Can the Air Force Make the B-2 Bomber Even More ‘Invisible’?

Can the Air Force Make the B-2 Bomber Even More ‘Invisible’?

Kris Osborn


Here is the plan.

Key Point: The B-2 has been one of the most useful planes in the U.S. arsenal, and the Air Force is desperate to keep it modern and updated. 

The US Air Force and Northrop Grumman are integrating new composite “hot trailing edge” materials into the upper surface of the B-2 bomber to increase the stealth aircraft’s service life, improve durability, enhance sustainment and eliminate the need for field repairs, service and industry officials said.

The new composite hot trailing edge (HTE) skin, to be added behind the exhaust nozzles on the surface of the bomber, is made up of a durable, high-temperature material more resistant to degradation from thermal and vibroacoustic stress, service developers stated.

“The Polyimide material presently used for HTE degrades quickly in this operational environment; as the incessant exposure to heat and engine exhaust exceeds its capabilities, the material cracks and the resin disintegrates,” an Air Force statement said.  

Therefore, recognizing the need for more resilient materials, the Air Force Research Lab engineered a new application based on AFR PE 4, service information states. AFR-PE-4 is a high-temperature thermosetting polyimide resin with service capability up to 343-degrees Celsius, according to information from Maverick Molding. Maverick, a high-temperature polymer firm, says they commercialized AFR-PE-4 after it was first developed by the Air Force.

Engineers working on stealth technology designs often try to reduce the “heat signature” or infrared/thermal sensor detectability of the aircraft. The more heat a bomber gives off in flight, the more enemy sensors and radar are likely to detect it. Therefore, it seems evident that a material less prone to degradation or disintegration at high- temperatures might likely lessen the heat signature emitted from decay or erosion taking place on the aircraft.

Improving sustainment for the B-2 is a priority for the Air Force because the service plans for the 1980s-era stealth bomber to fly alongside the emerging B-21 Raider well into the 2050s.

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