Touchdown: B-2 stealth jets return after epic 11,500 mile journey to bomb Libyan aircraft shelters
Six hero pilots return home safe and sound from a bombing mission to Libya which saw them in the cockpit for an incredible 25 hours. Three B-2 Spirit bombers, piloted by two men each, made it back after the 11,418-mile round trip from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri - where they are kept in special hangars - to Libya, where they hit targets on forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi and back again.
At $2.1bn, they are the most expensive warplanes in the world and rarely leave their climate-controlled hangars. But when it does, the B-2 bomber makes a spectacularly effective start to a war - including during this weekend's aerial attack on Libya's air defences.
Its mission is to penetrate heavily defended enemy territory and 'kick down the door' on the opening night of a conflict. One of its special features is its ability to carry eight GBU-37 'bunker buster' bombs, weighing in at 2.27 tonnes that are capable of boring 20 to 30 ft of rock or reinforced concrete before detonating.
After the first wave of more than 110 Tomahawk missiles launched from allied warships in the Mediterranean, they struck yesterday morning on 'a variety of strategic targets over Libya', according to the US Air Force.
They dropped a total of 45 one-tonne satellite guided missiles on Libyan aircraft shelters before making the 5,709 mile journey back to the Missouri. The B-2 stealth bombers were first used in the Kosovo and Serbian war and have been used more recently in Afghanistan.
The long-range, heavy bomber capable of penetrating sophisticated and dense air-defence, and with one refuelling, is able to fly to any point in the world within hours. The aircraft is famous for rather ominous-looking bat-like silhouette: The leading edges of the wings are angled at 33° and the trailing edge has a double-W shape. It is manufactured at two Northrop Grumman facilities in Pico Rivera and Palmdale in California.
The aircraft also are deadly and effective: An assessment published by the USAF showed that two B-2s armed with precision weaponry can do the job of 75 conventional aircraft. That makes it a powerful weapon to strike targets including bunkers, command centres, radars, airfields, air defences. The B-2 can carry 16 2,000 pound (900 kilogram), satellite-guided bombs, including an earth penetrating version.