A pal says the Stealth Bomber is invisible to bats. Is it true or is he umm... batty?

I work at an aviation/military museum. A colleague of mine has read seemingly reliable accounts of flying bats slamming into parked Stealth Bombers because the bats’ echolocation sensors could not “see” the planes. He said this took place at night inside the tents that held the bombers during Desert Storm.

Sounds like an urban legend to me, but he swears it’s true. FWIW, I could find no mention of the tale on Snopes.com. What say you, Dopers?

I know the spirit has a shaped body to deflect and difuse microwave radiation, but audio waves ?? I get it , if it has a basis , the bat is not getting a return echo saying , hey something is in front.

Was he sure it was Desert Storm, from what i recall the spirits were making 30 hour flights out of barksdale afb and recovering at Diego Garcia. I cant remember but I dont want to say outright they were never based in Saudi or Qatar.

Is it possible he was talking about the F-117 instead ?


I call shenanigans, microwave radar frequencies, and ultrasonic audio frequencies are two fairly different animals, plus there is the relative size. Bats can detect things the size of moths, to imagine they are not going to able to avoid something that to them is relatively the size of a large tree, cliff, or hill is pulling the gullibility bone to the point of breaking. I think your buddy is playing on the bat radar = microwave radar notion and they are not ever vaguely similar.

Sounds fishy enough, but even if there were something to it, it couldn’t have been a stealth bomber. The B-2 wasn’t used in desert storm, the first B-2 was delivered in 1993 and they saw their first combat in Kosovo in 1999. During the more recent war in Iraq, I think they have been flown from Diego Garcia, I remember seeing satellite images of them stationed there before the war. They also fly missions from their home base at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. Also, they exactly park them in tents.

Bats do run into stuff sometimes, so maybe somebody took a few accidents and expanded the story. Camouflaged camps are full of netting and ripped cloth so there’s even more chance for an accident.

I don’t think that any of us know the properties of one of those planes enough to say they don’t mess up the sound waves used in high speed flight by bats. Personally I would believe the claim possible until proven otherwise, but wouldn’t pass it along at a place like a museum.

It’s worth noting that US submarines have long been covered with an “anechoic” coating (a rubber-like polymer) that absorbs sound (re-emitting it as a little heat energy, if I understand correctly) to fool enemy naval sonar. It’s certainly possible that the Air Force could do something similar to the B-2. Whether there’s any need to do so is questionable…does any military use sonar to detect aircraft?

Well, don’t light (and other RF) and high-frequency sound reflect the same off of surfaces? On the surface, I would find it credible that a bat may not receive an incoming echolocation from a stealth plane. I say on the surface, because like the OP, I don’t know everything there is to know about stealth techniques.

There’s also the possibility that it’s a greedy bat thinking that he’s going after the insect of his life. No kidding. My wife killed a bat with a tennis ball just before the new year. The bat chased the ball in flight, only to find it wasn’t what he expected.

However, F-117 stealth planes were proeminently used in the Gulf War. Still not hangared in tents though.

I have a hard time believing this story - even if we assume what works against radar works against ultrasound (which is pretty out there already), stealth planes aren’t invisible to radar. They just throw back an echo that is small enough that the radar automatically filters it out (all radars do, else they’d pick up clouds, birds, clouds of insects etc…). Your friend is either pulling your leg, or a leg-pullee himself.

That’s not where the burden of proof lies. The burden of proof lies on the person making the claim.

And it’s bullshit by inspection anyways. The external skin of a B2 is smooth for non-turbulent flight. I’ve seen them up close at a display. There is no credible evidence that some magic or super-secret property of the skin will absorb or scatter sound in a way that bats will crash into them somehow.

Assuming we are talking about an F117 (the B2 not being involved in Desert Storm) my understanding was that a large part of its “stealthiness” was down to the angular and faceted geometry of the airframe, not to material properties of the skin. I suppose it is remotely possible that a bat’s sonar pulse would be reflect away from its ears by an acutely angled piece of the airframe without any magic.

This story is mentioned in the book Skunk Works by Ben Rich, about the F-117A.

Here’s a link to a page about the F-117A, that mentions the bat story (scroll down near the bottom). Here are a couple of quotes:

Well, let’s explore that claim.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-band_radar#Radar

X-band radar does include a 3 cm wavelength.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_detector

This is a wavelength, according to this site (http://www.sengpielaudio.com/calculator-waves.htm) of between 2.86cm to 0.215cm at 20 C.

So assuming that you take the very low end of the ultrasonic range only, you get a possible overlap of frequencies.

Now the challenge question to the audience is, given that there is a small possible overlap between the bottom range of bat ultrasound and part of X-band radar, is it logical to assume that stealth fighter/bomber/NASCAR/grocery cart technology is sufficient to absorb bat sonar to the point where a bat will be blind to a wing or tail section to the point where it will die via impact?

In other words, the coincidence of numbers does nothing to convince me. But I’m willing to be convinced with hard evidence. Until then, I still insist the burden of proof is still on the person making the claim.

That’s one crazy bat. Probably his sonar was messed up and the biggest thing in his way was a humongous plane.

Where else would old bats go to die? Did they check for bats outside the hangers? In the belfries?

But isn’t F-117 designed not to absorb, but rather to deflect radar waves? Wouldn’t that funny shape work kinda like those pyramids on walls of anechoic chamber? At least for some angles? Just asking, I don’t know enough about acoustics.

I quite agree. On the other hand, though, I do enjoy a bit of baseless speculation. So…

It occurs to me that nocturnally flying insects are more than just batfood – they’re also a nuisance for humans and a potential hazard to delicate avionics. A little googling tells me that at least some ultrasonic pest repellents also overlap with bats’ echolocation frequencies. I suppose that could confuse the little buggers.

Of course, I realise I’m just multiplying entities here.

I was wrong here. It’s not bullshit by inspection after all, as I’ve found by spending way too much time on this this morning so far, but nor can I find evidence, other than a couple of anecdotal notes, that bat echolocation is impacted by stealth technology.

That wasn’t a statement to say who needs to prove what. Like I said I wouldn’t spread that around the museum as a fact.

Well, that kind of stands to reason, since stealth technology is a) classified, to an extent, and b) not widely applied.

There were only 59 operational F-117s; there are 20 operational B-2s; there are 130 or so F-22s currently in service, and of course none have been flying for more than a couple of years.

Absent an academic study of the impact of stealth-capable airframes on bat echolocation, which would have little or no value to the DoD and thus is not likely to be allowed, a couple of anecdotal notes is all you’re going to get.

Under those circumstances, a story that F-117 operators have backed up is fairly credible.

The most likely explanation, to me, is that a bat or two has flown into parts of a stealthy aircraft when people were watching. This was mistakenly attributed to the properties of the aircraft by an analogy between ultrasound and radar.

And it’s understandable, as there is something to that analogy. That’s because there are some similar reflective behaviors between ultrasound and high-frequency (like X-band) radars, in the way those things interact with objects on the scale of airplanes. (But note that the skin of a stealth aircraft will do nothing to absorb sound, even if it’s designed to absorb some EM radiation.) So I will admit that there is a good chance that an aircraft like the F-117 would be harder to detect in ultrasound than, say, an F-16. The facets on an F-117 would certainly do something to minimize returns to the bat. But they would also certainly not do enough to keep a bat from noticing the aircraft. If the echolocation return of an airplane could be reduced to make it look like the size of an insect, that would be the kind of result that engineers would consider mind-blowingly phenomenal. And guess what…bats are used to finding things with ultrasound that are the size of insects. So the best we could imagine doing still wouldn’t be good enough. And that’s even ignoring the fact that the aircraft isn’t at all designed to reduce ultrasound returns!

Besides, the story above about the bat flying into the side of an F-117’s vertical tail almost proves that it’s not a matter of the bat being fooled by stealth technology. Planes like that are not designed to deflect much radar from the side. Radar returns to the front and rear are minimized at the expense of making the side sectors worse. If that bat couldn’t see what is almost literally the broad side of a barn, it was a victim of its own stupidity.

Of course, now I’m curious if a stealth aircraft has ever been featured in a Daredevil comic.