• 50 Years - A Million Thanks
WARPLANE: A Century of Military Aviation Advances
Parts One and Two: Wednesday, November 8th, 9-11pm   |   Parts Three and Four: Wednesday, November 15, 9-11pm

The Warplanes That Changed The World




Stealth: Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk
Crew: Three
Length: 40 ft. 9 inches
Wingspan: 77 feet 9 inches
Range: 520 miles
Maximum Speed: 87 mph
Maximum Height: 21,300 feet
Armament: 2 or 3 7.62mm machine guns; 1100 pounds of bombs
Dates in Service: 1917-1918 (various versions)


Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit
Crew: Three
Length: 40 ft. 9 inches
Wingspan: 77 feet 9 inches
Range: 520 miles
Maximum Speed: 87 mph
Maximum Height: 21,300 feet
Armament: 2 or 3 7.62mm machine guns; 1100 pounds of bombs
Dates in Service: 1917-1918 (various versions)

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After supersonic flight, the next great revolution in warplane design was stealth - making planes, for all practical purposes, invisible to radar. Stealth provides an enormous advantage; allowing them to invade enemy airspace, accomplish their mission and get home undetected. The technology is so complicated, top secret and expensive that even today, very few warplanes have stealth capabilities.

The world's first combat stealth plane, the F-117, debuted in 1982 and saw it's first service in the 1991 Gulf War. Like so many other revolutionary aircraft, it was a product of Lockheed's "Skunk Works." Although relatively slow and un-maneuverable, it proved successful at launching precision strikes against heavily defended ground targets in the two Iraq wars, as well as in Panama, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.

The second stealth aircraft to enter service, the B-2, is a large, extremely sophisticated, and extremely expensive strategic bomber. During the air campaign over Kosovo and in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, B-2s flying from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri bombed targets in those countries on missions that often lasted well over thirty hours.

The two aircraft represent the evolution of stealth technology over the years. The F-117 achieves stealthiness with an airframe broken into dozens of different flat planes ("facets"), which scatter incoming radar beams instead of reflecting them back to the enemy receiver. The plane is also covered in special paints and tapes that further disperse the radar, but these require constant service and make the F-117 a very high-maintenance machine. The B-2, in contrast, relies on a flying wing shape that is inherently low-profile to radar, and its coating can be applied by robots and requires far less upkeep.


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