1988: B-2 Stealth Unveiled

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The rollout of the Northrop B-2 bomber on November 22, 1988, was a big deal. Fourteen years after the word "stealth" first crept into print, nobody had seen what a stealth aircraft looked like, without having signed a scary non-disclosure agreement -- with the exception of a single horrible-quality photo of the F-117 that had been released two weeks earlier, and a single (even uglier) artist's concept of the B-2 itself. The list of rules for media attending the rollout was long and restrictive but most of us were glad to attend.

Aviation Week's West Coast technical editor, Mike Dornheim -- at the time, my frequent and annoyingly well-connected competitor -- was not impressed by all the restrictions. The media at Palmdale would see the aircraft from only one angle and would be confined to the bleachers. Details of the exhaust system and the exact plan view of the aircraft would be concealed. On the day, the security perimeter around Air Vehicle 1 would be patrolled by lean, mean-looking guard dogs.

But the security was tight in only two dimensions. Mike's recreations were motorcycling and flying small airplanes, and it was through the second of these that he realized that nobody had thought to close the airspace over Palmdale.

So it came to pass that the rest of us were gathered at Palmdale in a holding area, before being led to the rollout site, and I recall someone asking "Where's Dornheim?" The answer would have been plain to anyone who looked upwards during the ceremony to spot a Cessna 172 orbiting in lazy circles, with Mike in the left seat and photographer Bill Hartenstein acting as Reconnaissance Systems Operator on the right.
 

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Unlike everyone else, myself included, Aviation Week came away with an exclusive cover photo. The photo also made it clear that the B-2's edges were aligned -- that is, every edge on the aircraft was parallel with one or other of the long leading edges -- which was a pivotal moment in public, unclassified understanding of stealth.

Read Dornheim's story: USAF, Northrop Unveil B-2 Next Generation Bomber.

I was fortunate to count Mike as a good friend, until we lost him to an auto accident in 2006. However, my inner Dornheim -- skeptical and firmly, one might say rigidly fact based -- remains active, although perhaps not as much as it was in him. Thanks for the history, Mike.

 

► Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

Discuss this Blog Entry 7

on Nov 26, 2014

Actually, the Cessna overflight was not necessary. The star in the foreground comprises five B-2 top views. I noticed it at the time and was surprised that it has apparently never been mentioned since.

on Aug 4, 2016

edwisch, I respectfully disagree. What the photo showed from that overflight that you could not see from the "star" or the frontal view of the B-2 outside the hanger was the flight controls and the engine exhaust area. I remember it was consider quite the coup at the time to get that photo. It helped to provide more perspective on the design. It was a brilliant idea that no one else had thought of doing.

on Aug 4, 2016

I remember reading in AvWk that the 5-plane star was actually outside the plant all along in the employee eating area and used as a design motif for all Russian satellites to see. No one ever considered the design to be any more than a "star". It was under everyone's noses all along. Sometimes the best way to hide something is in plain site while having fun with your enemies.

on Nov 26, 2014

Bill, I remember. Good example of why we look to you guys to get the story! Thanks.

on Nov 27, 2014

Thanks for the effort.
My brother and i sat around off the road in the trees North of the unveiling that day, able to see a little.
When I got a copy of Aviation Week, it took me an extra hour to calculate the /5 0r 72/108 degree common denominator of what was probably man's first 100% CAD aircraft. Printing distortions mask the simplicity.
How did Mike Antonivich get a classified clearance?
Why would the president of Northrup arrive in a Cessna?

on Aug 4, 2016

Once we heard that the B-2 would actually be rolled out of its Palmdale hangar, Mike Dornheim, Bruce Smith (LA Bureau Chief, at the time) and I (then-Senior Engineering Editor) discussed how we might get an overhead shot of the bomber's planform. One screwball idea was to tether a hot air balloon just off the airport's north perimeter. When I noted that "wind was invented and perfected in the Mojave Desert" and strong "blows" were near-daily events, we abandoned the balloon idea, fearing that our perch might wind up in Barstow, before the B-2 was rolled out.

Finally, either Mike or I checked the FAA NOTAMS and were stunned to find that, although the Palmdale airfield was closed to landings and takeoffs, during the ceremony, airspace ABOVE the airport's control zone would NOT be closed. Overflights were permitted. We then decided to rent a Cessna 172, hire Bill Hartenstein to shoot the photos, and merely fly overhead. The weekend prior to rollout, Mike and Bill H. made a trial flight over Palmdale to make sure Bill would have the right lenses on hand.

On rollout day, I was the lone Aviation Week reporter onsite, charged with taking head-on photos and taking notes about comments made by DOD, Air Force and Northrop officials. Several times, I leaned back to steal a glance skyward and was jazzed to see that little Cessna flying in lazy circles.

Concerned that he'd be "violated" for the overflight, Mike tape-recorded all radio exchanges with the local air traffic controllers. Nobody ever challenged him.

When our story--and those look-down photos--appeared in the following Monday's magazine, I received a call from Gene Gleason, a fellow pilot and a great reporter for ABC's LA affiliate, Channel 7. He said, "How did you guys get those photos?" I explained...and could hear him practically banging his forehead, saying, "I had a helicopter sitting 20 feet behind the grandstands! I just assumed the airspace was closed!"

I replied, "Well, Gene, you know what 'assume' does for 'u" and 'me.'"

Bill Scott

on Aug 5, 2016

But will they disclose the electro-gravitic propulsion system designed by GE and Northrop? The plane itself is not very impressive, but the idea of a flame jet generator that ionizes the air up stream with positive charged ions and creating negative ions in the back from the probe in the exhaust of the plane is impressive.

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Aviation Week is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016. Here, we highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.

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