Feeds

Upgrade drags Stealth Bomber IT systems into the 90s

We're looking for a Mr Gorb... Gorbachev

Boost IT visibility and business value

US aerospace heavyweight Northrop Grumman has revealed some details of a planned upgrade to the computing system of the famous B-2 Stealth Bomber, one of the most expensive and unusual aircraft in the world. According to reports, the well-known but seldom seen ghost bomber will be finally moving up to Pentium processors and code written in C. The B-2 will also get a new disk drive.

B2 stealth bomber

Stealth Bomber - now with Pentium sticker.

Northrop says that during the upgrade, many standalone computers distributed throughout the B-2's batwinged airframe will be combined into a single faster and more modern Integrated Processing Unit (IPU) with fibre links to the various hardware it needs to interface with.

Flight International reports that the IPU will use "Pentium class" processor chips. According to Northrop: "It provides the high-speed data handling environment required to implement future capabilities such as an EHF satellite communications system, and the ability to destroy moving targets."

The new disk drive - a piece of kit seen by US government auditors as "high risk", but in which the air force and Northrop have full confidence - will come from Honeywell. The B-2's flight-management computer, without which its unstable low-observable flying wing airframe cannot fly, will be replaced by a more modern single-card processor "installed in one of many computer slots" in the new IPU.

Naturally the stealth bomber's software has to be rewritten for the new platform, in particular the operational flight program (OFP) - the app which lets the ungainly plane fly, rather than lurching out of control as it would without constant computer assistance. (A recent B-2 crash shortly after takeoff at the Pacific island of Guam was caused by a false sensor data feed into the OFP, resulting from an airspeed measuring device being affected by tropical moisture. The duff data fooled the OFP app into wrecking the $2bn bomber - while the pilots were unable to do anything to stop it.)

It seems that the current OFP was written in a now-obsolete programming language called JOVIAL. Northrop are proud to announce that they have figured out how to translate the code into a "newer, more modern programming language called C".

While it might seem odd to some readers that the US Air Force's multibillion dollar flagship plane is only now "upgrading" to fairly basic tech, this is commonplace in advanced aerospace and military kit. The space shuttle's flight computers, similarly critical to it remaining under control, are likewise basic. In the early years of the 21st century, the main battle computer of a Royal Navy destroyer was still based around two 24-bit, 1 MHz processors each with 25KB of RAM.

Getting back to the B-2, Northrop and the US air force expect to start flight testing the new computer upgrades late next year. There are also a raft of other hardware updates - more bomb racks, massive bunker-penerating superbombs, better comms, better radar etc - planned for coming years. ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
LOHAN packs bags for SPACEPORT AMERICA!
Spanish launch goes titsup, we're off to the US of A
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
BYOD's dark side: Data protection
An endpoint data protection solution that adds value to the user and the organization so it can protect itself from data loss as well as leverage corporate data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?