The release of a new image of a highly classified aircraft always causes a stir in the aviation community. The design of stealth planes in particular is always kept under wraps for as long as possible to avoid revealing details of their radar signature, and the B-21 bomber is likely to be one of the stealthiest planes on the market. However, the latest version of the B-2 reveals little – and may even be misleading – about what looks a lot like a deliberate act of trolling.
Stealth is the art of minimizing the detectability of the aircraft, and much of it is about reducing its radar reflection. This is achieved by two means: an outer skin made of radar absorbing material and careful shaping. While an ordinary metal surface reflects radar like a mirror reflects light, other materials produce much less feedback. As early as World War II, the Germans covered the snorkels of submarines with a rubbery material containing flakes of metal to make them more difficult to spot on radar; modern materials are a bit more sophisticated.
Formatting matters much more, which is why the B-2 Spirit so impressed observers when it was first revealed. While the previous F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft were all angular planes – dictated by the inability of the computers of the day to handle radar calculations for complex shapes – the B-2 looked practically organic, avoiding them. sharp lines or flat surfaces a free radar “glint”. Take a close look at the B-2 Spirit and the top and bottom surfaces are continuous three-dimensional curves. And these are not curves with a regular radius, rather segments of a spiral with a changing radius.
The stealth B-21 Raider is the next-generation strategic bomber that will replace both the B-1 and B-2, but not the venerable B-52 which has been in service for over sixty years. The B-21 will perform both conventional and nuclear strike missions in the most demanding situations, leaving the B-52 to act as a bomb truck or arsenal plane. At least 100 B-21s will be acquired according to the new version, more than the â80-100â previously reported. With only 58 B-52s still active, this will make the B-21 by far the most important strategic aircraft in the arsenal. It should enter service in the âmid-2020sâ, which suggests an ambitious development schedule.
But although two B-21s have already been built and are ready for testing, the Air Force has not chosen to release any photographs. Instead, we have an artist impression. And, as the Air Force notes: “As with previous renderings, this render is an artist’s interpretation of the B-21’s design.” Which means the artist probably hasn’t even seen the plane he’s trying to portray.
As TheDrive notes, the new image doesn’t show the engine’s intakes or exhausts, key stealth features that observers would like to compare with the B-2 and which have been the subject of design reviews. It resembles previous versions in its outlines, but, especially since it is shown in midair, there is nothing that would give a clue to its dimensions, which remain secret.
The most surprising feature of the new interpretation is the multi-part cockpit window, which is unlike any previous aircraft and does not seem to give the pilot a clear view. There had previously been speculation that future stealth planes would not need portholes, as these would be made redundant by systems like the F-35’s EOTS camera which gives the pilot a high-definition 360-degree view. around them.
Aviation journalists were not impressed with the image.
âThe next time the USAF shares an image of the B-21, I hope it will be a photo. And, in case anyone helpful is reading, I mean a crisp color photo that isn’t distorted by parallax or forced perspective, âtweeted Steve trimble, Defense Editor of Aviation Week.
“I’m so sick of trying to extrapolate something meaningful from an illustration” Tweeted Valerie Insinna from DefenseNews.
The Aviationist notes that posting an artist’s rendering rather than a photo is an obvious way to include inaccuracies to be deliberately misleading.
The B-21 is expected to be deployed in 2022, when the press can properly examine it. Don’t count on it though; when the B-2 was deployed to Palmdale in 1988, journalists were only allowed to view the aircraft from the front to conceal the still classified exhausts. However, a team discovered there were no airspace restrictions and flew over a Cessna, capturing exclusive footage. This is unlikely to happen again – and during this time, the Air Force can continue to broadcast vague, unnecessary, or misleading imagery as much as it wants.