The USAF announced on September 12 that the first B-21 Raider stealth bomber prototype had commenced engine runs at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California, as part of its ground test programme. At the same time, both the USAF and the firm released new photos of the aircraft, including images that had not been taken from directly ahead for the first time.
The new images appear to have been taken on July 31, just days after Northrop Grumman’s Q2 2023 Earnings Call on July 27, during which Kathy Warden – the firm’s chairman, CEO and president – had told reporters that the first B-21 Raider had been “powered on” for the first time during the quarter in question. She insisted this was “another important milestone in our campaign to achieve first flight and transition to production.”
Engine testing is an essential milestone for what its makers call “the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft” as the programme continues on track for a first flight that is still officially expected to be made before the end of this year. The B-21’s maiden flight will remain a data driven event that is monitored by both Northrop Grumman and the USAF.
On September 11 – during a media roundtable at the Air & Space Forces Association’s main annual symposium – Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said that the B-21 would form just one element in a Long Range Strike family of systems that would also include “things that could be carried by or possibly accompany the B-21, things that can support it from off-board. That includes munitions, it includes other things that could be used for defensive purposes, for example.”
This could include the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) being developed as part of the USAF’s larger Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) programme, which is similarly built around a family of systems. Kendall suggests that the B-21 could “pick up CCAs as it gets closer to the operating area. The CCAs could be managed forward, if you penetrate, as augmentation to the B-21. They could provide a defensive capability around the B-21. They could, potentially, provide better situational awareness for the B-21.”