"Fathers of Stealth" visit Whiteman
By 2nd Lt. Rachel Davenport, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 21, 2009
WHITEMAN AFB, Mo. -- Four of the original designers of the B-2 Stealth Bomber held a "Fathers of Stealth" panel Jan. 16 to elaborate on ideas behind the development of the unique aircraft. They described the fabrication process and answer questions regarding its conception.
The four "fathers" to visit Whiteman were John Griffin, the government chief engineer for the B-2 bomber program; John Cashen, designer of the low-observable feature of the aircraft; Irv Waaland, the airframe designer; and Jim Kinnu, the program manager. The "fathers," who designed and experienced firsthand cutting edge technology in the making, shared their individual stories.
Irv Waaland set the tone as he described our nations need for the B-2 and what it would bring to the fight.
"The environment at the time in the late 70s, during the Cold War Era with the massive Soviet defense buildup, was mutually assured destruction with a triad philosophy: there's no way they are going to stop us from having a response," said Mr. Waaland referring to the variety of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. "There were a lot of studies going on for a mass-strategic penetrating aircraft," stated Irv.
In 1979 Northrop was tasked to do a study for a stealth bomber and briefed the concept of the aircraft to the Department of Defense and United States Air Force Headquarters that year.
In Theory the aircraft had four major requirements: to penetrate the most sophisticated foreseeable defenses, large range and payload capability, mission flexibility, and be mission ready and available. These preliminary requirements established many aspects of the plan, including size and shape.
"The size of the airplane was set by the propulsion system," Mr. Waaland said. "They wanted the inlet a certain length back from the leading edge and the exhaust needed to be a certain distance away as well (to contribute to the stealth characteristics of the aircraft)."
Every detail was carefully scrutinized, calculated and thoroughly tested while patiently building it.
"I knew from day one the requirements that Irv described for making this airplane. If it was going to be in the operational fleet of the United States Air Force, it had to be an operational airplane, not a secret cop. It had to be an airplane that could exist in all kinds of weather, under all conditions, and still be a mainstream airplane for the United States Air Force," Mr. Kinnu said concerning his angle on the making of the B-2.
In order to accomplish these requirements, he had to identify what he called a "Risk Closure Plan," or problems and risks within the design of the B-2 that had been stumbled upon during the early crafting stages.
Many of the early problems were resolved, however in 1983, there were three aero-elastic problems identified, said Mr. Kinnu. There was a major issue concerning pitch control power, vital structural load issues, and maintaining the baseline was impractical.
Despite these daunting challenges, the determination of the men working to correct these three issues and the intricate solutions implemented to overcome them took time and wisdom to integrate into the B-2 structure, he said. These results laid the groundwork for later force structure stealth use.
As the men concluded their discussion panel, each was asked to give their thoughts on the proudest moment in their experience with the B-2 program and what lessons they wanted to share as they left the stage Friday. The following responses are what the "Fathers of Stealth" concluded with:
John Cashen: "The thing I've learned more than anything else is put the right people in the right place, and they'll make you proud and they'll make themselves proud. Developing people is the thing I've learned more than anything else in a major complex engineering project."
Irv Waaland: "Things work best when the customer and the contractor are a team."
Jim Kinnu: "The bottom line is what your commanding officer said this morning [referring to Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak], you have a revolutionary weapons system at your disposal, and you guys have used it outstandingly well."
John Griffin: "I watched the airplane take off...and I said to no one in particular, 'We have just witnessed the dawn of an entirely new age in aerospace. I am truly impressed with the people that I met today at Whiteman. The pilots, the maintainers, everyone--I really am impressed. We all feel good that our child, our baby, is in good hands."