The F-117 was built to fight, but the iconic B-2 Stealth Bomber was built to nuke. It was designed to carry up to 16 2,400-pound nuclear bombs deep into guarded Soviet airspace...should the need have ever arisen.
By the time the B-2 underwent its first mission in 1999, though, the Cold War had long ended.
That level of attention to detail doesn't come cheap, though. Each B-2 Stealth Bomber costs the US roughly $2.13 billion. And that doesn't include the $135,000 it costs per-flight-hour to operate.
Published:Caption:Fox Van AllenPhoto:Airman 1st Class Joel Pfiester/USAF
The stealthy secret? Triangles
The jagged tail end of the B-2 uses an important design feature called "re-entrant triangles." When radar hits it, the waves are reflected back onto the plane multiple times, lowering the waves' energy.
This is the USAF's new $1.5 trillion stealth fighter
This is the F-35 Lightning II, the latest generation of stealth fighters. The US is expected to spend over $1.5 trillion(!) to design, purchase and operate 2,457 of these planes through their expected retirement date of 2070.
Published:Caption:Fox Van AllenPhoto:Staff Sgt. Madelyn Brown/USAF
Even the cockpit is built with stealth in mind
The F-35 Lightning II may be largely invisible to radar, but its pilot's helmet isn't. Neither is its instrument panel.
To keep the interior invisible, the cockpit is covered in a thin film of vapor-deposited gold or indium tin dioxide to scatter radar waves away from the receiver.
Published:Caption:Fox Van AllenPhoto:SrA Christopher Callaway/USAF
The helmet also collects data from the plane's six infrared cameras, allowing the pilot to "see through" the plane and view the ground simply by looking between his legs, for example.
Published:Caption:Fox Van AllenPhoto:Senior Airman Brett Clashman/USAF
The F-35's weapons systems are well hidden inside the plane
Exterior mounted missiles are easy to detect on radar, so the F-35 has four hidden weapon bays instead: Two with air-to-air missiles, and two with air-to-surface missiles. It also carries a GAU-22/A cannon (25mm) in its gun pod.
Its software doesn't work right, the ejector seat has the potential to fail, the plane is incredibly difficult to maneuver and fuel inefficient, and its radar system is a mess. Oh, and its fuel tank is unusually susceptible to being struck by lightning.
Not all stealth planes are clunky to fly, though. The F-22 Raptor can maintain supersonic flight, and is supermaneuverable.
And it's stealthy as hell. According to the USAF, its radar cross section is equivalent to that of a metal marble.
Published:Caption:Fox Van AllenPhoto:Senior Airman Anthony Nelson/USAF
Only one stealth plane has ever been shot down
Stealth planes do have a major weakness: They briefly lose their stealthiness when they open their bomb doors. This fact was a key contributor to the only downing of an F-117 by the enemy, during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.