While the first B-21 is expected to roll out in early 2022 and fly in the middle of that year, production of a second B-21 stealth bomber is underway at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, Calif., said director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office Randall Walden.
Walden explained in an exclusive interview with Air Force Magazine that although the US Air Force (USAF) predicted it could fly the secretive B-21 for the first time in December 2021, the forecast was always a best-case scenario, and that first flight in mid-2022 is now a “good bet.”
Although the first B-21 hasn’t yet reached final assembly, Walden said that is “really starting to look like a bomber.” According to Walden a second Raider is now moving down the production line and will allow the Air Force to vet the airframe.
“The second one is really more about structures, and the overall structural capability,” he pointed out. “We’ll go in and bend it, we’ll test it to its limits, make sure that the design and the manufacturing and the production line make sense.”
The B-21 will be available for service around 2026 or 2027 said on Jan. 14, 2021 Lt. Gen. James C. Dawkins, Jr., deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration. In 2018, the USAF estimated the cost of developing and buying the first 100 aircraft at $80 billion in 2016 dollars.
Walden explained that the first flight will only happen after elaborate coordination with Northrop Grumman, major suppliers, and the test community to ensure “that we are ready to go.”
“The pandemic has slowed us in certain areas, but I think we have compensated,” Walden added. “I don’t think we’ve got significant delays to … first flight.”
Program officials in fact are trying to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the aerospace industry before they can drastically affect the B-21’s progress.
Walden also said the program is reducing risk by using a business-class jet similar to Lockheed Martin’s Cooperative Avionics Testbed aircraft (dubbed CATbird) as an avionics testbed, working out hardware and software kinks before transferring them to the B-21.
The USAF released the latest artist renderings of the B-21 Raider concept on Jan. 21, 2020. The renderings showed the B-21 in hangars at the three locations where the nation’s newest stealth bomber will be housed – Dyess Air Force Base, Ellsworth Air Force Base and Whiteman Air Force Base.
The B-21 Raider is being developed to replace the Air Force’s aging B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit aircraft. The B-21 will be a long-range, highly survivable bomber aircraft capable of carrying a variety of mixed conventional munitions or nuclear ordinance.
The B-21 Raider will be capable of penetrating the toughest defenses to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world, playing a vital role in America’s national security.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman
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