Category Archives: Bomber

Loads calibration test

In early May, Northrop Grumman successfully completed the first – and most critical – loads calibration test of the first B-21 Raider aircraft. The recent test is one of three major conditions the aircraft will undergo in this phase of ground testing as it progresses toward first flight. Loads calibration, which focuses on calibrating instrumentation prior to flight and verifying structural integrity, has yielded positive and consistent results. During testing, the B-21’s airframe endures varying percentages of stress to ensure the aircraft can proceed on its path to flight readiness.

B-21 Raider
Successful loads calibration test reaffirms Northrop Grumman’s confidence in its digital models

During the ground test phase, in addition to loads calibration, the team will power up the aircraft, test its subsystems, and apply coatings and paint. The next steps will include carrying out engine runs as well as low-speed and high-speed taxi tests, and then on to first flight.

From day one, Northrop Grumman has proactively worked to burn down as much production risk as possible. 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 Raider program. In line with the risk-based approach, the successful calibration test is a significant milestone that further validates the efficacy of the company’s digital design capabilities and advanced manufacturing techniques.

Northrop Grumman has invested in a robust production program – one that is foundational to the National Defense Strategy – to deliver the B-21 Raider at a rate that will have a real effect for the U.S. Air Force in combating the threat. Innovative application of digital engineering and commercial off-the-shelf digital tools continue to deliver an advanced degree of precision and efficiency in the build process, with production risk reduction progressing every day as B-21 Raider test aircraft move down the actual production line.

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.

As the Air Force has indicated, the focus is on a safe first flight of a production representative aircraft. With six aircraft in various stages of production and test, Northrop Grumman is progressing toward that objective as it continues to reduce risk, refine the building process, and mature the test fleet ahead of first flight.

Randy Walden, director of the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and program executive officer of the B-21 Raider program, recently said, «The B-21 Raider 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». With the first aircraft in the ground test phase and a successful loads calibration under its belt, Northrop Grumman is paving the way for the B-21 Raider Rollout later this year and first flight in 2023.

Rapid Response Weapon

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress successfully released an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, off the Southern California coast, May 14.

Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW)
Air Force conducts successful hypersonic weapon test

Following separation from the aircraft, the ARRW’s booster ignited and burned for expected duration, achieving hypersonic speeds five times greater than the speed of sound.

«This was a major accomplishment by the ARRW team, for the weapons enterprise, and our Air Force», said Brigadier General Heath Collins, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons. «The team’s tenacity, expertise, and commitment were key in overcoming the past year’s challenges to get us to the recent success. We are ready to build on what we’ve learned and continue moving hypersonics forward».

The 419th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) and the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force, or GPB CTF, both at Edwards Air Force Base, California, executed the test.

«The test team made sure we executed this test flawlessly», said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Jungquist, 419th FLTS commander and GPB CTF director. «Our highly-skilled team made history on this first air-launched hypersonic weapon. We’re doing everything we can to get this game-changing weapon to the warfighter as soon as possible».

ARRW is designed to enable the U.S. to hold fixed, high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments from stand-off distances. It will also expand precision-strike capabilities by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets.

Long lead items

The Department of the Air Force awarded $108 million to Northrop Grumman for advance procurement to support the B-21 Raider program.

B-21 Raider
Air Force awards B-21 Raider advance procurement to support acquisition of long lead items for production

Advance procurement funds will directly support the acquisition of long lead items necessary to build the first lot of production B-21 Raider aircraft. The award of advance procurement reaffirms the Air Force’s commitment to fielding what will become the backbone of the 21st century bomber fleet.

«The B-21 Raider program is foundational to the Air Force’s operational imperative for an effective, long-range strike family of systems to guarantee our ability to strike any target, anytime, anywhere, even in the most contested environment», said Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, Jr.

«As the Air Force celebrates its 75th anniversary, the Raider is a standout example of the innovation and pursuit of game-changing technology that has characterized our service since its inception», Brown continued. «The quality of the aircraft build, coupled with its open systems architecture design and built-in margin for future growth, will provide our warfighters the competitive advantage we’ll need to deter current and future conflicts, and fight and win if called upon to do so».

The B-21 Raider test aircraft currently being manufactured under the Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract with Northrop Grumman are being built on the same production line, using the same tooling, processes and technicians to build the production aircraft.

«The B-21 Raider test aircraft are 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. The right decisions are being made on this program to pave the way for a high-fidelity flight test campaign and an effective transition to production», shared Randall Walden, Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director.

The first B-21 Raider flight test aircraft recently entered loads calibration to undergo verification and validation testing of its structural design prior to flight. After loads calibration, further integration and ground testing will inform the program schedule and flight readiness.

Progress continues across all elements of the B-21 Raider program. The fiscal year 2022 Defense Appropriations Act provided funding for five new military construction projects to stand-up the B-21 Raider mission at Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB), South Dakota, the Raider’s first main operating base. Construction of a low observable maintenance hangar, the first of its kind on the 80-year-old conventional bomber base, is already underway.

An environmental impact statement is set to begin this year to inform final decisions on the second and third main operating bases to bed-down the full B-21 Raider fleet. As announced by the Secretary of the Air Force in 2019, preferred locations for the second and third B-21 Raider main operating bases are Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas, respectively.

Test Aircraft in Flow

The B-21 Raider took center stage at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference, with the latest update on program progress being delivered by newly appointed Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, during his State of the Forces address Monday morning.

B-21 Raider
Progress continues on the B-21 Raider with five test aircraft now in production at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California (Shown here is an artist rendering of the B-21 Raider)

«As I speak, there are now five test aircraft being manufactured on the B-21 Raider production line at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. This investment in meaningful military capabilities that project power and hold targets at risk anywhere in the world addresses my No. 1 priority», said Kendall, referring to Air and Space Forces’ ability to continuously deter and defeat threats.

Mr. Randall Walden, director of the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and Program Executive Officer of the B-21 Raider Program, had previously confirmed to Air Force Magazine in January that two test aircraft were making their way down the production line at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale. According to Doug Young, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s Strike Division, this significant progress can be credited to a strong customer partnership, early application of digital tools and a talented, dedicated workforce.

«We have a nationwide industry team who has shown tremendous dedication and grit over the past 18 months», Young said. «Combined with our extensive collaboration and transparency with our Air Force customer, and the success we’ve had in bringing digital tools into our design and production processes, the B-21 Raider program is leading the way in many respects».

The application of new digital tools and processes early in the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase has been a focus of recently released information on the program. The use of augmented and virtual reality, and ground and airborne test beds have been recently cited as enablers of program progress and risk reduction.

«The integration of our digital design capabilities with our advanced manufacturing technologies means we’re working smarter and faster to bring next-generation technologies to life», said Chris Daughters, Aeronautics sector vice president of Engineering. «Our ability to continually reduce risk throughout EMD by utilizing these transformative digital capabilities is going to pay dividends throughout the full lifecycle of the aircraft».

When it comes to delivering a multilayered response to threats, the B-21 Raider will be both a symbol and source of America’s strength.

«With the capability to hold targets at risk anywhere in the world, this weapon system is critical to our national security», said Young. «Northrop Grumman is committed to delivering the B-21 Raider to the warfighter on time to ensure America can project its power globally for decades to come».

B-21 Raider

The Air Force released a new B-21 Raider artist rendering graphic with an accompanying fact sheet on July 06, 2021. As with past renderings, this rendering is an artist’s interpretation of the B-21 Raider design.

B-21 Raider
Shown is a B-21 Raider artist rendering graphic. The rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards Air Force Base, California, as the backdrop. Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, the B-21 Raider will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad (U.S. Air Force graphic)

The new rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, as the backdrop. The 420th Flight Test Squadron based at Edwards AFB will plan, test, analyze and report on all flight and ground testing of the B-21 Raider.

The B-21 Raider program continues to execute the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase and is focused on scaling the manufacturing infrastructure and capacity across the industrial supply base to prepare for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP). A critical design review conducted in 2018 concluded the aircraft has a mature and stable design.

Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, the B-21 Raider will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad.

«Nuclear modernization is a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force, and B-21 Raider is key to that plan», said Randall Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. «The built-in feature of open systems architecture on the B-21 Raider makes the bomber effective as the threat environment evolves. This aircraft design approach sets the nation on the right path to ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability».

The Air Force plans to incrementally replace the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit bombers to form a two-bomber fleet of B-21s and modified B-52s. The B-21 Raider program is on track to deliver B-21s to the first operational base, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in the mid-2020s.