In pictures: B-2 Spirit strategic bombers conduct elephant walk

U.S. Air Force photo

The 509th and the 131st Bomb Wings, flying the B-2 Spirit strategic bombers, conducted Exercise Spirit Vigilance 22 together at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.  

As part of the series of routine training and readiness drills, bombers from the two wings met on the runway of Whiteman AFB for what is known as an “elephant walk”. 

This exercise consists of rolling a large number of aircraft in close formation on a runway before taking off in short intervals. It is a way to showcase the availability of the aircraft and is implicitly a strong demonstration of power.   

“This is a reminder that the B-2 Spirit bomber is the visible leg of nuclear triad,” said Colonel Geoffrey Steeves, 509th Operations Group commander. “Simply put, the B-2 is the world’s most strategic aircraft. It is the only aircraft on the planet that combines stealth, payload, and long-range strike. We are charged with delivering the nation’s most powerful weapons for our most important missions.”

A unique aircraft 

With its characteristic hawk’s-beak profile, the Northrop Grumman B-2 is one of the three strategic bombers operated by the United States Air Force, along with the supersonic Rockwell B-1 Lancer and the venerable Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.  

Powered by four General Electric F118 turbojet engines, it is capable of carrying about 35 tons of conventional or nuclear bombs and cruise missiles in two internal holds. Its stealth capability makes it particularly fit for deep penetration into enemy territory to carry out an offensive strike. Due to budget constraints, only 21 of the 132 planned aircraft were built, leading to high maintenance costs. 

The design was so successful that in 2015, the USAF trusted Northrop again to develop its first bomber of the XXI century, the B-21 Raider. Due to replacing both the B-2 Spirit and the B-1 Lancer, it reuses some of the B-2’s general characteristics with a sleek flying wing design. 

A hundred copies of the upcoming B-21 are expected to be ordered eventually, which is more than the fleets of B-1s and B-2s combined. The B-21 Raider will be unveiled on December 2, 2022. 


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