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Vaunted B-21 bomber close to maiden flight


Northrop Grumman provides update

The B-21 next-generation stealth bomber moved a step closer to making its first flight with the initial powering of systems for the first flight test aircraft earlier this year.

Northrop Grumman, which is developing the highly classified bomber at its Palmdale facility, announced the progress late last week during a second-quarter earnings call with investors.

Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden said during the call that the milestone step in the bomber’s development took place during the second quarter.

With the power-up of the first flight test aircraft, the B-21 remains on track to make its first flight by the end of this year, Chief Financial Officer David Keffer said in the call.

“That timing continues to depend on events and data, of course, over time,” he said.

The company expects to be awarded the government contract for the first lot of Low Rate Initial Production of the bomber following the first flight. These are the small quantities of early production models of the bomber, a typical phase for military contracts.

Six of the stealthy B-21 test aircraft are in various stages of final assembly at the company’s Palmdale facility, part of the initial engineering and manufacturing development contract awarded in 2015.

The bomber, still shrouded in secrecy, was unveiled Dec. 2 in Palmdale. Few details or photos have been made public.

The B-21 will eventually replace the B-1B and B-2 stealth bomber in the nation’s bomber fleet.

The new bomber will be the “future backbone of the bomber fleet,” Air Force Global Strike Commander Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere said on March 7 in a speech at the 2023 Air and Space Forces Warfare Symposium in Colorado.

The bat-wing bomber, which looks very much like its B-2 Spirit stealth bomber predecessor, will be capable of carrying conventional and nuclear weapons.

The Air Force plans a fleet of at least 100 of the bombers, which will be built in Palmdale at Northrop Grumman’s facility at Air Force Plant 42. However, Bussiere said long-range planning targets 220 or more of the bombers in the fleet.

The B-21 is “on track to deliver operational aircraft to its first main operating base in the mid-2020s,” Bussiere said, and is meeting cost, schedule and performance criteria.

While it looks similar to the B-2, the new bomber features advances in stealth technology and other improvements intended to make the B-21 easy to maintain and be ready to fly daily.

It is also designed to easily add new hardware and software to allow it to adapt to new threats.