By Clement Charpentreau
The B-21 Raider project, which has been shrouded in secrecy and anticipation, is taking tangible steps towards its first flight, scheduled to take place before the end of 2023.
The next-generation strategic bomber of the United States Air Force has officially commenced engine runs as part of its ground test program at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale facility. The aircraft is reportedly powered by two unnamed Pratt & Whitney engines.
Engine runs refer to the testing and operation of an aircraft’s engines while it remains stationary on the ground. Various performance parameters are monitored and evaluated while the engines are running, to ensure that they operate correctly, produce the expected amount of thrust, and function safely before the aircraft is cleared for flight.
Six B-21 Raider bombers are being assembled at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California.
The B-21 is expected to enter service by 2026, gradually replacing the B-2 Spirit and the B-1 Lancer strategic bombers. Unveiled by Northrop Grumman on December 2, 2022, this new strategic bomber reuses some of the B-2’s general characteristics, with a similar sleek flying wing design.
Ultimately, the USAF expects to operate a two-bomber fleet of B-21s and modified B-52s. It intends to order 100 B-21s, more than its current fleet of B-1s and B-2s combined.