The US Air Force (USAF) said this week that the development schedule for the B-21 Raider is on track, with the bomber’s first flight maintained for December 2021.
In a conference call from the Mitchell Institute with journalists, Randall Walden, director and program executive officer for the USAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office, confirmed that despite the difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic, the program remains as expected.
To further advance the process, the USAF has equipped an undisclosed aircraft with the avionics and subsystems of the B-21 in order to test them in parallel with the manufacture of the first prototype by Northrop Grumman.
“We have a flight-test aircraft that we’ve been hosting some of those subsystems on to buy down the risk so the first time it’s introduced into an air environment is not on the bomber,” said Walden. The initiative to test the aircraft’s systems first involves avoiding delays in discovering possible design bugs, explained the director.
The B-21 Raider is a flying-wing bomber, as does the B-2 Spirit, also developed by Northrop Grumman. Another similarity to the USAF’s first stealth bomber is the fact that the plane is being built at the Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.
After completion, the B-21 will take off from Palmdale in 2021 and fly to Edwards Air Force Base, where it will undergo long tests. Cheaper than the B-2, the new bomber is expected to have 100 units ordered, scheduled to enter service in the mid-2020s.
The Raider will replace not only the expensive B-2 as the B-1B, but will live for a long time with the B-52.