Silence about the B2
Associated Press The B-2,stealth bomber lifts off on its maiden flightyesterday. Its pilot said, "it was meant to fly.", B-2 test pilot had to keep his enthusiasm for the plane secret PALMDALE, Calif. (AP) — For years, Northrop's chief test pilot had to contain his enthusiasm for the progress of the top-secret stealth bomber. But Bruce J. Hinds emerged Monday from the cloak of secrecy surrounding the radar-evading B-2; as the aircraft itself left its giant hangar and took to the air. The pilot, and Air Force test pilot Richard Couch, had high praise for the arrowhead-shaped plane's handling characteristics. characteristics. "It was meant to fly," Hinds said. "It likes to fly." Hinds, 50, and the 43-year-old Couch applied terms such as "nimble" and "beautiful" "beautiful" to their sunrise test flight 10,000 feet above the Mojave Desert. For Hinds, a former Air Force test pilot who has flown 66 different aircraft including the U-2 spy plane and the F-104 Starfighter, the flight from a Northrop hangar to nearby Edwards Air Force Base represented a rendezvous rendezvous with history. "I had always been fascinated with flying wings," Hinds said, referring to the wing- shaped prototypes built by aviation mavericks mavericks in the 1930s and 1940s on which the B- 2 is based. The Northrop pilot couldn't indulge his curiosity publicly, however. Little more than a year ago, the stealth bomber, with a program program price tag of more than §70 billion, did not officially exist. For a decade, it lurked in the shadows of the Pentagon's highly classified classified "black programs." Since Hinds was the bomber's chief test pilot, he had to maintain the same vow of secrecy as the 32,000 other workers in the B-2 program, "It's often the case with test pilots that they can't discuss the airplane they're working working on," said Northrop spokesman Tony Cantafio. Still, Hinds crossed paths with other fliers at meetings of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. There, he listened to pilots from earlier generations discuss test work from flying wings conceived before he was born. As early as the 1930s, aviation pioneer Jack Northrop was building such all-wing aircraft. Stubbornly, he contended the wings had great load-carrying capacity, superior fuel economy and aerodynamics. During World War II, the Germans built prototype all-wing bombers. Today's B-2 shares an eery resemblance to aHorten bomber built for the Luftwaffe but never flown in combat. According to William Swcetman's reference work titled "Stealth Bomber," at war's end, German designers were working on a six-engine all-wing jet bomber. "With the flying wing, you get the feeling they should have kept going," Hinds said. "That whole series of planes was pretty remarkable for its time." Just as remarkable, Hinds said, is the B- 2's advanced computer controls that keep the flying wing stable in flight without aid of a tail. "It's like flying a conventional aircraft," he said.