B-21 Flight Testing, Production ‘Continues to Make Progress,’ Air Force Says

Test pilots report the jet is performing as expected with the aircraft flying like the simulator, Northrop Grumman said.

A B-21 Raider conducts ground testing, taxiing, and flying operations at Edwards Air Force Base, California. [Courtesy: U.S. Air Force]

The B-21 Raider "continues to make progress" in flight testing and production, the U.S. Air Force said Wednesday. 

The stealth strike bomber was unveiled in December 2022 and officially moved into low-rate production earlier this year. In January, Northrop Grumman said six B-21 bombers are in various stages of final assembly and testing at its facility in Palmdale, California.

On Wednesday, the Air Force released a new image of the aircraft it calls the "backbone of the  U.S. Air Force bomber fleet."

Northrop Grumman on Thursday released an additional image of the bomber in flight, saying the test campaign at Edwards AFB was led by a Combined Test Force (CTF) composed of personnel representing the Air Force and the manufacturer.

The B-21 Raider continues its flight test campaign at Edwards Air Force Base, California. [Courtesy: Northrop Grumman]

"CTF test pilots indicate the jet is performing as expected with the aircraft flying like the simulator, reflecting the precision of the digital environment on B-21," Northrop Grumman said in a statement.

Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month on the B-21’s progress.

“We are in the flight test program, [and] the flight test program is proceeding well,” said Hunter. “It is doing what flight test programs are designed to do, which is helping us learn about the unique characteristics of this platform, but in a very effective way.” 

In this January 17, 2024, photo, a B-21 Raider conducts flight tests, which includes ground testing, taxiing, and flying operations, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, where it continues to make progress toward becoming the backbone of the U.S. Air Force bomber fleet. The B-21 will possess the range, access, and payload to penetrate the most highly-contested threat environments and hold any target around the globe at risk. The B-21 program is on track to deliver aircraft in the mid-2020s to Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, which will be the first B-21 main operating base and location for the B-21 formal training unit. [Courtesy: U.S. Air Force]

Designed to carry out long-range conventional and nuclear missions, the B-21 is set to eventually replace aging B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit fleets. The B-21 is scheduled to hit full operational status in the mid-2020s.

The Air Force has said it intends to purchase at least 100 of the aircraft. Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, has been designated as the first main operating facility for the B-21 and its formal training unit. 

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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