The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider has made its maiden flight in Palmdale, California, kicking off the USAF bomber’s flight testing campaign.
When the U.S. Air Force unveiled the B-21 Raider to the public a few months ago they only allowed people to look at it from a limited number of angles. ONE angle, to be precise: straight on, from the front. A more side-on view emerged a few weeks later, but the public still had little to go on. Even the plane’s size wasn’t clear.
All this changed a few weeks ago, as the aircraft started taxiing out of U.S. Air Force’s Plant 42 in Palmdale. With many of the taxi runs taking place in sunlight, eager plane spotters quickly started snapping photos of the stealth bomber.
B-21 Raider – First Flight
And in the morning hours of Friday the 10th of November, the B-21 Raider took off for the first time, with an F-16 acting as a chase plane. The low sunlight highlighted the aircraft’s graceful curves, as it headed towards Edwards Air Force Base, where it will continue its flight test program.
This is a key program for the U.S. Air Force, and several companies are working on it. Northrop Grumman has overall charge of the B-21 Raider, but subcontractors such as Spirit Aerosystems make major structural components for it.
With the U.S. Air Force planning to get at least 100 Raiders, the program’s success could be vital for many companies in the U.S. aviation industry. Other major subcontractors include Pratt & Whitney and its parent RTX, BAE, Orbital ATK, and GKN Aerospace, among others.
The B-21 Raider won’t just replace the B-2 Spirit. It will also replace the swing-wing B-1. And even though the B-52 isn’t getting retired any time soon, the stealthy B-21 could take some of its roles, too.
Not A One-For-One Replacement…
Size-wise, the B-21 seems to be close to the current B-2 Spirit. The Raider’s shape is a bit simpler overall, and some photos of the flying prototype suggest it has a different configuration for its bomb bays.
Even as the aircraft’s flight testing begins, there is still much we don’t know about the B-21 Raider. Pratt & Whitney makes Its engines, which likely have some similarity to that of the F-35 fighter. But that’s all we know about them. Some details of its cost to the U.S. Air Force aren’t entirely clear, either.
But in any case, analysts believe that the bomber represents an evolution rather than a revolution, compared to the B-2. Northrop Grumman’s focus on the new aircraft is likely to reduce its per-hour flight cost, enabling the Air Force to get more use out of it.
Currently, the U.S. Air Force has 20 B-2s and 45 B-1s. So its plans to purchase up to 100 B-21 Raider bombers, suggests that there may be more than meets the eye when it comes to the roles of the new aircraft.