Northrop Grumman successfully completed the first and most critical loads calibration test of the first B-21 raider nuclear bomber. The B-21 aircraft is preparing for its first flight in 2023, more than a year later than early estimates.
The recent test is one of the three major conditions the aircraft will undergo in this phase of ground testing as it progresses toward its first flight. The load calibration test focuses on calibrating instrumentation prior to the flight and verifying structural integrity and has yielded positive and consistent results.
During the load test, the B-21’s airframe was subjected to varying degrees of stress to ensure the aircraft could proceed on its path to flight readiness as it rolled off the production line. In this way, the B-21 bomber can move from testing to manufacturing with minimum delay.
The ground test phase will also include powering up the aircraft, testing its subsystems, and applying coatings and paint. In the next step, the team will carry out engine runs as well as low-speed and high-speed taxi tests and then on to the first flight.
First begun in 2014, the B-21 program is tasked with producing a replacement for the U.S. Air Force’s existing Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber fleet. Throughout the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development phase, the company has emphasized risk reduction efforts and production readiness as one of the many priorities for the B-21 program.
The first flight projection of 2023, as is now being reported by the Air Force, is aligned with the information communicated during the company’s Q1 earnings call and remains on schedule to the government Acquisition Program Baseline.
With six aircraft in various stages of production and testing, Northrop Grumman is progressing toward that objective as it continues to reduce risk, refine the building process, and mature the test fleet ahead of the first flight.
“The B-21 test aircraft is the most production-representative aircraft, both structurally and in its mission systems, at this point in a program, that I’ve observed in my career,” said Randy Walden, director of the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and program executive officer of the B-21 Raider program. With the first aircraft in the ground test phase and a successful load calibration under its belt, Northrop Grumman is paving the way for the B-21 Rollout later this year and the first flight in 2023.