The Nov. 22, 1988 rollout of the Northrop B-2 stealth bomber in Palmdale, California, made aviation history. Though “stealth” had been written about since the 1970s, the public had yet to see a stealth aircraft, save for a grainy image of an F-117 released two months earlier. U.S. Air Force officials were determined to conduct the unveiling on their terms, surrounding the B-2 with guard dogs and confining the media to bleachers so they couldn’t see its exhaust system and other characteristics.

Undaunted, one Aviation Week writer that decided to go over their heads – literally. Surmising that Air Force officials had not thought to close the air space over the rollout, engineering editor Mike Dornheim rented a Cessna 172 and brought along a photographer, snapping detailed photos of the B-2 from above as the rest of the media peered up at the buzzing in the sky.

“Aviation Week came away with an exclusive photo,” recalled Bill Sweetman, then a competitor of Dornheim’s who wrote for Janes. “The photo also made it clear that 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.” The photo, along with a detailed analysis of the B-2’s design characteristics by Aviation Week’s editors, ran in the Nov. 28 edition of the magazine.

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