The Air Force Wednesday dropped the veil of secrecy surrounding its Stealth bomber, releasing a picture of the new craft and announcing it would make its maiden flight this fall.

As previously disclosed by former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the new long-range strategic bomber resembles a `flying wing" with the cockpit and engine inlets sitting on top of it.The service, in a brief statement, said the plane would "ensure our capability to effectively penetrate Soviet defenses well into the 21st century."

"The first flight of the B-2 . . . will represent a dramatic leap forward in technology and the achievement of a major milestone in our nation's strategic modernization program," added Air Force Secretary Edward C. Aldridge.

The Air Force has designated the new plane the B-2, but it has been known since development began in the 1970s as the

Stealth. The nickname stems from its stated goal of being able to fly anywhere in the world without being detected by radar.

The Air Force, in reducing its security classification governing the program Wednesday, did not provide any information on the plane's performance characteristics, nor did it say on what date the maiden flight had been scheduled.

"The first flight of the Advanced Technology Bomber, or B-2, is currently scheduled for this fall," the service said.

"On its maiden flight, the B-2 will launch from its final assembly facility at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., and land at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where flight testing will be conducted.

"The initial flight of the B-2 will highlight the return of the flying wing design to military aviation."

The flying wing design was last tested in the 1950s.

The flying wing design allows the aircraft to be fabricated without any sharp or right angles. According to Pentagon sources, the plane also relies on the use of radar-absorbing coatings on its exterior surfaces and composite materials for construction.

The prime contractor for the craft is the Northrop Corp.

While the Air Force has never discussed the plane's design openly until Wednesday, Goldwater while the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee disclosed to reporters the plane's basic shape several years ago.

The service, in its statement Wednesday, also acknowledged the cost of building 132 Stealth bombers would probably rise beyond initial estimates.