Military Aviation

Video shows Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider first flight

B-21 Raider first flight

Taken on Nov. 10, 2023 the video in this post features the first flight of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider strategic bomber.

The aircraft took off from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., just after dawn in a flight that concluded at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), Calif., after 90 minutes, according to local observers.

The B-21 first test flight moves the futuristic warplane closer to becoming the US’ next nuclear weapons stealth bomber.
According to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek, “The B-21 safely landed. This was a test flight.”

As reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine, the aircraft was filmed from outside Plant 42, heading eastbound with an F-16 chase plane after climbing to about 500 feet. The landing gear had yet to be retracted in video and photos that appeared on social media.

The aircraft appeared to be trailing a lengthy cable from the upper surface of the tail on the port side, near the exhausts.

More than a ferry hop

The Raider took off at approximately 7 am local time and landed at Edwards at approximately 8:30 am local time, an Air Force spokesperson said confirming reports by individuals watching from outside the gates.

The B-21 maiden flight not only clears the way for the Air Force to issue a low-rate initial production contract for the bomber but also fulfills the prediction by manufacturer Northrop Grumman and the Air Force that the new stealth bomber would fly before the end of 2023.

Air & Space Forces Magazine added that ‘The duration of the flight suggests that the flight could have been more than a ferry hop to Edwards and that a test card may have been conducted, which can evaluate flying qualities. Flight tracking websites indicated the aircraft was flying a roundabout pattern between Palmdale and Edwards.

‘The service did not immediately release imagery, and the flight was not announced beforehand, which is consistent with the Air Force’s statements that the bomber would fly when it was ready to and not according to a calendar schedule.’

The B-21 Raider is in flight test

A Northrop Grumman spokesperson explained that “As confirmed by the U.S. Air Force, the B-21 Raider is in flight test. The robust flight test campaign is being executed by a Combined Test Force comprised of Northrop Grumman and Air Force personnel that will validate our digital models and moves us another step closer to reaching operational capability.”

Stefanek added that flight testing “is a critical first step in the test campaign managed by the Air Force Test Center and 412th Test Wing’s B-21 Combined Test Force to provide survivable, long-range penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks against the United States, allies, and partners.”

The first operational B-21s will be based at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., while maintenance will be managed at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.

Six test aircraft are being produced now and are being built on the same production line, using the tools, processes, and technicians that will be used for production aircraft.

What You Need to Know About Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider

According to a Northrop Grumman news release, the B-21 benefits from more than three decades of strike and stealth technology innovation and is the next evolution of the US Air Force strategic bomber fleet and the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft to reach the skies.

When it comes to delivering America’s resolve, the Raider will provide the Air Force with long range, high survivability and mission payload flexibility. The B-21 will penetrate the toughest defenses for precision strikes anywhere in the world. Here is what you need to know about Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider as it continues flight test.

Sixth Generation

The B-21 Raider is setting standards for sixth-generation technology. On the outside, next-gen stealth and advancements in low observable processes will make the aircraft easier and less costly to maintain than prior systems. Inside, the B-21’s open architecture will enable rapid upgradability from inclusion of new weapons to software upgrades thanks to advanced networking capabilities and successful cloud environment migration. With these innovations, the B-21 is designed to meet evolving threats for decades to come.

Partnership Approach

The B-21 Raider program is reimagining traditional acquisition processes. Through active contract management, Northrop Grumman and the Air Force have worked in a partnership focused on shared success over the long term. The teams’ focus on transparency is evident in the industry-first data sharing agreement that provides the end user with access to valuable data, including the B-21 digital twin.

Backbone of the Fleet

The B-21 Raider forms the backbone of the future for US air power (the USAF plans to build 100 of the warplanes). The B-21 will deliver a new era of capability and flexibility through advanced integration of data, sensors and weapons. Capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads, the B-21 will be one of the most effective aircraft in the sky, with the ability to use a broad mix of stand-off and direct attack munitions.

Production Focus

A key strategy of the program was to build a production representative first test aircraft. Rather than a prototype, the B-21 test aircraft is equipped with mission systems and was built by the same manufacturing technicians using the same processes and tooling for production aircraft. The body of knowledge and experience gleaned in the development process supports a smooth transition into production on the path to delivering operational capability.

A Digital Aircraft

Northrop Grumman uses agile software development and digital engineering tools to mitigate production risk and enable modern sustainment practices for the B-21 program. Ground testing demonstrated the efficacy of digital modeling with results that outperformed industry standards, paving the way for next-gen platforms and systems.

Advanced Manufacturing

By embracing the benefits of advanced manufacturing, Northrop Grumman invested in a digital ecosystem for the B-21 throughout the aircraft’s lifecycle. From training and augmented reality tools allowing technicians to visualize tasks and solve problems before ever touching the plane, to easing integration of supplier parts on the aircraft, these advancements have reduced risk, supported efficiency and cultivated expertise throughout the manufacturing workforce.

A National Team

Since contract award in 2015, Northrop Grumman has assembled a nationwide team to design, test and build the world’s most advanced strike aircraft. The B-21 team includes more than 8,000 personnel from Northrop Grumman, industry partners and the Air Force, with more than 400 suppliers across 40 states. The partnership approach extends to the flight test campaign. Initially stood up in 2019, the B-21 Combined Test Force is comprised of Northrop Grumman and Air Force personnel working together to conduct flight test operations prior to aircraft delivery.

Sustainment at the Forefront.

Sustainment was a program priority throughout the B-21 program’s design phase. In addition to driving efficiency over the long term, this approach yields more near-term benefits and sets the B-21 further along on tech data, materiel readiness and training which will benefit the user community upon fielding.

Global Reach

The B-21 Raider is pivotal to supporting our nation’s strategic deterrence strategy. In addition to its advanced long-range precision strike capabilities that will afford Combatant Commanders the ability to hold any target, anywhere in the world at risk, it is designed as the lead component of a larger family of systems that will deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic attack and multi-domain networking capabilities. In a dynamic global security environment, the B-21 will provide the flexibility and deterrence critical to the security of the US and our allies.

Continuing the Legacy

The B-21 Raider is named in honor of the Doolittle Raid of World War II when 80 airmen, led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, and 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers set off on a mission that changed the course of the war. The raid was a catalyst to a multitude of future progress in U.S. air superiority and serves as the inspiration behind the Raider name and the pioneering, innovative spirit instilled across the workforce bringing the B-21 to life.

Video: Defence Simplified

Photo credit: Matt Hartman Twitter profile and U.S. Air Force

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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