Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a statement from Northrop Grumman.
America’s new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, appears to have taken flight for the first time, according to new images and video published by photojournalist Matt Hartman.
In a series of tweets posted on Friday morning, Hartman showed the stealthy flying wing cruising by with its landing gear extended and accompanied by two aircraft. One, shown clearly off to the B-21’s right near the end of the clip, appears to be an F-16, while the other seems to be much smaller and is more difficult to make out.
Hartman also posted an image of his camera’s display showing a close-up of the Raider’s underside.
Northrop Grumman confirmed the flight to Sandboxx News.
“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 company told Sandboxx News.
In August of this year, it was confirmed that the first B-21 Raider built had fired up its engines for the first time, and by late October, the stealth bomber was confirmed to be conducting taxi tests – which effectively means driving up and down the runway under its own power.
At the time, Northrop Grumman was confident that it would have the new bomber flying before the end of 2023, and based on this new footage, it looks as though they beat that deadline with more than a month to spare.
While the B-21 does bear a striking resemblance to its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit, you can distinguish it from the older flying wing by its lighter color scheme and tail configuration. The B-2 Spirit has a three-pointed sawtooth tail configuration, while the more modern (and slightly smaller) B-21 has a single-point.
The B-21’s landing gear was extended in the surfaced footage. It’s common for an aircraft to keep its landing gear extended during its first flight for a number of reasons: First, with the landing gear extended, it’s easier to rapidly bring the aircraft back down for a landing in the event of an emergency. Second, it reduces the chances of a potential mechanical failure with the landing gear damaging the aircraft itself. And third, by extending the landing gear it ensures you aren’t create unsafe flight conditions for the platform.
The B-21 Raider is said to be the stealthiest aircraft ever to fly
The B-21 Raider is expected to be the most advanced stealth aircraft in the sky when it enters service later this decade. Much like its predecessor, the B-21 will be capable of carrying a variety of nuclear weapons like the B-61 variable-yield nuclear gravity bomb and the Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) nuclear cruise missile. The B-21 will also be equipped to handle a large number of conventional weapons that will allow it to play an active role in combat operations around the world immediately upon entering service.
By incorporating a variety of new materials, sensor technologies, and electronic warfare systems, the B-21 will be able to serve not only as a long-range bomber, but as a very stealthy communications node and even as an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platform. Eventually, the Raider will even be able to operate autonomously, without a crew onboard.
Perhaps most importantly, the Air Force intends to purchase at least 100 of these advanced new bombers – more than five times the number of B-2s ever produced. This should reduce overall production and operating costs while providing the branch with a significant leap in capability over its current combined bomber fleets of non-stealth B-1Bs and B-52s flying alongside just 19 B-2 Spirits.
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