The B-2 stealth bomber made its first overseas deployment 20 years ago — here’s why it’s still one of the most feared aircraft in the sky

B-2 Spirits deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, await clearance to taxi onto the flightline after conducting local training at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, January 16, 2017.

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B-2 Spirits deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, await clearance to taxi onto the flightline after conducting local training at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, January 16, 2017.
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US Air Force

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the deployment to Guam of one of America’s most important and expensive weapon systems – the B-2 Spirit.

The B-2 was originally intended to carry nuclear bombs deep into Soviet territory if the Cold War had ever turned hot. Its shape – paired with the plane’s stealth systems – would enable it to be undetected by Soviet radars. The B-2’s long range meant it could fly deep into enemy territory and return home.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the B-2 has been used as a conventional bomber. It made its combat debut during the Kosovo War in 1999, and has since flown sorties in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

More recently, the B-2 has been placed in bases in the Pacific as part of a strategy to deal with potential threats from North Korea.

Here’s why it’s one of the most feared aircraft in the world:


The B-2 bomber was shown to the public for the first time in 1988, just before the end of the Cold War. Its stealth capabilities were virtually unmatched.

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B2 Bomber at initial public rollout in Palmdale, California. Notice the the taxiway art work, using five B-2’s to create a star, November, 22, 1988.
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Wikimedia commons

The B-2 can carry sixteen 2,400 lb B83 nuclear bombs, but its official limit of 40,000 lbs of ordinance means it can carry a massive amount of Precision-guided munitions.

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A B-2 drops 47 individual 500 lb (230 kg)-class Mark 82 bombs during a training exercise, 1994.
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Wikimedia commons

The B-2 has a max range of 6,900 miles on a single tank, but aerial refueling can keep the bomber up indefinitely.

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A B-2 Spirit flies into position during a refueling mission over the North Atlantic Ocean, June 11, 2014.
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US Air Force

On one bombing mission, two B-2s flew a 34-hour round-trip mission from Missouri to Libya, and were refueled in the air 15 times.

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A B-2 Spirit stealth bomber makes a fly-over at Soldier Field before the Green Bay Packers take on the Chicago Bears on September 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Each of the current 20 B-2s in service are named after a states. Here, the Spirit of New York can be seen at the British Royal International Air Tattoo in July of 2012.

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The “Spirit of New York,” a B-2 Spirit at the Royal International Air Tattoo, July 2012.
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Wikimedia commons

The B-2 is a flying wing aircraft, so it has no fuselage or tail. This means it has low drag, high structural efficiency, and generates more lift than other fixed-wing aircraft.

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A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies overhead at the “Legacy of Liberty” open house and air show at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, October 8, 2011.
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US Air Force

The B-2’s max speed is Mach 0.95, or 630 mph.

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A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber takes off from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, June 1, 2017, as part of an afternoon training mission during the Weapons Instructor Course.
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US Air National Guard

Because of its capabilities, B-2s have been deployed to Guam to keep an eye on North Korea.

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Two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit aircraft deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, sit on the parkway prior to takeoff at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Jan. 12, 2017.
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US Air Force

They are also extremely important for keeping other countries like China and Russia in check.

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An American Soldier salutes as a B-2 Spirit flys over prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Concord, North Carolina.
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Chris Graythen/Getty Images

At home, the B-2 is often seen in flyovers during sports events.

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Harry How/Getty Images

The B-2 is currently one of three strategic bombers currently in use by the US Air Force, the other two being the B-52 Stratofortress, and the B-1 Lancer. The Air Force plans to retire the B-2 in the early 2030s.

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A B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress perform a flyover during the 2017 Barksdale Air Force Base air show, May 6, 2017.
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US Air Force

Check it out in action.