Military

Northrop Grumman's B-21 completes load testing before first flight

Northrop Grumman's B-21 completes load testing before first flight
Artist's concept of the B-21 Raider heavy bomber
Artist's concept of the B-21 Raider heavy bomber
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Artist's concept of the B-21 Raider heavy bomber
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Artist's concept of the B-21 Raider heavy bomber

Preparing for its first flight in 2023, Northrop Grumman has subjected a prototype of its B-21 Raider nuclear bomber to its first loads calibration test to verify the airframe's structural integrity as it moves through production to flight readiness.

First begun in 2014, the B-21 program is tasked with producing a replacement for the US Air Force's fleets of B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer, and B-2 Spirit bombers as both the third leg of America's nuclear deterrent triad and as a heavy conventional bomber. Not much is publicly known about the specifics of the B-21, but it is designed for a high degree of stealth, can fly at subsonic speeds, and will be much cheaper and easier to maintain than the B-2.

The latest tests are aimed at fulfilling one of three conditions necessary for the B-21 to proceed with ground testing. In addition to structural integrity, the load tests also calibrated the instruments used to monitor the aircraft during the production phases.

During the load tests, the airframe was subjected to varying degrees of stress so that it will be confirmed as ready for ground and flight testing as it rolls off the production line. In this way, the B-21 can move from testing to manufacturing with minimum delay.

According to Northrop Grumman, the ground testing will also include powering up the bomber, testing its flight subsystems, and applying the special radar-absorbing coatings and paint. It will then move on to low- and high-speed taxing tests before its first flight.

Six prototypes of the B-21 are currently under assembly and the formal rollout of the first aircraft is scheduled for this year.

"The B-21 test aircraft is the most production-representative aircraft, both structurally and in its mission systems, at this point in a program, that I’ve observed in my career," said Randy Walden, director of the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and program executive officer of the B-21 Raider program.

Source: Northrop Grumman

9 comments
9 comments
MarylandUSA
The windows give the impression that it's a manned bomber. In fact, the B-21 will be able to operate or unmanned.
MarylandUSA
According to Wikipedia, the Air Force "envisions some 175 to 200 to be in service eventually."
Come on. Weapons systems as costly as this one invariably escalate in cost and up getting built in smaller numbers...further driving up the cost.
Eggster
@MarylandUSA You are correct. Congressional 'cost saving' production cuts do indeed drive the per unit cost up dramatically. This then gives congress something new to complain about. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Once upon a time, when I was young and stupid, I had a fantasy that a competent congressman w/a beancounting background would step forward to educate his/her fellow politicians - and the nation - the distinction between total cost vs product cost, and avoidable vs unavoidable cash flows.

Nothing but crickets. Just try telling otherwise intelligent, but highly partisan, people anything of importance when it doesn't fit the narrative.
WillNC
Another waste of money to feed MIC, that insatiable sinkhole of national wealth no politician can say no to. Is there a need for this bomber even though it is the best money can buy using the best technology since the iphone. Just rereading stories related to the B-52 upgrades; engines, electrical generation, radar, weapons, etc. making it effective into the 2050s because as one story noted it was over-engineered by those slide-rule 1950s Boeing engineers. Perhaps well engineered is a better term as opposed to the under-engineered, way more expensive B-2 soon to be retired to the desert. New tech is interesting hence my visits to this site but the B-21along with new/upgraded nuclear weapons are an unconscionable waste of national resources.
Edward Vix
MarylandUSA, Eggster and WillNC, I agree wholeheartedly.
Richard Przybylski
Kind of glad the B52 is retiring. Although many upgrades have been completed, the airframe, engines, and the radar signiture makes it obsolete. Not only that but the maintenance is incredibly high.
Lowering maintenance costs, a new airframe that will be stealth, and the payload capability alone make it a good choice. The fuel efficiency is so much better as well. Too many pluses to say no.
Rusty Harris
And, once the last B1, B2, B21 is retired to the junkyard...the crews will be picked up by a B-52. ;)
Nelson Hyde Chick
It is so encouraging to know we are working so diligently to perfect the best most efficient ways to kill one another!
Paul Jacobson
To those that lament it is a waste of money to build these weapons, just remember we have no choice due to the MAD policy. Since this has prevented nuclear war from breaking out so far, it's money well spent. I hope someday it will be spent on developing a better world.