PALMDALE, Calif., April 19, 2004 (PRIMEZONE) -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has successfully applied a specially formulated coating developed to help improve the B-2 stealth bomber's combat readiness to an operational aircraft for the first time. The coating was applied at the company's Antelope Valley Manufacturing Center here using a robotic paint system.
Known as alternate high-frequency material (AHFM), the radar-absorbing coating was developed by Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector, the B-2 prime contractor, for application to the aircraft surface in areas where regular maintenance is performed. The B-2's stealth characteristics require a smooth outer surface without any gaps that could reflect radar waves and reveal its position to the enemy.
The original B-2 design called for specially formulated tapes and caulks to cover gaps on the surface such as those near maintenance access panels. Those special materials must be removed each time maintenance is performed, then reapplied and allowed to cure before the aircraft can be returned to service. AHFM replaces approximately 3,000 feet of tape, which helps reduce maintenance time in those areas from several days to several hours.
"The development of AHFM is another example of how Northrop Grumman is working with the Air Force to ensure that the B-2 remains as effective in combat tomorrow as it is today," said Duke Dufresne, Northrop Grumman vice president and B-2 program manager. "It's one of several ways we're improving the weapon system with the latest technologies so it can continue to play an important role in the military's emerging integrated battlespace."
To ensure a precise, uniform application of the material, Northrop Grumman developed an automated system consisting of four independently controlled robots.
"Each robot is preprogrammed to paint one of the AHFM application areas on the aircraft," said Michael O'Keefe, manager of automation at the Palmdale facility. "This system can precisely apply the AHFM in the correct thickness, which is measured in thousandths of an inch."
The AHFM-equipped aircraft is expected to be delivered to the Air Force later this year at the end of its current airframe maintenance period. Airframe maintenance is regularly performed by Northrop Grumman in Palmdale on B-2's that arrive from their operational home at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
The B-2's unique capabilities allow it to penetrate an enemy's most sophisticated defenses and threaten its most valued and heavily defended targets. The B-2 meets the Air Force's requirement for long-range, lethal and survivable systems to project air power anywhere in the world. It can fly more than 6,000 nautical miles unrefueled and more than 10,000 nautical miles with just one aerial refueling, giving it the ability to fly to any point on the globe within hours.
Northrop Grumman and the Air Force are working on a series of enhancements to the B-2's ability to respond to emerging worldwide threats as a key element of the military's network-centric warfare concept. For example, some of these improvements will make the B-2 better equipped to communicate and exchange data with joint force commanders and receive updated target information during a mission. In addition, integration of a new electronically scanned array radar antenna will modernize the onboard radar system.
The improvements also include a "smart-bomb rack assembly" that will give the B-2 the ability to deliver 80 "smart" (GPS-guided) weapons on a single pass, five times as many as its current capacity. Successfully tested on a B-2 last year, the new bomb rack is scheduled to be operational in 2004. Last year's test with inert 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) marked the first time an aircraft has delivered that many guided, independently targeted weapons at one time. Northrop Grumman managed the development of the smart-bomb rack with its major subcontractor, The Boeing Co.
Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems is a premier aerospace and defense systems integration enterprise. Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., it designs, develops, produces and supports network-enabled integrated systems and subsystems for government and civil customers worldwide. Integrated Systems delivers best-value solutions, products and services that support military and homeland defense missions in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; space access; battle management command and control; and integrated strike warfare.
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