PALMDALE, Calif. -- The Air Force publicly rolled out its worst-kept secret Tuesday, the B-2 Stealth bomber, designed to fly virtually invisible to radar until 'it's too late.'
Spectators were kept at 200 yards distance and the broodish black and gray plane was positioned on the desert tarmac to offer as little profile as possible to any spy satellite that might have been overhead.
The carefully orchestrated preview of the boomerang-shaped bomber capped off a decade of research and development by government and private industry contractors.
Ushered out at 11:50 a.m. to the cheers of 2,500 dignitaries and guests, the airplane -- as long as an F-15 fighter but with the 172-foot wingspan of a B-52 -- took three minutes to be towed from its hangar at the Air Force's Plant 42 test site 50 miles north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert.
'Let all of us remember America's enduring hope and prayer -- that the B-2 will strengthen the cause of peace -- and that this magnificent aircraft will never fly in anger,' Air Force Secretary Edward 'Pete' Aldridge Jr. said.
Under a sunny sky, spectators watched the slow rollout while the 523rd Air Force Band played 'Stealth Fanfare,' a short composition written for the event by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Alan Yankee, a 35-year-old saxophone player from Oregon.
More than 200 security guards and military police were on hand to ensure that no one got an unauthorized view of the $450 million bomber's rear or underside, where sophisticated engine and radar defeating features are visible.
Among the invited guests were Sens. Pete Wilson, R-Calif., James Exon, D-Neb., Harry Reid, D-Nev., and 13 congressmen.
They joined dozens of high-ranking military officers and civic leaders as well as officials from the 41 separate contractors who built the airplane.
Security was so tight that Air Force officials said even a spy satellite positioned overhead would not be able to see all of the aircraft's unique characteristics.
'A satellite would not afford them (Soviets) any better view than if they were here in the grandstand,' Aldridge said.
The Stealth bomber will cost an estimated $60 billion by the time the fleet of 132 planes is flying in the mid-1990s.
The Air Force said the bomber, with its skin of advanced non-metallic compounds, will be an integral part of America's arsenal for at least 30 years.
The plane's special compounds allow the Stealth to absorb radar waves rather than reflect them back. The characteristic makes the plane virtually invisible to most radar installations until 'it is too late to do anything about it,' Maj. Patrick Mullaney said.
'We ourselves do not have the (radar) capability to go after this plane and it will be extremely expensive and take some future technology to do so,' Aldridge said.
There is no known defense system in the world, he said, that could thwart an attack by the Stealth bomber.
'This program is essential to our strategic defense,' Aldridge said. 'We can't afford to bewithout it.'
He defended the expensive bomber as a 'stabilizing' military influence and 'an essential component of our strategic nuclear forces as we progress down the path of nuclear arms reducton.'
The airplane's first test flight will take place in late December or early January, the Air Force said. The flight will be commanded by two pilots, one military and one from Northrup.