Tag Archives: Air force

What We Know So Far About the Successor to the B-2 Stealth Bomber

A great article from Popular Science. See the original article here: http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-12/successor-b2-stealth-bomber

The youngest active stealth bomber in the U.S. turns 15 this year, and the other 19 B-2s in the Air Force fleet are nearly five years older. Meanwhile, the integrated defense systems they face have become much more sophisticated. Multi-static radar, which is now relatively common, is so sensitive that it can detect certain stealth craft. To stay ahead of such defense systems, the Air Force has budgeted $3.7 billion over the next five years to develop a successor to the B-2 that could be active by 2020. Actual designs of the new bomber are classified, but some secrets are already out.

Patents and bid proposals from Northrop Grumman, maker of the B-2, suggest that the new bomber will be narrower than the B-2 but maintain the familiar flying wing design, which reduces radar reflection by minimizing hard edges. Engineers are also testing new types of radar-absorbing coatings that could be customized to individual defense systems. And so a picture of the next generation of stealth bombers is beginning to emerge.

CUSTOM COATINGS

Most stealth coatings consist of a radar-absorbing material, typically a form of iron, suspended in paint. But they are heavy (which lowers fuel efficiency), need to be reapplied frequently, and don’t absorb all radar frequencies. Ceno Technologies, a particles-science company in Sanborn, New York, has developed a lighter, more durable coating that uses hollow ceramic spheres, called cenospheres. Because the spheres can be covered in carbon, silver or other metals that absorb slightly different wavelengths of radar, the coating can be customized to deceive specific radar systems.

SMOOTHER SHAPE

The B-2 has two semi-flush air-intake vents, the hard edges of which can reflect radar. In one design seen in a patent from Northrop Grumman, the new bomber has four small vents rather than two large ones. The smaller vents can be buried more deeply in the wing, reducing the possibility of radar returns.

SMARTER DECOYS

To confuse radar defense systems, the new bomber will probably carry something like the Miniature Air Launched Decoy made by Raytheon. The modified drones use radar reflectors to create bomber-like signatures that divert attention from the actual bomber. The decoys fly on a preprogrammed course for up to 575 miles and may carry radar jammers to further confuse air defenses.

RETRACTABLE WING

In one design from Northrop Grumman, engineers included a canard wing on the plane’s nose, which would provide extra lift during takeoff and flight, allowing a smaller bomber to carry a heavier weapons payload. Because its straight lines and hard angles would reflect radar, the canard wing will most likely be designed to fold flush with the bomber’s body as the craft comes within range of defense systems.

HEAVIER WEAPONS

The new bomber will most likely have a single weapons bay, as opposed to the twin bays on the B-2. It will still be able to carry conventional GPS-guided JDAM missiles, nuclear warheads and even the new 30,000-pound, bunker-busting Massive Ordnance Penetrator, but a single bay would reduce the cost of manufacturing—a major concern for designers on a relatively tight budget.

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Aerospace Dream Tour Day 6: Edwards Air Force Base

Today was the last day of tours for our trip and we ended it with a BANG! Quite literally! Since our hotel was close to Edwards Air Force base the group was able to wake up a little later then normal. This week has been filled with early mornings and late nights. Due to LA traffic most of our journeys started at 7am and usually didn’t wind down until after 9pm.

Journey Through the Desert

Being stuck in a 12-person van for the entire week has most of the group on edge at this point. All I can say is image having 11 back-seat drivers critiquing your every move, music choice, and volume level. It really wears down on a person (but I’d still do it over again in a heart beat).

Once we got off the express way and towards the final few miles before the entrance of Edwards, all one can see is the brown and very dry scenery. We turn on the dramatic sounds of, “Flight of the Valkyries,” to set the mood. Large dry lakebeds and a few cacti are all one can see in the distance towards the mountains. Out of nowhere we spot some looping contrails in the clear blue sky. We weren’t sure if we were seeing top-secret technology or not. One moment there would be twirls and loops of contrails and then one moment later, the contrail would disappear.  Now the mood was really set! With out theme music still blasting at full volume we passed the Edwards AFB sign and finally met our escort at the front gate.

We shared this tour with Cal Poly students and all in all I think it was a healthy group. We all boarded an eerie-looking beige bus and started heading to our first leg of the tour. Everyone was very excited and due to the poor weather the last few days, it was evident that flight time was trying to be made up today. Planes were out in full forth. We immediately started seeing T-38s (the air forces main trainer aircraft and the same trainer used in the awesome movie, Top Gun) as soon as we departed from the front gate. Unlike the passed days of our tour we were getting to see airplanes fly!!

Instrumentation

Our first scheduled tour was in instrumentation. We got to see how the instrumentation folk built equipment and displays for testing purposes. The building was littered with orange painted metal boxes with cool displays and wires. We learned that this orange signified that the pieces were testing equipment. Good old-fashioned metal fabrication was used for these displays so that the equipment can handle the high-G environment of a fighter jet.

Electronics is great, but we had a large group of aerospace engineers and we wanted to see planes! We finally got our wish and entered a HUGE hangar. Inside we found a few KC-130 tankers, some T-38s, and a beautiful B-1 supersonic bomber. We’ve all seen these aircraft before, but what made this so cool was that many of the plane’s panels were taken off, displaying to us their complex insides. A frenzy of wires and orange boxes could be seen inside each of the planes.

We ended this segment of the tour by drooling over the exposed B-1 for a healthy amount of time. At this point we are loving the tour, but we keep hearing fighter jets roaring passed the hangar. Every time one flies by our suspicions increase that top jets like the F-35 and F-22 are flying around us and our strategically timed tours are keeping our eager eyes from seeing them.

 

JSF (F-35) Introduction

At this point we were introduced to the F-35 via PowerPoint presentation. We would like to thank Edwards for the great Subway sandwiches we were served for the JSF presentation. We thoroughly enjoyed the pictures and bullet points about the JSF, but we could tell some of the students were starting to get sleepy from the food (none of course were Michigan students, GO BLUE!) and then it happened. BOOM!!! The conference room we were in shook violently. We had experienced our first sonic boom!!! Everyone immediately pepped up. What a cool experience. If only we could have been outside for it, but I’ll take what I can get!

Global Hawk

Most of us have seen a Global Hawk hanging above us in the National Air Force Museum, but to be able to touch and explore this baby up close was a million times better!! The tour guides gave us as much info as they were able, but the repeating hymn of, “That’s classified,” is what we heard most. I really don’t care though, it was great just to be in the large UAV’s presence. We took our group photo in front of the Global Hawk as well (waiting on Edwards to clear it and send it my way). After a little over an hour with the Block20 and Block30 Global Hawks, we were off to the flight line!!!

To learn more about the Global Hawk check out the military facts sheet here.

UM Students in front of the Global Hawk at Edwards AFB

Flight Line

As we made our way to the flight line from the Global Hawk hangar we were pleasantly surprised to see two F22 Raptors taxing extremely close to us on their way to take-off!!! It looked like we were finally going to get our wish of seeing some advanced planes in the air. After a few f16 escorts were in the air and the final clearances were given, we witnessed the two beautiful F22s take off into the distance. It was great to hear how much louder the Raptor was than the Falcon. So awesome!

F16 Armaments

One of our last stops was at the F16 armaments hangar. He we were able to explore quite a few F16s as we were given a tour of the different bombs that are used on the F16 as well as some future bombs that are currently being integrated for use into the F16.

One of the most interesting weapons we saw was the CBU-97 sensor fuzed cluster bomb. This weapon rains fury onto the battlefield as it spits out molten metel, which melts through tank armor. Check out the video for a demonstration.

This marked the final location of our tour. As we rode the bus back to our vehicles we took a leisurely route passed the F35 and F22 hangars to see if just maybe there were any out. With a little luck we witnessed two F35s out and although they were from a distance, it was still breathtaking! It’s feels great to be one of the few people who have every laid eyes on one of these beauties.

Blackhawk Museum

Before heading back to our hotel for the night, we made a quick excursion to the Blackhawk museum located in Palmdale. I got a great shot of the A-12 and SR-71 side-by-side. Lots more pictures to come on my flickr account: Aeroscholar

This was one of the most exciting and truly unique days of the tour. It was great being able to see the JSF and being present for a sonic boom. I don’t know how we made it through the day without a change in underwear.

The SR-71 (left) and A-12 (right) side-by-side at the Blackhawk museum.

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