Northrop Grumman will roll out the secretive B-21 Raider in December

The first flight will follow soon.
Ameya Paleja
B-21 Rendering
B-21 Rendering

Northrop Grumman 

U.S. Air Force's highly anticipated sixth-generation fighter, the B-21 Raider, will be rolled out publicly for the first time in December this year, its manufacturer Northrop Grumman said in a press release. The rollout will take place at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale site at an invitation-only event.

Military establishments across the world are looking to triumph over their adversaries with new-age technology and innovations. Last year, we reported how Russia was pushing to put into production its fifth-generation aircraft, Checkmate, to rival the U.S. Air Force's F-35s. While the U.S. aircraft will receive upgrades during their lifetimes, a new generation of aircraft is definitely an advantage the U.S. Air Force would like to have.

The B-21 Raider

The contract for the B-21 Raider was awarded in 2015. Back then, it was called the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B). The development of the aircraft has been shrouded in secrecy, as would be expected for a futuristic strike aircraft.

Northrop Grumman put together a nationwide team to test, design, and build the aircraft using advanced manufacturing techniques and has breakthrough stealth technology, the company claims in the press release.

From the limited information available publicly, the aircraft is dual-capable, meaning it can be used to deliver conventional as well as nuclear munitions. Apart from its capabilities, its cost and schedule details have also remained scarce, The Drive said in its report, even though B-21's acquisition has been touted as a model procurement program.

Reports suggest that the U.S. Air Force has plans to acquire 100 B-21 Raider aircraft, which will be strategically based at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.

Path to first flight

In March, IE reported that the assembly of the first aircraft had been completed and that it had been moved to the calibration testing phase. This is where the aircraft's structure would be tested to determine if it meets the design expectations and needs of the users.

Northrop Grumman's press release has now confirmed that six such aircraft are in various stages of final assembly at the company's Palmdale facility in California. Following this, the stealth aircraft needs to undergo other tests, such as engine tests conducted after adding power and the hydraulics that are tested during low-speed and high-speed taxis. Once these are complete, the first flight can be expected to take place.

Northrop Grumann confirmed that it was looking at 2023 for the first flight test. However, the actual timing would be based on the outcomes of the ground tests. This is slightly behind the original plan of the first flight by 2022 for the program but should not deviate from the U.S. Air Force's plans to field the B-21s by the middle of the decade, The Drive said in its report.

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