When will the B-21 stealth bomber be officially revealed?

One of the only artist rendering of the B-21 Raider released
One of the only artist rendering of the B-21 Raider released

The B-21 Raider, the successor to the B-2 stealth bomber, may be revealed in an official rollout within the next 12 months.

The bomber, developed and manufactured by Northrop Grumman and assembled in Palmdale, California, has been given a new schedule by the US Air Force.

The plane was originally meant to fly as early as December 2021, according to USAF, but a new schedule means it will not have its first flight until 2022.

Aviation Week reports the new schedule still implies a factory rollout of the next generation bomber in the second half of 2021.

The publication said: "The Air Force’s new schedule calls for first flight of the B-21 in 2022. Given the traditional 6-9-month period of outdoor ground testing in advance of any first flight by a new aircraft, the updated schedule still implies a strong chance of a factory rollout during the second half of 2021."

The B-21 is being assembled at a secure government-owned, contractor-operated facility known as Air Force Plant 42 near Palmdale, California.

Plant 42 has over three million square feet of industrial space and is near Edwards Air Force Base where the bomber will undergo flight testing.

Northrop Grumman’s production contract for 80-100 bombers was worth $55 billion in 2012. Adjusted for inflation, contract could be worth $63 billion.

The B-21 Tier 1 suppliers were announced in March 2016 and include BAE Systems, headquartered in Nashua, New Hampshire; GKN Aerospace in St. Louis; Janicki Industries in Sedro-Woolley, Washington; Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas.

In August USAF gave an update on the anticipated plane. The official managing the programme, Randy Walden, said the assembly of the first bomber is beginning "look like an airplane"

“The first test aircraft is being built, and it’s starting to look like an airplane,” Walden said. “Suppliers from across the country are delivering parts that are coming together now. Aircraft programs will always have a few surprises early on, and we won’t be any different, but overall the B-21 Raider is coming along nicely.”

“The progress I saw today further adds to my confidence that the B-21 Raider will preserve our long range strike and penetrating bomber capability,” added Air Force General Timothy Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). “We’re excited to get the B-21 Raider to bases in the mid-2020s.”

Speaking at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event, Mr Walden acknowledged some suppliers to the defence programme have been affected commercially by the Covid-19 pandemic and the halting of the 737 Max.

Spirit Aerosystems, which builds the large composite aerostructures for the B-21 bomber, also manufactures structural components for the 737 Max. Since the halting of Max production, employees who would normally work on the aircraft programme have been boosting production of the B-21 bomber.

“The folks that are not manufacturing 737s and those components came over to our production line and really kind of beefed up — where people had some COVID issues — they beefed up that portion of our production,” he said. “Right now, the components that we’re building are really for the test fleet, but the good news: All of what we’re doing today is really insightful for what we’re doing for production in the future.”

www.northropgrumman.com

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