Air Force’s new B-21 Raider stealth bomber takes first flight

The Air Force’s newest bomber, the B-21 Raider, took its first test flight Friday, keeping the $200 billion development program on track to deploy aircraft by the mid-2020s.

The B-21 is a distinctive “flying wing” stealth bomber, reminiscent of its larger predecessor, the B-2 Spirit, both developed and manufactured by Northrop Grumman.

The new aircraft will be the “backbone of the future for U.S. air power,” Northrop said, replacing aging B-1 and B-2 bombers. The initial plan was to order about 100 aircraft at a cost of about $750 million each, adjusted for inflation.

The Air Force did not publicize the flight, but it was witnessed by warplane enthusiasts at Northrop’s facility in Palmdale, Calif.

The test “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,” the Air Force said in a statement to The Associated Press and other media.

The bomber is designed to be able to carry conventional and nuclear armaments, either with a crew or piloted remotely, according to a 2021 Congressional Research Service report.

The B-21 Raider, named for the famed Doolittle Raid on Tokyo during World War II, was officially revealed in December. It is the Air Force’s first new bomber in more than 30 years.

“This isn’t just another airplane,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the announcement. “It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love.”

The B-21 is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads, as it invests in new weapons to meet China’s rapid military modernization.

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