B-21 set to make first flight this year after ‘power on’ success

Northrop Grumman’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Dave Keffer, recently confirmed that the firm “remains on track” for completing the maiden flight of the USAF’s new sixth-generation B-21 Raider stealth bomber this year, though he cautioned that this would “depend on events and data.”

The confident prediction of a first flight this year follows the first ‘power on’ of the initial aircraft. “We successfully powered-on the first flight-test aircraft in the quarter,” said Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden, who called it “another important milestone in our campaign to achieve first flight in transition to production.”

Head on with the world's first sixth-generation combat aircraft and the initial example of the USAF's second-generation stealth bomber: the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. Unveiled to the public for the first time on December 2, 2022, this aircraft will ultimately replace the Rockwell B-1B Lancer and Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit in USAF service.
Head on with the world's first sixth-generation combat aircraft and the initial example of the USAF's second-generation stealth bomber: the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. Unveiled to the public for the first time on December 2, 2022, this aircraft will ultimately replace the Rockwell B-1B Lancer and Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit in USAF service. Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman expects to receive a contract for the first lot of Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) B-21 aircraft after the type completes its first flight, which will see the initial aircraft transferring from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, to Edwards AFB, California. This initial aircraft, which was ceremonially rolled out on December 2, 2022, is the first of six airframes that are now in production.

The B-21 was initially scheduled to complete its first flight in 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted schedules, and in early 2021 it was pushed back to mid-2022. In May 2022, the first flight was again pushed back to 2023. In March, this year, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said that the schedule for the first flight had slipped by “a few months” but was still set to occur before the end of 2024.

Looking further ahead, the first B-21 unit is due to be based at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, which will accommodate the Formal Training Unit (FTU) for the Raider. Further units will be based at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas. The former is currently home to the USAF’s B-2A Spirit stealth bomber fleet, while the latter plays host to the B-1B Lancer supersonic-capable strategic bombers, both of which are expected to be replaced by the Raider.