Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
Dec. 2, 2003
The B-2 stealth bomber's bat-like airframe design and unique construction make the aircraft largely undetectable to radar and an ominous threat to heavily defended targets.
Those same features also make the B-2 a security sensitive asset off limits to the public, outside of air show flyovers. That will change soon at the United States Air Force Museum.
For the first time in the program's history, a stealth bomber will go on permanent public display when the Air Force's national museum rolls out a reassembled and restored B-2 ground test airframe in a major public ceremony slated for Dec. 16 at 4 p.m.
The aircraft will go in the museum's new 200,000 square-foot Eugene W. Kettering Building, which opened fully to the public in July. A B-2 is scheduled to fly over the museum at 3:30 p.m., prior to the ceremony.
"Adding a B-2 stealth bomber to our collection is very significant and unique, as this will be the only place in the world where the public can see a B-2 up close," said Charles D. Metcalf, Museum Director. "Plus, this aircraft will allow us to further demonstrate how Air Force airpower is helping transform combat through capabilities such as stealth, speed, global reach and precision."
Air Force, museum and Northrop Grumman officials will dedicate the B-2, christening it the "Spirit of Freedom." The addition of the B-2 will add to the already considerable collection of more than 300 aircraft and aerospace vehicles at the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum.
Representing an intensive restoration project that took just under three years, the B-2 the museum will display was originally used to evaluate the airframe's structural integrity under varying degrees of stress. As part of the evaluation, the airframe was intentionally tested to failure, causing a large crack in its skin, which the museum restoration crew filled in.
Although the airframe was constructed with the external features of a B-2, it did not receive the normal complement of internal avionics and components. When restoration is complete, however, the test article's exterior appearance will be nearly indistinguishable from an operational B-2.
Because it was not built to fly, the museum's B-2 was disassembled and shipped to the museum in various sections, with a major center section coming to Wright-Patterson AFB and the museum via a C-5 in February 2001. Since then, the museum's restoration staff has been tackling the massive and unprecedented assignment of reassembling the aircraft and preparing it for the long-anticipated public rollout.
"The greatest challenge and achievement of restoring the B-2 without doubt was the physical handling and reconnecting of the major aircraft sections without the benefit of any specialized equipment," said Myrl Morris, chief of the museum's restoration division. "Some of these sub-sections weighed close to 70,000 pounds, requiring a lot of ingenuity and common sense to reassemble and secure, with safety of the crew members always the main concern."
Along with reconnecting major aircraft sections, restoration workers had to fabricate and install certain unavailable parts. Overall, the project required a meticulous, detailed approach, with crew members crawling inside sections as deeply as 12 feet through a space barely large enough to squeeze through, then staying there for up to six to eight hours ratcheting fasteners in order to reconnect sections.
"This is by the far the most ambitious and largest restoration project we've ever attempted," said Morris. "There have been more time-consuming projects but never anything this large."
Terry Kasten, B-2 Deputy Program Director in the B-2 System Program Office at Wright-Patterson AFB, said that the B-2 that is going on display will have a utility beyond that of a museum display vehicle. Program officials will actually use the museum's B-2 on occasion for structural testing to help identify and develop improvements for the Air Force's active B-2 fleet.
"Even during the restoration of this B-2, base engineers used the aircraft to conduct thermal analysis in the exhaust nozzle area," said Kasten. "The museum has committed to allowing us use of this test aircraft when new and unique test requirements crop up."
NOTE TO MEDIA: For more information, contact the U.S. Air Force Museum's Public Affairs Division at (937) 255-4704, ext. 332.
Public Affairs Division
(937) 255-4704, ext. 332