AIR FORCE NEWS
JUST IN: Air Force Leader Shares Details on B-21 Bomber
Concept Art: Nothrop Grumman
The Air Force’s secretive B-21 Raider bomber effort is making progress as prime contractor Northrop Grumman builds the program’s first test jet at its Palmdale, California, facility, said one official Oct. 24.
“Today we do have an airplane in there that would be our test jet number one,” said Randall Walden, director and program executive officer for the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, which is spearheading the program. “I won't go into a lot of detail [on] how far along we are, but suffice it to say, ... we're working the production line literally today.”
Walden noted that “big parts” are currently being manufactured at the facility, but did not disclose which specific components are being built.
The date for the aircraft’s projected first flight is still up in the air, Walden said during a breakfast hosted by the Air Force Association in Washington, D.C. The earliest flight date could take place in December 2021. However, he said he would not bet on it.
“Things like large components coming together, integration, ground tests — all the things that lead up to a first flight — have to be accomplished,” he said. “There's a lot of things that have to happen between now and a couple of years, … but in general terms, that's what we're shooting for.”
The B-21 is a complex airplane, so it will take time to get all the parts and subsystems into place, he added.
The Air Force plans to hold a public event next year to roll out the B-21 prior to its first flight, Walden said.
In hopes of keeping the bomber on its current schedule trajectory, the service is focused on maintaining the aircraft's major design plans, Walden said.
“Requirements is probably the number one thing — if you don't have stable requirements, that's going to drive a lot of” delays, he said. “In fact, the chief of staff of the Air Force is the only guy who changes the requirements on the model.”
The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 new stealth bombers, which will be capable of carrying nuclear or conventional weapons.
Earlier this year, Gen. Stephen “Seve” Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, said a critical design review for the program was conducted earlier this year and the service was working on software integration.
— Additional reporting by Connie Lee