The B-21 Raider Starts Flight Testing

The Air Force first unveiled the sixth generation B-21 Raider during a Dec. 2, 2022 ceremony in Palmdale, California. (Image: U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force has begun flight testing Northrop Grumman's sixth generation B-21 stealth bomber. Matt Hartman, a freelance photojournalist captured the first flight of the B-21 on Nov. 10 with images posted to his X account.

In an emailed statement to Tech Briefs, a representative for Northrop Grumman confirmed the Air Force's widely reported first flight of the B-21. The Air Force did not respond to an inquiry about the first flight and is not publicizing it on any of its affiliate websites.

"As confirmed by the U.S. Air Force, the B-21 Raider is in flight test. The robust flight test campaign is being executed by a Combined Test Force comprised of Northrop Grumman and Air Force personnel that will validate our digital models and moves us another step closer to reaching operational capability," the representative for Northrop Grumman said in an email.

An update about the B-21 flight testing program published by Northrop Grumman notes that team behind development of the new aircraft includes more than 8,000 personnel in collaboration with more than 400 suppliers across 40 U.S. states. The test aircraft that completed the first flight last week is one of six to be produced for the B-21 program.

Matt Hartman, a freelance photo journalist, posted the first images of the B-21’s Nov. 10 flight to his X account, as shown here. Image: Matt Hartman, Shorealone Films

According to Northrop's update, the B-21 forms the backbone of U.S. air power and will be capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear payloads. Weapons and software upgrades on the B-21 will be integrated in significantly different methods than they were on the aircraft that it is replacing, the aging fleet of B-1 and B-2 bombers. The sixth generation aircraft's open architecture includes a shared environment for the B-21's digital twin and upgrades can occur in a shared cloud environment as well.

"Northrop Grumman invested in a digital ecosystem for the B-21 throughout the aircraft’s lifecycle. From training and augmented reality tools allowing technicians to visualize tasks and solve problems before ever touching the plane, to easing integration of supplier parts on the aircraft, these advancements have reduced risk," the company says in the update.

The Air Force first unveiled the B-21 during a ceremony in Palmdale last year, and expects to acquire a minimum of 100 B-21 Raiders.