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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stealth bomber photographed breaking sound barrier

A stealth bomber is frozen in time as it breaks the sound barrier during a test flight above the Californian desert.
A Stealth bomber is frozen in time as it breaks the sound barrier during a test flight above the Californian desert : Stealth bomber photographed breaking sound barrier
B-2 Spirit Bomber breaking the sound barrier over Palmdale, California Photo: EPA

Its unmistakable teardrop profile is shrouded in the blur of a condensation cloud as it reaches high subsonic speed.

The striking image of the B-2, officially known as the Spirit Bomber, was taken as the aircraft soared over Palmdale, near Los Angeles.

It was released to coincide with the announcement of upgraded military software for the United States Air Force's fleet of 20 B-2s.

The bomber is central to America's air warfare capabilities and is the flagship of the nation's long-range strike arsenal, with the ability to unleash conventional and nuclear weapons.

Its stealth comes from a combination of reduced acoustic, infrared, visual and radar signatures, making it difficult for opposition defences to detect, track and engage the aircraft.

They have seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The B-2 can travel as high as 50,000ft and weighs 153,700lbs without its payload of bombs.

The cloud effect is caused by a vapour cone also known as the "Prandtl-Glauert singularity".

It appears when there is a sudden drop in air pressure around aircraft travelling just above or below the speed of sound.

These condensation clouds, also known as "shock collars", are frequently seen during space shuttle launches but their precise nature is still under debate.

US defence contractor Northrop Grumman Corporation disclosed on Tuesday that it is installing upgraded software in the B-2 bombers' flight management system.

A statement from technology group Semantic Designs, which designed the software, said the project "will enhance and extend the lifetime of the B-2".

The company said: "Although the B-2 is the Air Force's newest bomber, its computers and processors require upgrade to keep up with integration efforts.

"Expanded and more reliable systems are necessary to maintain the B-2's leading edge combat capabilities."