B-21 First Flight Now Set For 2023

Credit: U.S. Air Force rendering

The U.S. Air Force now expects the first flight of the Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber in 2023 as the service prepares for a public rollout later this year.

The Air Force announced in early March that ground testing has begun on the first B-21, with the sixth aircraft beginning assembly at Northrop’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. No date has been set for the rollout. 

“The next major program milestone is first flight of the initial test aircraft, which is projected to occur in 2023,” the Air Force said in a statement. “The first B-21 flight will be data-driven, not date-driven.”

Air Force officials have said repeatedly the B-21 is progressing well and staying on schedule, though the projected dates of the first flight have been pushed back multiple times. Then-Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Seve Wilson said in 2019 the first flight was expected in December 2021, though that date was later pegged as a best-case scenario and more recent estimates focused on 2022.

An early 2023 first flight would make it about one year since the Air Force announced the first B-21 began loads-calibration testing.

“We’ve got six aircraft to build right now, and the first one of them is transitioning over to loads testing and we are on track for first flight, so we’re holding to our schedule and kind of beyond that I can’t go into much more detail,” Darlene Costello said in early March. She was acting assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition.

The first aircraft will need to undergo extensive ground testing at Palmdale following its rollout before it can make its first flight to nearby Edwards AFB, where it will begin flight tests.

The Air Force, in its fiscal 2023 budget request, calls for $3.254 billion in research, development, test and evaluation funding for the bomber along with $1.787 billion for procurement. Over five years, the service expects to spend $19.536 billion for B-21 procurement, according to budget documents.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.


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