USAF releases first official photos of B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight

USAF releases first official photos of B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight

By Dario Leone
May 22 2024
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First official photos of B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight

Taken at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) the pictures in this post are the first official photos released by the US Air Force (USAF) featuring the new Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight.

Following its formal unveiling, Dec. 2, 2022, the B-21 Raider began flight testing at Edwards AFB where according to a USAF news release it continues to make progress toward becoming the backbone of the USAF bomber fleet.

On May 8, 2024, during testimony at the Senate Armed Services committee, Andrew Hunter, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, highlighted B-21 flight testing is on track to meet timelines and deliver to the warfighter.

USAF releases first official photos of B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight
The B-21 Raider program is on track and continues flight testing at Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing facility on Edwards Air Force Base, California.

“We are in the flight test program, the flight test program is proceeding well,” said Hunter in response to a question about the B-21 program. “It is doing what flight test programs are designed to do, which is helping us learn about the unique characteristics of this platform, but in a very, very effective way.”

Hunter explained this is the first aircraft that is more digital than not, which contributes to the program meeting requirements.

The B-21 Raider

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.

The Raider 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.

USAF releases first official photos of B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight
A B-21 Raider conducts flight tests, which includes ground testing, taxiing, and flying operations, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, where it continues to make progress toward becoming the backbone of the US Air Force bomber fleet.

The B-21 weapon system is manufactured under the Air Force’s contract with Northrop Grumman. It is designed with an open systems architecture, enabling rapid insertion of mature technologies, and allowing the aircraft to remain effective as threats evolve over time. The aircraft is expected to enter service in the mid-2020s with a production goal of a minimum of 100 aircraft.

Making test aircraft as production representative as possible

The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office manages the acquisition program, focusing on making test aircraft as production representative as possible. Test aircraft are built on the same manufacturing line and use the same manning and tooling that will be used in the eventual production.

The AFRCO’s strategy includes building test aircraft as production-representative as possible. Rather than a traditional flight prototype approach, B-21 test aircraft are built including mission systems using the same manufacturing processes and tooling for production aircraft. This approach in development laid the groundwork for production to start more quickly.

When the B-21 enters the service, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, will be the first B-21 main operating base and location of the Formal Training Unit. Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, are the preferred locations for the remaining bases and will receive aircraft as they become available.

USAF releases first official photos of B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight
A B-21 Raider conducts flight testing, which includes ground testing, taxiing, and flying operations, at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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