A spray-on low-observable (LO) coating has been applied for the first time to the Northrop Grumman B-2 bomber. The radar-absorbing material should boost the US Air Force B-2 fleet's ability to deploy by dramatically reducing maintenance needs.

Northrop Grumman used a system of four robots to apply the first alternate high-frequency material (AHFM) on a B-2 undergoing heavy maintenance at the company's plant in Palmdale, California. The AHFM-coated aircraft is expected to enter an operational test and evaluation period after it has completed the maintenance cycle.

The new coating is being designed to eliminate about 915m (3,000ft) of tape and caulk now used to smooth over the B-2's rivets, joints and exterior panels. Post-mission maintenance checks are expected to fall from days to hours.

The inability to deploy rapidly and sustain high sortie-generation rates has been a criticism of the stealth programme. The AHFM upgrade is the air force's second major initiative since 2002 aimed at boosting sortie rates. In late 2002, the air force began fielding climatically controlled temporary shelters to forward operating bases, such as Diego Garcia.

Source: Flight International