What is the best bomber in the world? Unarguably, the U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit. But to truly understand why this stealth aircraft is such a formidable foe, it’s helpful to understand the role aerial bombing plays in warfare.
The first military airplanes were used solely for surveillance. But by World War I, military aircraft had adopted fixed, forward-facing guns—marking the start of air-to-air combat. Indeed, World War I brought us the legacy of aces like Eddie Rickenbacker from the U.S. and Germany’s infamous Manfred “Red Baron” Richthofen.
Still, it wasn’t until the interwar period (between World War I and World War II) that the value of strategic bombing was truly recognized. The technological improvements that came about between the two wars included longer flying times and the ability to reach higher altitudes. By World War II, strategic bombing became a fundamental part of military combat.
Aerial bombardment can destroy important features of an enemy’s infrastructure—like factories, railways, munitions facilities and refineries. Simply put: strategic bombing strips an enemy’s ability to successfully battle.
So, why does the B-2 Spirit carry the coveted title of the best bomber in the world?
Built by Northrop Grumman, the B-2 Spirit is capable of penetrating the most sophisticated enemy defenses undetected via its stealth technology. It entered into service in 1997 as only the second aircraft designed with advanced stealth technology, after the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.
The B-2 can carry sixteen 2,400-pound B83 nuclear bombs. It has a maximum payload of 20 tons and can deliver its munitions with precision in any weather conditions. It can fly 6,000 nautical miles on a single fueling. And the B-2 has a max speed of 630 miles per hour.
During the B-2’s infamous combat debut in Operation Allied Force, the stealth bomber flew less than 1 percent of the total missions but destroyed 33 percent of the targets in the first eight weeks of the conflict.
On one training mission, two B-2s flew a 34-hour round-trip mission from Missouri to Libya, refueling in the air multiple times, supported by 15 tankers from five bases across three continents.
If precision, stealth, long-range, impressive payload and speed are the demands for the title of the best bomber in the world, the U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit is untouchable. Its combination of these war-changing characteristics also makes it the most terrifyingly destructive force in the sky.
If you live near a U.S. Air Force base, keep your eyes on the skies and you may just catch a glance, although surely brief, of one of the 20 B-2s in operation today. They are also occasionally seen soaring over sporting events in flyovers, promoting the United States’ military prowess. But, if you aren’t lucky enough to witness this one in person, visit the Hill Aerospace Museum. While we don’t have a B-2 Spirit in our collection, we do have other legendary bombers that served as the B-2’s predecessors like the B-17 “Flying Fortress” and the B-29 “Superfortress.”
We have more than 70 modern and vintage military aircraft on display, as well as thousands of artifacts representing the history of aviation from the U.S. Air Force, Hill Air Force Base and the State of Utah. And did we mention? Admission to the Hill Aerospace Museum is FREE. Although, voluntary donations go a long way in helping us maintain our collection of vintage aircraft and vestiges of military history.