B-21 Raider In Flight Test But Was Today First Flight?
The US Air Force next generation stealth bomber known as the B-21 Raider was seen flying early this morning from the Plant 42 airport and factory complex in Palmdale, California. It is known to have landed at Edwards Air Force Base soon after.
While both the Air Force and aerospace prime contractor Northrop Grumman have confirmed the B-21 is in flight test, both are so far unwilling or unable to confirm today's flight was the bomber's actual first flight.
The mystery stems from the only statement attributed to the Air Force about the program's flying status. As reported by Aviation Week and others, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek provided the following statement:
The B-21 Raider is in flight testing.
Flight testing is a critical step in the test campaign managed by the Air Force Test Center and 412th Test Wing’s B-21 Combined Test Force to provide survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks against the U.S., allies and partners.
AeroSpaceNews.com reached out to both Northrop Grumman and Ms. Stefanek for clarification.
To ensure there was no confusion, we asked both parties the following two questions:
Can you please confirm for me that today is in fact the day of the B-21's first and only flight?
Were there any other B-21 proof of concept articles of any kind flown before today in a manner similar to the way there were Have Blue aircraft flying before the F-117 flew?
Northrop Grumman responded with the following statement:
As confirmed by the U.S. Air Force, the B-21 Raider is in flight test. The robust flight test campaign is being executed by a Combined Test Force comprised of Northrop Grumman and Air Force personnel that will validate our digital models and moves us another step closer to reaching operational capability.
The Air Force has not responded by the time this story was published.
AeroSpaceNews.com investigated the statements attributed to the Air Force published by several reputable trade and generalist media publications. None that we found included any language confirming November 10, 2023, as the B-21's first flight date.
Such a confirmation would not typically be a difficult or controversial topic. In fact, the aerospace industry has a tradition of proudly sharing news of a first flight as it marks a major milestone in any aircraft's development.
In the decades-long experience of this reporter, the absence of a press release trumpeting a first flight is almost unprecedented. Neither the Air Force nor Northrop Grumman have issued a press release published on their respective websites announcing the first flight has taken place.
Indeed, Northrop Grumman did publish a B-21 Raider news feature on their website on November 10, 2023. It makes no mention whatsoever of the first flight date, but states, "Here is what you need to know about Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider as it continues flight test."
There is at least one precedent hinted at in the question posed to Northrop Grumman and the Air Force. The Lockheed F-117 was proceeded to flight by a proof-of-concept test program known as Have Blue. The later F-117 Nighthawk was also flown, and in fact, operational, prior to revealing to the public.
It is possible some variation of the F-117's fly-before-show steps were undertaken by Northrop Grumman and the Air Force.
It is also possible November 10, 2023, is the date the Northrop Grumman Air Force B-21 Raider stealth bomber took its first flight.
The facts only support the conclusion that the B-21 Raider has flown.
Decades of experience contributing to Flight International, Aviation Week, KCRW, NPR, and appearances on the Discovery, Military and History Channels.