Everything You Need To Know (And See) About The Historic First Flight Of The B-21 (2024)

Everything You Need To Know (And See) About The Historic First Flight Of The B-21 (1)

We have noticed a lot of interesting details in the photos and videos of the new B-21 Raider bomber during its first flight.

At 6:51 a.m on Nov.10, 2023, the B-21 Raider stealth bomber finally took to the skies for its first flight from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, escorted by an F-16 acting as safety chase on the way to Edwards Air Force Base. The U.S. Air Force did not disclose the planned day for the first flight, however dozens aviation enthusiasts and amateur photographers gathered near the airport waiting for the bomber to take off, according to Reuters.

“The B-21 Raider is in flight testing,” confirmed an Air Force spokesperson. “Flight testing is a critical step in the test campaign managed by the Air Force Test Center and 412th Test Wing’s B-21 Combined Test Force to provide survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks against the United States, allies, and partners.”

B-21 RAIDER FIRST FLIGHT 11-10-23 #RAIDER33 #B21Raider pic.twitter.com/3tEKudqDiw

— Matt Hartman (@ShorealoneFilms) November 10, 2023

According to our sources, the first flight of the 6th generation bomber was initially slated to take place yesterday, Thursday Nov. 9, but it was cancelled, due to a technical issue. Then now, three weeks before the anniversary of its public unveiling, under the callsign RAIDER 33, the B-21 performed the long-awaited maiden flight which ended about an hour and half later with a safe landing at Edwards AFB at approximately 8:30 a.m.

#BREAKING
B-21 RAIDER FIRST FLIGHT #RAIDER33 #B21Raider 11-10-23 pic.twitter.com/G8dr87bAa4

— Matt Hartman (@ShorealoneFilms) November 10, 2023

This first flight, which was already expected to happen before the end of the year, follows the footsteps of the B-2’s first flight which on July 17, 1989, took off from Northrop Grumman’s production facility at Plant 42 in Palmdale and landed 112 minutes later at Edwards for developmental testing by the 420th Flight Test Squadron. The same squadron, reactivated in 2019, will plan, test, analyze and report on all flight and ground testing of the B-21 Raider.

Taking flight in the sunrise light, the B-21 offered the first full look at its planform and underside, while other details such as the number of engines is still unknown. The new sixth generation bomber will now start an intensive flight test campaign run by a combined test force comprised by Air Force and Northrop Grumman personnel that will validate the digital models used in the simulations, said the company in a statement.

B-21 Raider with Edwards AFB F-16 flying chase departing Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, CA this morning 😎 pic.twitter.com/C8rPoBWKOQ

— Thenewarea51 (@thenewarea51) November 10, 2023

Flight tracking websites showed a welcome party in the airspace above Edwards AFB waiting for the Raider’s arrival. In fact, a KC-135R tanker, callsign GHOST 27, was orbiting over the airbase well before the takeoff of the B-21, joined later by a C-12 Huron, callsign RAIDER 02, which apparently followed the B-21 from a distance as it was tracked while also orbiting Palmdale. Two other unidentified tracks were also visible, possibly related to the chase aircraft such as the F-16 seen in the first-ever video of the Raider in flight recorded by freelance news photojournalist Matt Harman.

The images circulating so far confirm the planform of the Raider, showing that it misses the saw-tooth trailing edge that can be found on the B-2 Spirit (actually, as explained in a previous post, the B-2 started with a planform similar to the one of the B-21, however that had to be changed to increase the stability during strike missions at low altitude, a requirement which has not been requested for the new sixth-gen bomber).

Another interesting side-by-side.
(Please note, this image is not to scale — I’m just making these to compare overall shape and general design elements). pic.twitter.com/jVWUAvlLaA

— Alex Hollings (@AlexHollings52) November 10, 2023

As in the photos of the ground testing, some photos of the first flight show once again the two unknown doors on the engines’ nacelles. One of most plausible hypotheses is a pair of auxiliary intake doors, opened from the rear by the engine control computer when the main intakes are not providing enough air for the power setting of the engine, as for the B-2. Another hypothesis circulating around is a pair of bleed air vents.

The Raider was trailing a wire with an air data probe for calibration. Other details that can be spotted are the stylized Northrop Grumman Flight test badge, which was already painted below the nose, now painted also below the left wing. On the nose gear door we can also see a logo showing the multi-headed dog Cerberus of the Greek mythology. The “belly” of the aircraft appears to be continuously curved, a shape surely designed to reflect as much radar waves as possible away from the aircraft, with the only flat area being the bomb bay.

So, the first B-21 is named Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving. Let’s guess the next one (must be Greek mythology creature – probably – like Chimera, Medusa, Hydra, Minotaur, Scylla, etc) pic.twitter.com/s1Rfop1e3s

— The Aviationist (@TheAviationist) November 10, 2023

The images we have seen so far were taken from outside the airport fence with the aircraft flying in clear in daylight, suggesting the Air Force isn’t too concerned the aircraft could be photographed by aviation spotters. In fact, as often mentioned by the officials, the real secrets that make out all the advanced capabilities of the B-21 are well hidden deep inside the aircraft.

#NewProfilePic pic.twitter.com/DTbbjNMmeV

— Cliffy D (@CliffDeVaughn) November 10, 2023

In the meanwhile, Northrop Grumman is expected to receive soon a contract award for the first Low Rate Initial Production contract, which could cover up to 21 aircraft. Northrop Grumman, after mentioning that the award was expected immediately after the first flight, said that they are planning LRIP at a zero profitability due to higher labor costs and inflation, but the bomber will become profitable once it reaches full rate production.

Everything You Need To Know (And See) About The Historic First Flight Of The B-21 (2)

About Stefano D'Urso

Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.

Everything You Need To Know (And See) About The Historic First Flight Of The B-21 (2024)

FAQs

What is so special about the B-21? ›

Inside, the B-21's open architecture will enable rapid upgradability from inclusion of new weapons to software upgrades thanks to advanced networking capabilities and successful cloud environment migration.

What do you need to know about Northrop Grumman's B-21 Raider? ›

Capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads, the B-21 will be one of the most effective aircraft in the sky, with the ability to use a broad mix of stand-off and direct attack munitions. Production Focus. A key strategy of the program was to build a production representative first test aircraft.

How many B-21 Raiders does the US have? ›

In addition to the single B-21 currently being used for flight testing, at least five other prototype Raiders are in various stages of production. Those six will be dedicated to test activities, but after the developmental and operational testing has been completed, they will be modified into operational bombers.

Can the B-21 fly without a crew? ›

The B-21 can fly crewless using artificial intelligence. Although possible, the U.S. Air Force does not plan to fly it without a crew yet.

How fast can a B-21 bomber fly? ›

Though only capable of cruising at about 1,000km/h (620 miles per hour), slightly below the speed of sound, the next-gen stealth bomber will play a central role in the US Air Force's Penetrating Counter Air (PCA) strategy that is tailored towards potential battles with the Chinese military.

Does the B-21 have a toilet? ›

How does the crew handle such a long flight? Equipped with a bed, toilet and microwave, the B 2 is a second home for the crew.

How advanced is the B-21? ›

However, it is considered to have highly advanced stealth capabilities. The B-21 has been manufactured to minimise all edges, including unique co*ckpit windows designed to eliminate seams and joints, thus reducing radar signature. It is also known that the B-21 will be capable of delivering nuclear-armed weapons.

What is the mission of the B-21? ›

The B-21 is a long-range, highly survivable, penetrating strike stealth bomber that will incrementally replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers and will play a major role supporting national security objectives and assuring U.S. allies and partners across the globe.

Can the B-21 be shot down? ›

The study claimed that in a simulated wargame, the B-21 and its companion drone were shot down by air-to-air missiles, which can reach a top speed of Mach 6. Hypersonic weapons are noted for their speed as well as their ability to maneuver in flight, which can make them very difficult – but not impossible – to counter.

Can the B-21 fly unmanned? ›

It will be nuclear capable and designed to accommodate manned or unmanned operations. Additionally, it will be able to employ a broad mix of stand-off and direct-attack munitions.

Can B-21 be detected? ›

Any radar system can detect any stealth aircraft under optimal conditions. If the plane is very close, has a poor aspect angle, has multiple radars looking for it, or has its stealth compromised by opening a weapons bay it just might get spotted.

Does China have a stealth bomber? ›

The cover of the June 2021 issue of the Chinese military magazine “Modern Weaponry” features an artist's rendition of a next-generation bomber. “Since 2016, details regarding the H-20 have been largely withheld from the public.

What is the nickname of the B-21 Raiders? ›

The B-21 Raider, the first of its kind, was given the special nickname "Cerberus" by the US Air Force. The name "Cerberus" comes from Greek mythology, where Cerberus is known as the hound of Hades that guards the gates of the underworld to prevent the dead from escaping.

Is the B-21 nuclear capable? ›

Designed to be long-range, highly survivable and capable of carrying a mix of conventional and nuclear ordnance, the B-21 will join the nuclear triad as a visible and flexible nuclear deterrent; supporting national security objectives and assuring our nation's allies and partners.

What makes the B-21 better than the B-2? ›

Perhaps the biggest difference is how the aircraft were designed. The B-2 was devised in an era when engineers still employed slide rules, and pocket calculators were considered expensive hardware. By contrast, the B-21 Raider is truly a product of the digital age that took advantage of computer-aided design.

What is the purpose of the B-21? ›

Designed to be long-range, highly survivable and capable of carrying a mix of conventional and nuclear ordnance, the B-21 will join the nuclear triad as a visible and flexible nuclear deterrent; supporting national security objectives and assuring our nation's allies and partners.

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