Five B-21 Raider test aircraft are now in production, the US Air Force has revealed at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference.
The newly appointed secretary of the air force, Frank Kendall, made the comments in an address at the conference on Monday.
The new stealth bombers are being assembled at USAF's secretive Plant 42 facility in Palmdale, California, as part of the programme’s engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase.
Randall Walden, programme executive officer of the B-21 Raider, previously confirmed two test aircraft were in production at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale.
According to Doug Young, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s strike division, this significant progress can be credited to a strong customer partnership, early application of digital tools and a talented, dedicated workforce.
“We have a nationwide industry team who has shown tremendous dedication and grit over the past 18 months,” Young said. “Combined with our extensive collaboration and transparency with our Air Force customer, and the success we’ve had in bringing digital tools into our design and production processes, the B-21 program is leading the way in many respects.”
The application of new digital tools and processes early in the engineering and manufacturing development phase has been a focus of recently released information on the programme.
The use of augmented and virtual reality, and ground and airborne test beds have been recently cited as enablers of programme progress and risk reduction.
“The integration of our digital design capabilities with our advanced manufacturing technologies means we’re working smarter and faster to bring next-generation technologies to life,” said Chris Daughters, aeronautics sector vice president of engineering. “Our ability to continually reduce risk throughout EMD by utilising these transformative digital capabilities is going to pay dividends throughout the full lifecycle of the aircraft.”
Young added: “Northrop Grumman is committed to delivering the B-21 Raider to the warfighter on time to ensure America can project its power globally for decades to come.”