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B-2 bomber's 'stealth' affected by heat, water, humidity

B2 Bomber August 22, 1997
Web posted at: 11:00 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Air Force is delaying plans to station any costly B-2 stealth bombers abroad, because the planes must be housed in special climate-controlled hangars to protect their radar-deflecting surface from bad weather.

The hangars are unavailable at the plane's overseas destinations, officials said Thursday.

The decision came on the heels of a report from the General Accounting Office, the auditing arm of Congress, which said testing indicated the B-2 is sensitive to heat, water and humidity, and that "exposure to water or moisture can damage some of the low-observable enhancing surfaces on the aircraft."

Of all practice runs between March 1996 and March 1997, only 26 percent were successful missions, with climate listed as the primary reason for failures, the GAO said.

The Air Force already has received 15 of the 21 sleek fighter planes it ordered, which cost more than $2 billion each.

Northrop Grumman Corp. builds the B-2s, which are based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, where they are kept in special hangars. The sleek black aircraft have a wingspan of 172 feet (52 meters).

The GAO report comes at a time when the Senate and House of Representatives are preparing to wrangle over whether to spend more money on the bomber.

Air Force officials cited in the report said it was unlikely that the bomber's moisture sensitivity would ever be corrected completely, "even with improved materials and repair processes."

The Air Force stressed that although any overseas basing of B-2s was being delayed for perhaps two years or more while it addressed the problem, the planes could still fly nonstop to overseas targets from the United States.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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