The Air Force’s new stealth bomber made its first flight in California on Friday, according to plane spotters in California.
The service’s latest stealth bomber was caught in flight from Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale facility by aviation photographer Matt Hartman.
— Matt Hartman (@ShorealoneFilms) November 10, 2023
The Air Force and builder Northrop Grumman confirmed the flight in a statement to Defense One.
“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,” Northrop statement reads.
In a separate press statement, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said the flight testing was “is a critical first 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 United States, allies, and partners.”
Northrop Grumman is building six test aircraft for the first rounds of flight testing.
“The test aircraft are being built on the same production line, using the same tools, processes, and technicians that will build the production aircraft,” according to the Air Force.
After years of development secrecy, the Air Force put forth the initial plan for the bombers in 2015. In 2016, the Air Force announced the bomber class would be named after the Doolittle Raiders – who flew 16 B-25 bombers from aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) in a 1942 World War II raid on the Japanese home islands.
The program is designed to replace the B-2 Spirit and the B-1 Lancer long range bombers. The Air Force has said they need a minimum of 100 of the $700 million bombers.
“The B-21 is intended to operate in both conventional and nuclear roles, with the capability of penetrating and surviving in advanced air defense environments. It will be capable of operation by an onboard crew or piloted remotely. It is projected to enter service in the mid-2020s,” reads a 2021 Congressional Research Service report.