The first B-21 Raider fighter is nearly ready for its maiden flight

The dual-capable aircraft will deliver conventional and nuclear munitions.
Ameya Paleja
A rendering of the B-21 Raider.Northrop Grumman

The B-21 Raider, the U.S. Air Force's dual-capable, penetrating strike bomber with stealth functions has moved a step closer to its first flight after the first aircraft moved out of the production facility, Air Force Magazine reported

The futuristic fighter aircraft is called dual-capable since it is designed to deliver conventional as well as nuclear munitions. The Air Force awarded the engineering contract to Northrop Grumman in 2015 which completed the Critical Design Review in 2018. The supply chain issues arising from the pandemic may have plagued a lot of industries but the development and production of B-21 appear to have emerged unscathed. 

Moving to calibration testing

The assembly of the first B-21 has been completed and the aircraft has moved to the calibration testing phase, Randall Walden, Director of the U.S Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office told Air Force Magazine.

What this essentially means is that the aircraft now looks much like the renders and prototypes that we have seen before with the landing gear, wheels, and wings. It has not been assigned a tail number or name yet, but the aircraft is still a few steps away from its first flight.

As part of calibration testing, the structure of the aircraft is tested to determine if the product is actually what the designs intended them to be and if they can address the needs of the users. Later on in the test, the production is also tested to determine if the manufacturing followed through with the design specifications, Randall explained. 

B-21's first flight

It is likely that the aircraft currently in calibration tests will be the one to make the first flight. However, Randall outlined the downstream tests that need to be completed before the aircraft makes its first flight. 

First among them is the adding power to the aircraft which will be followed by an engines test. Once these hurdles are crossed, the hydraulics of the aircraft are to be tested followed by low-speed and high-speed taxi tests. Once all these ground tests are completed satisfactorily, the first flight can be planned. 

It is likely that the first flight will be scheduled at the Edwards Air Force Base in California. However, according to the Strategic Basing Process that the U.S. Air Force completed in 2019, the Edwards AFB isn't featured among the preferred locations for the aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force has plans to acquire 100 of the B-21 Raider and according to the U.S. Air Force's website, these are strategically planned to be based at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.

Recently, the U.S. Air Force showcased its stealth prowess by flying the F-35 near Belaurus amid the conflict in Ukraine. 

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