The US Air Force (USAF) announced on Sep. 12, 2023 the B-21 Raider has commenced engine runs as part of its ground test program at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California, facility. According to a Northrop Grumman news release, engine testing is an essential milestone for the program as the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft continues on the path to flight test.
The B-21’s first flight will remain a data driven event that is monitored by Northrop Grumman and the USAF.
However, according to the service the B-21’s first flight is anticipated to take place in calendar year 2023.
The B-21’s rollout took place in December 2022.
Along with the news that the B-21 has begun engine runs as part of its ground testing program, three new images of the Raider were released: two by the Air Force (released during USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. keynote address at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference and dated Jul. 31, one photo features the B-21 at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, Calif., facility and one show the bomber outdoors, a rare sighting of the aircraft outside the hangar) and one by Northrop Grumman.
According to Air & Space Forces Magazine, ‘The most prominent new feature shown in the new images is an air data probe mounted on the front of the aircraft below the nose; a test item which will not be a feature of operational aircraft. The probe is angled downwards, suggesting the airplane may fly with a slight pitch-up attitude.
‘The images also emphasize how narrow the air intakes on the aircraft are—a marked contrast to the Air Force’s other stealth bomber, the B-2 Spirit—as well as the B-21’s simpler landing gear doors. The photos also appear to show the B-21’s flight control surfaces for the first time, seemingly three per side of the flying wing aircraft, and they seem larger than those on the B-2.
‘Using ground crew in the hangar photo as a gauge, the aircraft appears to have a wingspan of approximately 135-155 feet, versus 172 feet for the B-2.’
The B-21 Raider will be the backbone of the bomber fleet and will incrementally replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers as sufficient numbers of B-21s are available. The state-of-the-art bomber will provide survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and protect the US, allies, and partners.
As already reported, the Boss of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere said on Mar. 7, 2023 that the USAF will field a minimum of 100 B-21s as part of a long-term plan for fleet of 220 bombers. The B-21 will come in cheaper than its B-2 predecessor, which cost more than $1 billion per airframe.
The B-21, while state-of-the-art in the 2020s, is designed to be upgraded throughout its life as well to maintain its relevance.
The B-21 is the first new bomber to be introduced since the end of the Cold War. The aircraft is designed with updated stealth qualities and mission flexibility that senior leaders in the Air Force and across the Department of Defense say are necessary to achieve the US goal of achieving integrated deterrence, and if necessary, capabilities required to successfully respond to aggression anywhere in the world at any time.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman
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