17:31 GMT15 April 2021
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    The most recent estimate for the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider’s first flight is in mid-2022, with the first two aircraft under construction. The Raider is due to replace the B-2 Spirit, the first and only operational stealth bomber.

    The US Air Force is short on parts for its B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, and needs a capable engineering contractor to reverse engineer a key part in its cooling system. It’s a humorous request to make, given how highly secretive the aircraft’s design is.

    A solicitation notice posted on the beta.SAM.gov US government contracting site last week says the US Air Force needs someone to “reverse engineer” the core of one of the B-2’s cooling systems, as well as figure out how to remove the defective cores and install the new ones. The posting says the engineers will be provided with two examples of the pieces needed.

    It’s unclear exactly why this process is required. As The War Zone notes, it’s possible that due to the B-2’s highly secretive nature, the original plans or tools for producing the part in question have been destroyed; another possibility is that they were produced by a firm that no longer exists.

    Northrop built just 21 of the advanced aircraft, the last of which entered service in 2000, having originally planned to buy 132 of them before the end of the Cold War. They are expected to continue in service until the 2030s, when they will be replaced by the B-21 Raider, another stealth bomber of remarkably similar configuration.

    This isn’t the first time the US military has faced such a problem: when the Iowa-class battleships were being removed from mothball and modernized in the 1980s to compete with the Soviet Union’s Kirov-class cruisers, only a handful of people were still around from when they had last been used in the 1950s and 60s, much less from their construction in the 1940s, resulting in a costly and time-consuming retraining process for their crews.

    In addition, the Air Force has also reverse-engineered numerous parts of the aging B-52 Stratofortress bomber, the War Zone noted. The huge aircraft are more than half-a-century old and expected to continue flying for decades to come.

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    Tags:
    US Air Force, parts, reverse engineering, B-2 Spirit
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