The newest US stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, is only expected to fly for the first time in early 2022, Major General Mark Weatherington, commander of the 8th Air Force, revealed on Monday. Until then, the mysterious aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman was scheduled to make its maiden flight in December 2021.
At the same time, the USAF official estimated that initial operational capacity (IOC) should be achieved ahead of schedule, still in the first half of the decade. The 8th Air Force is the division responsible for all air assets capable of transporting nuclear devices. According to Janes, the United States currently has a fleet of 157 bombers: 76 B-52H, 61 B-1B and 20 B-2, the only one with stealth capability.
The Pentagon’s plan is to modernize the B-52H and begin the retirement of the B-1B as early as 2021 with the withdrawal of service from 17 aircraft. The B-2, the most expensive aircraft in history, will be replaced as Northrop Grumman delivers the B-21. The Raider has a configuration similar to that of the Spirit aircraft, with the shape of a flying wing. However, the ‘second generation’ stealth bomber promises to be much more efficient and cheaper than the B-2.
The Major General’s revelation contrasts with a recent statement by B-21 program director Randall Walden, who in August said the schedule was up to date despite the effects of the pandemic. The Air Force is using an undisclosed plane to fly the B-21’s avionics and subsystems to test them in parallel with Northrop Grumman’s manufacture of the first prototype. “We have a flight test aircraft in which we have installed some of these subsystems to mitigate the risks of delay,” said Walden.
The B-21 Raider is being built at Air Force facilities in Palmdale, California. The so-called “Plant 42” has been used by the US government for many decades as a safe place for suppliers to develop advanced designs without risk of leakage.
After being completed, the B-21 will take off towards Edwards Air Force Base, about 37 km away, where it will undergo long tests before being considered operational. The new bomber may have 100 to 200 units ordered, according to rumors in the American press.