First B-21 'Starting To Look Like An Airplane,' USAF Says

b-21 artist concept
Artist's rendering of the B-21A.
Credit: Northrop Grumman

The first Northrop Grumman B-21 test aircraft in final assembly is “starting to look like an airplane,” a senior U.S. Air Force official said.

The first B-21 entered the assembly process last fall at Northrop’s plant in Palmdale, California, and continues to make progress.

“The first test aircraft is being built, and it’s starting to look like an airplane. Suppliers from across the country are delivering parts that are coming together now,” said Randall Walden, director of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, which is managing the B-21 development program.

But Walden also continued to emphasize that, although the program is proceeding well, the complexity of developing a modern combat aircraft can still cause setbacks.

“Aircraft programs will always have a few surprises early on, and we won’t be any different, but overall the B-21 Raider is coming along nicely,” Walden said.

Walden’s quotes appeared in a little-noticed news release issued by the public affairs officer for Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett on Aug. 3. Barrett and Walden had accompanied Defense Secretary Mark Esper on a visit to Northrop’s design and development headquarters in Melbourne, Florida.

“I am thoroughly impressed by the dedication and progress across the B-21 Raider team,” Esper said.

Gen. Timothy Ray, the head of Air Force Global Strike Command, also joined the tour.

“The progress I saw today further adds to my confidence that the B-21 Raider will preserve our long range strike and penetrating bomber capability,” Ray said.

The B-21 is not expected to achieve first flight until 2022 and arrive at operational bases until the mid-2020s. 

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.