First aerial test of America’s $745M nuclear bomber

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By Creative Media News

  • Stealth bomber B-21 Raider begins first public flight tests
  • The aircraft can launch both conventional and nuclear weapons
  • Production goal: 100 aircraft; operational by mid-2020s

America’s $745-million stealth nuclear bomber, which is highly classified, is reportedly conducting its first publicly acknowledged flight test amid the release of new images.

The B-21 Raider was unveiled in December 2022; however, the United States government has been cautious in demonstrating this radar-evading aircraft.

In pictures released on Wednesday, the svelte bomber was observed flying for the first time during flight testing. This is a critical step before the approval of a minimum first order of 100 stealth craft for manufacture.

A ‘dual-capable bomber’ has been used to characterize the B-21, which can launch both conventional and nuclear ordinance.

Andrew Hunter, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee this month that the B-21’s flight testing is proceeding according to plan.

He stated, “We are currently in the flight test program, and it is progressing smoothly.”

It is performing the function of flight test programs, which is to assist us in understanding the distinctive attributes of this platform in an exceedingly efficient manner.

Assistant Secretary Hunter subsequently clarified that this is the first aircraft that is more digital than not, contributing to the program meeting requirements.

The B-21 is a stealth bomber that is highly survivable, penetrating, and long-range. It will gradually replace the B-1 and B-2 bombers and will be instrumental in supporting national security objectives and assisting US allies and partners worldwide.

The B-21 weapon system is produced under the Air Force’s contract with Northrop Grumman.

The US Air Force has stated that the aircraft is built with an open systems architecture, which enables the rapid insertion of mature technologies and ensures that the plane remains effective as threats evolve.

The military branch’s statement continued, “The aircraft is anticipated to be in service by the mid-2020s, with a production goal of a minimum of 100 aircraft.

The B-21 Raider is the first nuclear-capable aircraft to be introduced since the conclusion of the Cold War. 

Although the B-21 was referred to as the first to conduct test flights in recent press releases, it was previously observed that a test flight was conducted in California late last year, as confirmed by Air Force officials.

The new warplane was captured in action by aviation photographer Matt Hartman at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale facility in November 2023. Hartman recorded video of the less public test flight from a road near Air Force Plant 42 Palmdale, California.

The B-21 Raider, which is distinctively shaped, is depicted in his footage as it ascends through the sky, flanked by another aircraft, before it executes an abrupt turn.

Northrop Grumman, an aerospace corporation, is currently manufacturing six test aircraft, each of which is anticipated to cost $750 million.

It is claimed to be essentially invisible to all enemy stealth radars and will be equipped with the most advanced military technology.

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The B-21 Raider can reach a maximum speed of 621 miles per hour, has a wing span of 172 feet, and weighs approximately 30,000 pounds.

At a November unveiling event, Air Force Global Strike Commander Thomas A. Bussier referred to the aircraft as the “future backbone of the bomber fleet.”

In the long term, the United States Air Force aspires to replace its outdated B-1 and B-2 bombers with a minimum of 220 aircraft.

The service has predicted that the B-21 fleet’s development, acquisition, and maintenance will likely cost at least $203 billion over 30 years.

The B-21 is part of the Pentagon’s endeavors to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, which also includes submarine-launched warheads and silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles. This effort is being undertaken in response to China’s rapid military modernization as the Pentagon transitions from the counterterrorism campaigns of recent decades. 

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