Daily Mail UK By Richard Hartley-parkinson Last updated at 12:40 PM
Touchdown: B-2 stealth jets return after epic 11,500 mile journey to bomb Libyan aircraft shelters
on 21st March 2011
They dropped 45 satellite-guided bombs weighing 2,000lbs each
Six hero pilots return home safe and sound from a bombing mission to Libya which saw them in the cockpit for an incredible 25 hours.
Three B-2 Spirit bombers, piloted by two men each, made it back after the 11,418-mile round trip from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri - where they are kept in special hangars - to Libya, where they hit targets on forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi and back again.
At $2.1bn, they are the most expensive warplanes in the world and rarely leave their climate-controlled hangars. But when it does, the B-2 bomber makes a spectacularly effective start to a war - including during this weekend's aerial attack on Libya's air defences.
Its mission is to penetrate heavily defended enemy territory and 'kick down the door' on the opening night of a conflict. One of its special features is its ability to carry eight GBU-37 'bunker buster' bombs, weighing in at 2.27 tonnes that are capable of boring 20 to 30 ft of rock or reinforced concrete before detonating.
After the first wave of more than 110 Tomahawk missiles launched from allied warships in the Mediterranean, they struck yesterday morning on 'a variety of strategic targets over Libya', according to the US Air Force.
They dropped a total of 45 one-tonne satellite guided missiles on Libyan aircraft shelters before making the 5,709 mile journey back to the Missouri. The B-2 stealth bombers were first used in the Kosovo and Serbian war and have been used more recently in Afghanistan.
The long-range, heavy bomber capable of penetrating sophisticated and dense air-defence, and with one refuelling, is able to fly to any point in the world within hours.
The aircraft is famous for rather ominous-looking bat-like silhouette: The leading edges of the wings are angled at 33° and the trailing edge has a double-W shape. It is manufactured at two Northrop Grumman facilities in Pico Rivera and Palmdale in California.
The aircraft also are deadly and effective: An assessment published by the USAF showed that two B-2s armed with precision weaponry can do the job of 75 conventional aircraft.
That makes it a powerful weapon to strike targets including bunkers, command centres, radars, airfields, air defences. The B-2 can carry 16 2,000 pound (900 kilogram), satellite-guided bombs, including an earth penetrating version. As well as the eight 'bunker busters', its bomb bays can carry 16 Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), which have been tested at ranges 180 miles from the target, or the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), a glide bomb that releases cluster bombs.
A major drawback, however, is the intensive maintenance required by the B-2s, whose heat and moisture sensitive skin must be painstakingly taped and cured after every mission.In previous conflicts, the maintenance requirements kept the B-2s tethered to their home base at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
In Afghanistan, that meant 44-hour bombing runs for their two-member crews, the longest air combat missions in history. It also meant few B-2 missions.
But the air force has built special climate-controlled shelters at bases on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and at Fairford, Gloucestershire, for B-2s, which were built by Northrop Grumman and first flew in 1989.
Staying awake for the 25-hour mission while being in control of bombs that weigh nearly a tonne is a difficult task and one that tests the mettle of the pilots that take part in such journeys.
It isn't clear how the six pilots on Operation Odyssey Dawn managed to stay awake, but in the past they have used a fold-out bed behind the seats at the controls. It is also possible that they used auto-pilot for the majority of the journey but used manual controls while bombing so that they could keep concentrating on the task at hand.
WHY THE B-2 IS SO DEADLY
Range: 6,000 miles
Special features: radar absorbing skin to make it near-impossible to detect. Can carry the GBU-37 'bunker buster' 5,000 lib bomb that can bore 20 to 30 ft through concrete
Capabilities: Two B-2s armed with precision weaponry can do the job of 75 conventional aircraft. Can carry 16 2,000 lb satellite guided bombs
Max speed: 630mph at 40,000 ft
Cruise speed: 560mph at 40,000 ft
Dimensions: 69ft long, 17ft high, 172ft wingspan
Major drawback: Heat and moisture sensitive skin that needs taping and curing after every mission and climate-controlled hangar
Read more: Touchdown: B-2 stealth jets return after epic 11,500 mile journey to bomb Libyan aircraft shelters