Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber continues progression to flight test

The U.S. Air Force announced on September 12 that the B-21 Raider has commenced engine runs as part of its ground test program at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California, facility. Engine testing is an essential milestone for the program as the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft continues on the path to flight test.

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Northrop Grumman B 21 Raider stealth bomber continues progression to flight test The B-21 Raider continues to progress in ground testing with the commencement of engine runs at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Palmdale, Calif. (Picture source: Northrop Grumman)

The B-21’s first flight will remain a data driven event that is monitored by Northrop Grumman and the United States Air Force. Developed with the next generation of stealth technology, advanced networking capabilities and open systems architecture, the B-21 Raider will serve as the backbone of America’s bomber fleet.

As part of the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program, the B-21 Raider is to be a long-range, stealth intercontinental strategic bomber for the USAF, able to deliver conventional and thermonuclear weapons. The Air Force intends the B-21 to replace the Rockwell B-1 Lancer and Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit by 2040, and possibly the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress after that.

The Air Force began planning for the B-21 in 2011 and awarded the major development contract in 2015. The B-21 is expected to make its first flight in 2023 and enter service by 2027.

Many aspects of the B-21 program are highly classified; the program is designated as a special access program. The Congressional Research Service noted in 2021 that the B-21's technical details and specifications, such as speed, enabling systems, "size, required stealth, structure, number and type of engines, projected weapons, and onboard sensors remain classified" although some information about various other aspects of the program have been made public since 2015. The first photos of the aircraft were released on 2 December 2022, taken during a rollout ceremony at Northrop Grumman's production facilities in Palmdale, California.