The next US Air Force (USAF) stealth bomber, the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider will make its first flight in December 2021. The date was announced this week by Matthew Donavan, interim secretary of the USAF, who also confirmed where the tests will take place: Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The B-21 is being built at “Plant 42” in Pamldale, the same facility where Northrop Grumman produced its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit. According to Donavan, the design of the flying wing aircraft remains on schedule and the next step will be the transition from the development phase to the production of the first prototype.
To conduct the tests on the aircraft, the USAF will reactivate the 420th Edward Base Flight Test Squadron, which collaborated on the development of the B-2, whose maiden flight took place 30 years ago.
As it is a project with many secret details, the US Air Force and Northrop Grumman release little information about the aircraft. In a note, the USAF stated that “continuously evaluates the B-21 program security posture with input from the intelligence community and is committed to maximizing transparency of key program information while balancing the need to protect vital technologies and capabilities from adversary exploitation.”
The B-21 Raider project was Northrop Grumman’s response to participate in USAF’s Long Range Strike Bomber program, which began in 2014. The goal is to develop a new device to eventually replace the B-1 Lancer and B-2 bombers and later the veteran B-52 Stratofortress. The new aircraft’s service debut is scheduled for mid-2025, but its full operating capacity is expected to be reached by 2030 only.
USAF’s initial plan is to purchase between 80 and 100 B-21 at a cost of $ 550 million per unit. Although high, this is significantly lower than the unit price of the B-2, the most expensive aircraft of all time, valued at about $ 2 billion.
Like the B-2, the B-21 will also be a stealth bomber capable of carrying out attacks avoiding detection by the enemy. Information on flight range and warfare capability of the aircraft has not yet been released. On the other hand, the manufacturer revealed that Raider can serve in intelligence missions, battle manager and even as an interceptor.
The name “Raider” is a tribute to a group of airmen who in WWII performed a risky mission by attacking Japanese territory in 1942. They were called “Doolittle Raiders” by the USAF. The mission was a response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which put the United States in the conflict.
The aim was to show the Japanese that they were not safe even thousands of miles from the battle scene with American forces.
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