US-made Raider stealth bomber took off and rose into the air

In a significant advancement for air forces worldwide, the U.S. Air Force’s B-21 Raider, the globe’s second-known stealth bomber, executed its inaugural flight. Captured on video near Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, the B-21 was seen in flight, its landing gear deployed, shadowed by an F-16 chase aircraft. Additional high-quality images have since appeared. 

From here, the aircraft will proceed to Edwards Air Force Base in California for rigorous flight trials. Ann Stefanek, an Air Force representative said: “Our B-21 Raider has entered the flight testing phase. This essential step, overseen by the Air Force Test Center and the 412th Test Wing’s B-21 Combined Test Force, seeks to equip America with a durable, long-range, penetrating strike capacity capable of deterring aggression and strategic assaults on the United States, its allies, and partners.” 

A series of indications in the past few weeks pointed towards the imminent first flight of the B-21. These included several daytime sightings of the first pre-production example undergoing taxi testing on the ground.  

US-made Raider stealth bomber took off and rose into the air
Photo credit: Twitter

“The B-21 is presently engaged in taxi operations. Comprehensive tests assess systems, components, and functionalities,” an Air Force spokesperson said on November 9 in response to an inquiry regarding the Raider’s activities. “This testing enables risk mitigation, design optimization, and operational effectiveness enhancement. Rigorous testing is indeed a crucial phase of the B-21 flight test program.” 

The B-21’s initial flight has been widely anticipated for years, but the timeline has repeatedly been deferred on account of various factors, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In September, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall initially indicated that the first flight was expected within the year, only to retract slightly, asserting, “If I were to affirm it will happen, it would be a precise prediction. And I never do that about an acquisition program for something that hasn’t transpired yet. Understood?” 

Photo of the B-21 reveals Northrup's open auxiliary air intakes
Photo credit: Reddit

The B-21 has already accomplished several milestones this year, including the first system activation in July and the first ground engine test runs two months later, followed by the previously mentioned taxi testing. 

The initial B-21 is now on course to commence more intensive developmental flight trials at Edwards. It will eventually be joined by subsequent pre-production models to form a combined test force. An additional five bombers are currently under various stages of production at Northrop Grumman’s Plant 42 facility. 

If all progresses as planned, the first operational B-21 units are expected to be deployed in the mid-2020s, replacing the Air Force’s B-2 and B-1 bombers. Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota will be the first base to receive the new bombers, to be followed by Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. 

B-21 shows small windows and air intakes deeply in the airframe
Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

Although the B-21 will be instrumental in strengthening the U.S. nuclear deterrent triad, its responsibilities extend far beyond. Capable of conventional strikes, it will also deliver a variety of additional capabilities. 

Secretary of Defense Austin announced at last year’s Raider reveal ceremony, “The B-21 is multi-purpose, capable of collecting intelligence to managing warfare.” 

In fact, the B-21 forms part of the expansive, classified Long Range Strike Family of Systems [LRS FoS], which includes the stealthy Long Range Stand-Off [LRSO] nuclear-armed cruise missile, one of Raider’s principal armaments, currently also in flight testing. 

B-21 was unveiled - the backbone of deep penetration US aviation
Photo credit: US Army

The LRS FoS comprises other sophisticated, but highly classified, capabilities. It is speculated that the stealth drone known as the RQ-180, designed for high-altitude long-endurance flights, might be nearing service deployment. 

B-21 shows small windows and air intakes deeply in the airframe
Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

The B-21 will probably benefit from the innovations of the Next Generation Air Dominance [NGAD] initiative. As part of this scheme, the Air Force seeks to acquire thousands of highly automated drones through the Collaborative Combat Aircraft [CCA] program, which may possibly collaborate with Raiders in the future. Although NGAD encompasses a more tactical range of systems, the two are expected to exhibit crossover potential in areas like drones and networking architecture. 

Now that the Raider has made its premiere flight, further details regarding the B-21 and its capacity, along with any related developments, may gradually come to light. Nonetheless, this day marks a pivotal moment in aviation history and represents a tremendous achievement for Northrop Grumman and the USAF.

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