I have been playing around on a bunch of programs with stealth planes and their general shape. I know that they are required to be flat and have some sort of special material/paint on to 'absorb' the radio waves.

But I have been pondering about the required shape of these aircraft and why the flying wing shape is so widely used (excluding its lift efficiency). Why not some other shape, like a tilted square, triangle, or even a sphere? What makes the general shape of the B-2 and F-117 so common in the design of stealth aircraft?

  • $\begingroup$ The b-2 bomber has a very stealthy and very aerodynamic shape. The whole plane is basically a wing there is no fuselage. The reason for this design was actually inspired by a nazi plane concept from ww2. The Nazis designed a plane with a similiar shape but didn't realize it had stealth capabilities. Once the Americans took the design of that fighter we found it had a pretty major stealth advantage over current planes at the time. The f-117 shape is specifically designed to deflect radio waves. All of those corners deflect the waves although it's maneuverability is pretty slow. $\endgroup$
    – Ethan
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ The designers for the b-2 went to a museum and saw the concept nazi plane and based there design off of it. The concept plane is called the horton ho 229. It's really fascinating $\endgroup$
    – Ethan
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ The f-117 was designed in the late 70's when the main focus was stealth. The main purpose of this fighter was stealth. So all the corners were the way engineers came up with to deflect radio waves. The only problem with it was the fact that It wasn't aerodynamic at all. It completely lacked maneuverability. It was expensive and unaerodynamic so only 64 were built. But was virtually undetectable by radar. $\endgroup$
    – Ethan
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 22:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @HephaestusAetnaean: First, it is Horten. Next, the earliest Northrop flying wings may predate the latest Horten designs, but Northrop joined the party quite late. If you want to see really early flying wings, search for "Etrich / Wels glider" (1906) or "Dunne" (1910). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 9:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf - I'm not denying the existence of other flying wings. I'm countering the extremely common myth that Northrop "based there [sic] design off of [a concept nazi plane in a museum]." Saying they took mere "inspiration" from the "horton [sic] ho 229" is also too generous. "Competitive research" might be more accurate. 1: youtube.com/watch?v=cWOq0pdXxFU 2: youtube.com/watch?v=uUNLf9OfWDA 3: youtube.com/watch?v=GOB45i5BtQQ 4: youtube.com/watch?v=GOB45i5BtQQ $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 1:35

3 Answers 3


First of all, the general idea is to avoid reflection of radar energy back to its source. Next, you want to direct the reflected energy into as few directions as possible in order to dazzle any observer with a momentary bright beam, surrounded by as little reflection as possible. That is the reason for the aligned edges and serrated patterns on stealth designs.

Next, there is quite some variety. How about this one (Northrop Battlefield Surveillance Aircraft eXperimental (BSAX), or Tacit Blue; source):

Northrop Tacit Blue Stealth demonstrator

Or this (McDonnell-Douglas Bird of Prey stealth demonstrator; source):

McDonnell-Douglas Bird of Prey stealth demonstrator

Or this (BAE Taranis UCAV demonstrator; source):

BAE Taranis UCAV demonstrator

If you think that all stealth airplanes look the same, maybe you are only looking at those which were designed for the same purpose?


That is a compromise between low observable requirements and traditional aerodynamics. Actually a B-2 and an F-117 are quite different in terms of configuration. One is flying wing and the other is not.

Flying wings have historically been very popular for low observable use as the absence of a fuselage, empennage, and other structural features decreases the aircraft’s radar signature. Most low observable UAV aircraft, such as the X-47 and the RQ-175 also use the flying wing configuration in them.


Briefly, the design of stealth aircraft aims to reflect the minimum possible amount of radar energy back towards the radar. This is achieved in two ways; firstly, the aircraft's shape is designed to reflect the radar energy, which is electromagnetic radiation, away from the radar. This is what gives stealth aircraft their distinctive "look". Secondly, the aircraft's structure is designed to absorb radar energy rather than reflecting it as far as possible. This applies to the aircraft's external "skin" and also to the internal structural components. The use of composite materials rather than metal has benefits in this respect.


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