In a historic moment for the United States Air Force, the B-21 Raider, the nation’s newest stealth bomber, took to the skies for its maiden flight today.
The event was captured by freelance news photojournalist Matt Harman, who shared exclusive footage online, providing a rare glimpse of the highly anticipated sixth-generation bomber.
Initially scheduled for November 9, the first flight faced a temporary setback due to a technical issue, highlighting the meticulous attention to detail in ensuring the aircraft’s safety.
The rescheduled flight showcased the B-21 Raider, under the callsign “RAIDER 33,” taking off from the Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. The footage revealed the bomber’s sleek design and its unique flying characteristics, escorted by a U.S. Air Force F-16 serving as a chase plane.
The B-21 Raider is a critical component of the Air Force’s modernization efforts, designed to replace both the B-2 Spirit and the B-1 Lancer. The aircraft’s first flight marks a significant milestone in the extensive flight testing process led by the Air Force Test Center and the 412th Test Wing’s B-21 Combined Test Force.
Ann Stefanek, spokesperson for the Air Force, emphasized the importance of flight testing in ensuring the Raider’s survivable, long-range, and penetrating strike capabilities. The program aims to provide a deterrent against aggression and strategic attacks, not only safeguarding the United States but also its allies and partners.
The B-21 Raider is expected to join the Air Force fleet with a minimum of 100 units, with Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota slated to be the first installation to receive the aircraft. Stefanek confirmed that the program is on track, with six test aircraft currently in production. Edwards Air Force Base in California will lead the rigorous testing phase, with operational capability targeted for the mid-2020s.
Northrop Grumman, the builder of the B-21 Raider, acknowledged the significance of the first flight in a statement, confirming that the robust flight test campaign is progressing as planned.
The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Kathy Warden, reiterated the potential challenges, indicating a possible loss of up to $1.2 billion during the aircraft’s low-rate initial production. The Air Force’s LRIP contract award is imminent, closely tied to the successful completion of the first flight.
As sightings of the B-21 Raider become more frequent, the public can anticipate further revelations about the aircraft’s capabilities and features as it progresses through its testing phase.
The successful first flight reaffirms the United States’ commitment to maintaining a cutting-edge, technologically advanced fleet, ensuring national security in an ever-evolving global landscape.