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Taming the Spirit's Warmth: Northrop Grumman will replace the aft deck panels on the Air Force's B-2 stealth bombers under a $109 million contract that the company announced Wednesday. "The B-2 industry team is working closely with the US Air Force and the Defense Logistics Agency to improve aircraft availability," said Gary Roehrig, the company's B-2 program support director. Stretching from the engine exhaust to the aircraft's trailing edge, the recessed metallic panels shield the aircraft's sensitive composite airframe from being scorched by hot engine gasses. After a rigorous structural and thermodynamic study, Northrop says it redesigned the decks to resist damage and fatigue, allowing them to last through a normal depot maintenance cycle without extensive repair. "Implementing a redesigned aft deck is an important part of guaranteeing the long-term viability of the B-2," said Dave Mazur, Northrop's B-2 program manager. The Air Force operates 20 B-2s.