The Air Force Magazine reported that, the U.S. Air Force had pushed back the first flight test for its newest stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, by another six months. This means that the aircraft will remain grounded in 2022.
The U.S. Air Force has not introduced a bomber aircraft in the last two decades. With its fleet of bombers aging, the military needs an aircraft that can penetrate advanced air defenses, and the B-21 Raider program is designed to do precisely that. The timeline of its development is still within control, and we could see the aircraft go into production by 2025-26, 19fortyfive reported.
What makes B-21 Raider so special?
The B-21 is a dual-capable fighter aircraft which means that it can carry conventional and nuclear munitions on its missions. As a Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), the aircraft is expected to have a very long range and a heavy payload capacity.
The aircraft's capabilities are mainly under the wraps, but we have a few artist's renditions to give us an idea of what the aircraft will look like. It does look a lot like the B-2 stealth bomber, which it will eventually replace. Northrop Grumman, the makers of the B-21, have achieved the aircraft's development milestones, even during the pandemic, and the U.S. Air Force could end up buying as many as 145 of these bombers soon.
Why is the first flight delayed?
The previous update we had on the B-21 was that the aircraft was undergoing calibration testing and making its way toward its first flight. Unlike Boeing's T-7A trainer aircraft, which is delayed by labor shortages and supply chain issues, the B-21 has steered clear of these too so far.
This could mean that there has been an anomaly detected during the tests. This hypothesis is further bolstered by the statement given by Air Force while announcing the delay. "The B-21 program continues to ensure the first flight test aircraft is a high-quality build and production-representative, to drive an efficient flight test campaign," a spokeswoman for the USAF said. "The first flight will be "data- and event-driven, not a date-driven event." In simple speak, this means that the Air Force will conduct the first flight when it is confident to do so and not under pressure from the aircraft's roll-out plans.
To protect sensitive program information, the USAF cannot divulge further details for the delay but has confirmed that the aircraft's development continues to be within the cost, performance, and schedule baseline set for its acquisition, Air Force Magazine reported.
Technically, Air Force sources told the Magazine that the B-21 will still roll out in 2022 since the production-representative aircraft will move out of Northrop Grumman's Palmdale plant for engine testing.
We need to wait out a few more months for the first flight.