outskirts of a massive 4,000+ mile testing range, we saw that much activity.

Moreover, the following day, on Nov. 14, an authority on the area referred to only as “G” of lazygranch.com, shot photos of an F-117 flying with a two-seat F-16. The very same day, in the afternoon a similar (or maybe the same with a diffirent configuration) two-seat F-16, carrying the Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAS-42, an IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) pod (theoretically capable to detect stealth aircraft by their IR signature), with sparse markings was photographed flying through the Jedi Transition. The photo was good enough that we could identify a patch worn on the right shoulder of each of the aircraft’s flight suits. The patches suggest the crew are associated with the famous “Red Hats” opposing forces test unit and the 53rd TEG Det 3, the unit thought to have replaced the 4477th “Red Eagles”, another opposing force simulation and testing unit.

Separate and additionally from those sightings near or around Tonopah Test Range, journalist Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone, has been a keen observer of the Nevada Test and Training Range. Rogoway reported on the appearance of several new construction projects at Area 51, notably, a new “U” shaped taxiway, vehicle roadway and most interestingly, a large aircraft hangar.

The new, large finished hangar within the square taxiway. (Photo: Ufo Seekers)

If you compare satellite imagery of Area 51 beginning in 1984 you see a progression of small changes followed by the significant addition of a long, second, parallel runway. Work on the second runway began in 1990 and seemed complete in about 1992. From 1999-2000 several new buildings appeared in satellite photos. In 2001-2002 an intermediate vehicle road connecting taxiways and runways was built. And most recently, in 2013, a major new construction project began at the southwest corner of the area. Soon after, in July 2014, the U.S. Air Force issued a request for proposal for a new, long range, low-observable strike aircraft. The project became the LRS-B. From 2014 to 2016 a large, new hangar was built at the southwestern corner of the facility. The structure appears to be nearly large enough to house an aircraft the size of the current B-1B Lancer bomber.

The latest satellite photos show what appears to be new engine test facilities, and most significantly, the southern taxiways and hangar in new-looking condition. Comparing the satellite photos of the facility going back to 1984, the two most significant, visible expansions are the second runway in 1990 and the new southwest square taxiway and hangar building beginning in 2014.

An analysis of satellite images over time reveal the major construction projects at Area 51/Groom Lake since 1984 including the most recent hangar and taxiways. (Photo: GoogleEarth)

The following video takes you on a “sightseeing tour” of Groom Lake from Tikaboo Peak:

Noted aerospace imaging expert Al Clark told TheAviationist.com, “In the general Groom Lake image our best reference is one of the F-16s parked on the west side of the base. The F-16 length is approximately 50-feet. Building number one, which is almost directly west of the F-16s is approximately 120’x120’. It looks to be an engine test/run-up hangar. The building that is more interesting is approximately 250-feet wide by a length of 275-feet. This is interesting because the B-2 wingspan is only 172-feet, so this is [possibly] designed to house large aircraft, in my opinion possibly the B-21 Raider. To the southwest of that structure it looks like what could be a weapons storage facility. The smaller bunker is approximately 75-feet long by 30-feet wide, and the larger bunker is approximately 75-feet wide and 100-feet long. Those are fairly large weapons bunkers. The general placement of the munitions depot tells me that there is something pretty volatile in it because they are keeping it away from the main base at Groom Lake.”

Is what we are seeing evidence of the LRS-B program development and the B-21 Raider? While there are likely several other major developmental programs underway including a new manned or unmanned reconnaissance and strike platform (the RQ-180 spy drone is one of them), LRS-B and B-21 are the most mature and most talked about in official channels and, as a result, most conclusions point to something related to their development out at Area 51 in the new hangar.

Prior to her departure from the office, former Air Force Secretary Deborah James told media, “Our 5th generation global precision attack platform will give our country a networked sensor shooter capability enabling us to hold targets at risk anywhere in the world in a way that our adversaries have never seen.” Her comments about the LRS-B program and B-21 acknowledge both the capability and necessity of the program, and may suggest the urgency of it as the Air Force maintains its small fleet of B-2 Spirit low-observable long range strike aircraft against a growing demand for its unique capability.

That might mean we are seeing the B-21 Raider development program take shape right under our noses at Area 51. Or this is what they want us to believe.

We Have Found Ultra Rare Footage Showing A B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber Dropping A 30,000-Pound Bunker Buster Bomb

This Is Probably The First Clip Showing The B-2 As It Drops The GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is the only aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory currently capable to operationally drop the massive 30,000-lb (14,000 kg) GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (even though the testing of the MOP involved a B-52 back in 2009, the weapon’s intended platform is only the B-2).

The 14-ton GBU-57 is a 20-foot long GPS-guided bomb said to be able to penetrate 200 feet of concrete before exploding: for this reason it is considered the weapon of choice in case of attack on buried targets (such as the North Korean bunkers).

Whilst there are just a few images showing the GBU-57 carried by or next to a B-2 (we published one of these in 2013, here) you will hardly find any video of the B-2 dropping one of the two MOPs the stealth bomber can carry in its internal bomb bay.

However, we have spotted a clip of a MOP released from the B-2’s bomb bay in a recently published video from the 393rd Bomb Squadron, one of the units that operate the Spirit stealth bomber as part of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base Missouri.

The impressive size of the MOP is pretty evident in the footage (skip towards the end of the video).

The MOP is sometimes mistaken with the 11-ton, parachute deployed, GBU-43B MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast) also known as “Mother Of All Bombs”. The MOAB is the largest conventional air dropped weapon ever employed by the U.S. military: a U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Combat Talon II dropped the GBU-43B on an ISIS cave complex target in Afghanistan, for the very first time on Apr. 13, 2017.

 

Three B-2s and “several” B-1s have deployed to Guam to deter China and North Korea

The U.S. Air Force has just deployed three B-2 Spirits stealth bombers to Guam. They have joined the B-1s already there. Not far from the troubled waters of Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

On Aug. 9, three B-2 Spirit bombers with the 509th Bomb Wing, have deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam, to conduct extended deterrence operations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater, where China is conducting a pseudomilitary campaign of expansion into the East and South China Seas.

For instance, the most recent satellite imagery shows China continues to show intention of militarizing the Spratly Islands.

The stealth bombers, from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, are due to be involved in what the U.S. Pacific Command defined a “short-term deployment” during which they will conduct “local and regional training sorties, and will integrate capabilities with key regional partners, ensuring bomber crews maintain a high state of readiness and crew proficiency.”

The last time the B-2s deployed there was in March this year when three B-2 stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing, flew to Guam amid growing tensions with North Korea.

Interestingly, the B-2s have joined the “several” B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews) that arrived in Guam on Aug. 6, marking the first B-1 deployment there in a decade.

The aircraft, belonging to the 28th Bomb Wing from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, have replaced the B-52s in supporting the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission.

“Andersen welcomes the B-1 squadron, and we look forward to working together to provide safety and security to the region, our partners and our allies,” said Brig. Gen. Douglas Cox, 36th Wing commander in an Air Force release. “The B-52s did an amazing job the past few years, and we know the B-1s will continue CBP excellence going forward.”

The B-1 units bring years of repeated combat and operational experience from the Central Command theater to the Pacific. The aircraft should have just received some additional cockpit upgrades during works conducted after the Bones returned stateside in January 2016, after a 6-month deployment worth 3,800 munitions on 3,700 targets in 490 sorties in support of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS, during which the B-1s carried out Close Air Support and Air Interdiction missions delivering a wide variety of PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), including JDAMs on Daesh positions.

Noteworthy, unlike the B-52 and the B-2, the B-1B had been taken out from the Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) rotation at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base because it can’t carry any kind of nuclear weapon. So, the Lancer deployment in the regions brings a conventional heavy bomber within striking distance of China and North Korea.

Still, Pyongyang accused Washington of planning a pre-emptive nuclear strike, after the US announced it was deploying B-1 bombers in the Pacific for the first time in a decade.

B-1 in Guam

Will the B-1s also deploy to Australia, even closer to Beijing or Pyongyang than Guam?

Back in March, Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force, told to Reuters that the U.S. could deploy long-range bombers to Australia as concerns over China’s military expansion in the Asia-Pacific area continue to grow.

At that time, high-level discussions were in progress to deploy B-1 bombers in northern Australia and to expand B-52 bomber missions in the region a move that was aimed to add more pressure on China. Now that the Stratofortress bombers have been replaced by the Lancers it’s unclear whether the U.S. Air Force has achieved an agreement with the local government and plans to fly any B-1s from there.

Lancers deployments on the Australian continent were considered in the past but none of these rumors ever turned into the real thing.

Anyway, U.S. Strategic Command’s assets are particularly active lately: whilst B-52s support Operation Inherent Resolve from Al Udeid in Qatar, B-52s were deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, in May and June, where the bombers participated in U.S. European Command Exercises BALTOPS and SABER STRIKE. Additionally, earlier this month, five B-52s and B-2s from all three of the U.S.’s strategic bomber bases took part in “POLAR ROAR,” flying simultaneous missions to the Arctic, the Baltic Sea and Alaska. During their last deployment to Guam, B-2s performed a running crew change at RAAF Tindal airbase in Australia on Mar. 22.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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