B-21 stealth bomber begins engine runs ahead of first flight

The B-21 continues to progress in ground testing with the start of engine runs
Northrop Grumman
The B-21 continues to progress in ground testing with the start of engine runs

The B-21 Raider, a sixth generation stealth bomber in development for the US Air Force, has commenced engine runs as part of its ground test programme at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California facility.

Engine testing is an essential milestone for the programme as the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft continues on the path to flight test.

The B-21’s first flight will remain a data-driven event that is monitored by Northrop Grumman and the US Air Force.

Developed with the next generation of stealth technology, advanced networking capabilities and open systems architecture, the B-21 will serve as the backbone of America’s bomber fleet when it enters service.

The B-21, a collaboration between Northrop Grumman and the US Air Force, was revealed at a formal ceremony at the company’s production facilities in December 2022.

Northrop Grumman announced that is still expecting the B-21 to make its first flight later this year during a quarterly earnings call in July with Kathy Warden, CEO of Northrop Grumman, and Dave Keffer, the company’s chief financial officer. This comes amid concerns about delays and cost growth in the programme.

Another recently released image of the stealth aircraft
Another recently released image of the stealth aircraft. Image: USAF

Key facts about the B-21 programme

Sixth generation

The B-21 Raider benefits from more than three decades of strike and stealth technology. It is the next evolution of USAF’s strategic bomber fleet. Developed with the next generation of stealth technology, advanced networking capabilities and an open systems architecture, the B-21 is optimised for the high-end threat environment. It will play a critical role in helping USAF meet its most complex missions.


Northrop Grumman is continuously advancing technology, employing new manufacturing techniques and materials to ensure the B-21 will defeat the anti-access, area-denial systems it will face.

Backbone of the fleet

The B-21 Raider forms the backbone of the future for US air power. The B-21 will deliver a new era of capability and flexibility through advanced integration of data, sensors and weapons. Capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads, the B-21 will be one of the most effective aircraft in the sky, with the ability to use a broad mix of stand-off and direct attack munitions.

A digital bomber

Northrop Grumman uses agile software development, advanced manufacturing techniques and digital engineering tools to help mitigate production risk on the B-21 programme and enable modern sustainment practices. Six B-21 Raiders are in various stages of final assembly and test at Northrop Grumman’s plant in Palmdale, California.

Cloud technology

Northrop Grumman and USAF successfully demonstrated the migration of B-21 ground systems data to a cloud environment. This demonstration included the development, deployment and test of B-21 data – including its digital twin – that will support B-21 operations and sustainment. This robust cloud-based digital infrastructure will result in a more maintainable and sustainable aircraft with lower-cost infrastructure.

Open architecture

To meet the evolving threat environment, the bomber has been designed from day one for rapid upgradeability. Unlike earlier generation aircraft, the B-21 will not undergo block upgrades. New technology, capabilities and weapons will be seamlessly incorporated through agile software upgrades and built-in hardware flexibility. This will ensure the aircraft can continuously meet the evolving threat head on for decades to come.

A national team

Since contract award in 2015, Northrop Grumman has assembled a nationwide team to design, test and build the world’s most advanced strike aircraft. The B-21 team includes more than 8,000 people from Northrop Grumman, industry partners and USAF. The team consists of more than 400 suppliers across 40 states. 


Long-term operations and sustainment affordability has been a B-21 programme priority from the start. In partnership with USAF, the team has made maintainability an equally important requirement to stealth performance to ensure the programme is driving more affordable, predictable operations and sustainment outcomes.

Global reach

The B-21 will be the backbone of the US bomber fleet and pivotal to supporting the US strategic deterrence strategy.

In addition to its advanced long-range precision strike capabilities that will afford combatant commanders the ability to hold any target, anywhere in the world at risk, it has also been designed as the lead component of a larger family of systems that will deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic attack and multi-domain networking capabilities. In a dynamic global security environment, the B-21 will provide the flexibility and deterrence critical to the security of the US and our allies.

The name

The B-21 Raider is named in honour of the Doolittle Raid of World War II when 80 airmen, led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, and 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers set off on a mission that changed the course of World War II.

The actions of these 80 volunteers were instrumental in shifting momentum in the Pacific theatre. This marked the raid as a catalyst to a multitude of future progress in US air superiority from land or sea. The courageous spirit of the Doolittle Raiders is the inspiration behind the name of the B-21 Raider.


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