U.S. Air Force together with the bomber’s manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, published three new concepts of the next-generation bomber, showing the stealth aircraft in various hangars at bomber bases across the U.S.
Although intentionally lacking many features, the new artworks are extremely interesting, as they enable the gathering of additional details. Here are those that seem to be more evident to me (I’d suggest you to read also the analysis Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithick published at The War Zone here).
- Overall shape is similar to the one of the B-2 but the B-21 is smaller in size
- B-21 leading edge shows different design concept: in particular, the new aircraft does not appear to have the toothpick edge shape of its predecessor’s hence lacking also the peculiar B-2’s “hawk’s-beak” profile
- The B-21 features different inlets config and blended conformal engine nacelles
- The B-21 has a two-wheel MLG (Main Landing Gear)
- The MLG and Nose Gear doors are different: in particular, the MLG doors are not trapezoidal but show serrated edges whereas the nosegear door is serrated and not attached to the gear leg but on the right side of the bay.
Last year, the service announced the B-21’s first operational base would be at Ellsworth and would also host the bomber’s first formal training unit. Whiteman and Dyess are expected to receive B-21 Raiders “as they become available,” the service said at the time.
The B-21 is still years away. Officials have said first deliveries should begin in the mid-2020s but have been careful not to broadcast too many other details in order to protect details about the B-21’s technology.
While enthusiasts have compared the squat, sleek profile of the B-21 to the B-2 stealth bomber — also developed by Northrop — a specialist for military aviation at the Congressional Research Service was quick to point out one potential difference.
In 2016, the Air Force announced it would name its next-generation LRS-B the Raider after the service’s legendary Doolittle Raiders. The late World War II veteran Richard E. Cole, the last surviving Doolittle Raider, made the announcement that year.
The Air Force awarded Northrop the contract, initially worth $21.4 billion, in 2015. Total costs are expected to exceed $55 billion over the life of the program.