I want to take a look at something I have previously discussed with a forum member. Nothing earth shattering and probably not entirely correct as
these things go but maybe at least interesting.
As the thread title suggests
, I want to look at the B-2 Spirits, or rather what came before them. Or to be more precise, the precursors they
officially didn’t have: demonstrator aircrafts or prototypes (besides AV 1-6, I’ll address those)
The origins of the B-2 can be traced back to Carter era. Official development efforts were underway by 1979 with two competition teams participating
in the Advanced Technology Bomber program: Northrop/Boeing (Senior Ice) and Lockheed/Rockwell (Senior Peg). Northrop was selected as the winner in
1981, a new program name – Senior Cejay – was assigned along with the B-2 designation and the new bomber was finally revealed to the public in
1988. Its first public fight wasn’t until almost a year later when the first B-2 departed from Palmdale to Edwards.
That’s the official (short) version of the B-2 development history. One important detail going forward is that there was a costly redesign during
the development phase. mission profile was changed from high-altitude to low-altitude, terrain-following.
You can read about it here in some detail:
So as said, the question I’d like to explore is the possibility of prototypes or demonstrators for the B-2 program and what could have happened to
I think it would be rather unusual for Northrop to move from drawing board straight to production. The B-2 wasn’t just your run in the mill aircraft
but something radically different, revolutionary even in many aspects.
I can accept that there were no prototypes in the initial competition between Lockheed and Northrop. But I have a hard time believing they didn’t
built something after they got the contract and the program was changed from Senior Ice to Senior Cejay.
Think about what happened during the F-117 development. No prototypes built during the competition (‚just‘ RCS mockups) but as soon as Lockheed
got the contract they built the Have Blue demonstrator and prototypes (YF-117A Senior Trend).
Or if we look at the bomber programs before the B-2: The B-1 program had four prototypes. And the XB-70 was, well the XB-70 prototype.
Same is true for the fighter jets of the time. The F-15 had no less than 12 prototypes. The YF-18 was a thing and the aircraft it flew against – the
YF-17 – went on to become the F-18 Hornet. And there were the YF-22 and YF-23 too of course.
So what about the B-2 program? In a way it had prototypes. The first 6 B-2 (called Air Vehicles 1-6) were actually built as flight test aircraft with
specialized flight test hardware. They were eventually all converted to operational status, the first B-2 ever built (Air Vehicle 1) was actually the
last, 21st B-2 delivered to the Air Force.
And there was BSAX/Tacit Blue of course from which at least curved surfaces or composite materials could have been reused in the ATB program. But this
program basically happened in parallel to the ATB effort, it would be weird to test stuff for ATB on a completely separate program. Weird but not
So this is where the story ends? Quite possibly, but maybe there is more to it. There are some hints pointing in a different direction and of course,
lots of speculation as usual.
If we look at the development history of the B-2 we see its shaping up quite similar to the F-117 (the only other official stealth aircraft project at
the time). You can read up about it here: foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com...
Notice the picture of Senior Peg on the RCS test pole. Just like with the F-117 competition they tested the RCS of the entries. How likely is it, that
Northrop didn’t built their B-2 Senior Cejay demonstrator after they had won, just like Lockheed built Have Blue and Senior Trend?
I realize a glorified attack aircraft is not comparable to a strategic bomber, but it took Lockheed about four years, going from winning the contract
and building the demonstrators to build production aircraft. Northrop took seven years going from winning to production, even factoring in the delay
due to the redesign, what did they do during this time? Testing stuff on Tacit Blue which isn’t even a flying wing?
The B-2 was a radical design for its time and yet they decided trusting the data left over from the YB-49 in the 1950s was enough?
They had money to burn – 23 billions US-$ for R&D on the B-2 alone – and yet they decided testing some of the tech on Tacit Blue was enough?
ATB was a strategic program with the highest national priority during a time of exploding defense spending and they didn’t go with a demonstrator?
Instead going from drawing board directly to initial low rate production within 7 years?
In my opinion the timeline screams for them to build an early demonstrator/prototype under Senior Cejay, just after they won the contract in 1981.
And then – going with this theory, and its really just a theory – the redesign in the mid 80s really screwed them over.
Again take a look at how the B-2 were orignially supposed to look:
I think is quite possible they were left with a High Altitude Penetrator demonstrator, they couldn’t really do anything with after the redesign in
the mid 80s.
At this point I’d like to introduce us to USAF Colonel Frank T Birk, flight test pilot, test pilot for the 6512th Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force
Base, B-1A Test Program Director of Operations, B-1B Combined Test Force Director of Flight Test, Commander of the 412th Test Group and … Director
of the B-2 Combined Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base.
What Frank T Birk is actually famous for is being the first pilot to fly a “classified advanced technology demonstration prototype” at Groom Lake
in August 1983:
Now of course we don’t know what that thing actually was. I’d however like to make the case for it being a B-2 pre redesign prototype.
A) the guy was basically a go to men for everything bomber related. Him flying an early B-2 demo would be a perfect fit.
B) The timeline adds up exceptionally well if we assume Northrop built the demo just after they won the contract in 1981. The fact that Birk flew only
three flights with it might even hint at the redesign screwing things up for Northrop, grounding the bird prematurely.
C) consider the name:
The B-2 development project was named Advanced Technology Bomber program. This aircraft is named Advanced Technology Demonstration Prototype. Taken
literally this aircraft is just that, a demonstration prototype for the ATB program.
Something similar happened recently with the Long Range Strike – Bomber program. I won’t go into this here, just read up on NGLRS-D. Similar
naming game there.