B-21: America’s New Stealth Bomber
By Peter Suciu
There has been a lot of rumour and chatter when it comes to the U.S. Air Force‘s new B-21 Raider stealth bomber. How much will it cost? When will it fly? Can it compete in contested air spaces that Russia and China would make deadly in a war? We asked one top expert to break down the latest developments: The United States Air Force’s Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is inching closer to making its first flight, which is now scheduled for next year. Testing has continued on the first B-21 Raider prototype, and earlier this month, Northrop Grumman successfully completed the first and most critical loads calibration test.
According to the aerospace firm, the recent test was one of three major conditions the aircraft will undergo in the current phase of ground testing as it progresses toward its first flight. Loads calibration, which focuses on calibrating instrumentation prior to a flight and verifying structural integrity, has yielded positive and consistent results. During testing, the B-21’s airframe endures varying percentages of stress to ensure the aircraft can proceed on its path to flight readiness.
B-21 Ground Testing
Even before the B-21 Raider ever takes to the skies, it will have undergone a significant number of trials. During the ground test phase, in addition to loads calibration, the team will power up the aircraft, test its subsystems, and apply coatings and paint. That will be followed by engine runs as well as low-speed and high-speed taxi tests, all leading up to the eventual first flight.
Production for B-21 Will Ramp Up
In addition to the build-up to the B-21’s maiden flight, Northrop Grumman has also invested in a robust production program, which is critical to the National Defence Strategy. The company has announced that it will be able to deliver the B-21 at a rate that will have a real effect for the U.S. Air Force in combating the threat.
“The B-21 test aircraft is the most production-representative aircraft, both structurally and in its mission systems, at this point in a program, that I’ve observed in my career,” Randy Walden, director of the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and program executive officer of the B-21 Raider program.
Other B-21 Program Advances
The B-21 Raider was designed as a dual-capable penetrating strike stealth bomber that can deliver conventional and nuclear munitions. It is set to enter service by the end of the decade, with full-scale production of the Raider expected to begin by late 2025 or early 2026. Over five years, the Air Force will spend $19.536 billion for B-21 procurement.