B-21 Completed Critical Load Calibration Test: The United States Air Force’s Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is inching closer to making its first flight, which is now scheduled for next year. Testing has continued on the first B-21 Raider prototype, and earlier this month, Northrop Grumman successfully completed the first and most critical loads calibration test.
According to the aerospace firm, the recent test was one of three major conditions the aircraft will undergo in the current phase of ground testing as it progresses toward its first flight. Loads calibration, which focuses on calibrating instrumentation prior to a 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, Northrop Grumman announced.
B-21 Ground Testing
Even before the B-21 Raider ever takes to the skies, it will have undergone a significant number of trials. 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. That will be followed by engine runs as well as low-speed and high-speed taxi tests, all leading up to the eventual first flight.
From the beginning of the testing, Northrop Grumman has proactively worked to burn down as much production risk as possible. Any failures could be an expensive and time-consuming setback for the United States Air Force.
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 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,” the company explained.
Production for B-21 Will Ramp Up
In addition to the build-up to the B-21’s maiden flight, Northrop Grumman has also invested in a robust production program, which is critical to the National Defense Strategy. The company has announced that it will be able to deliver the B-21 at a rate that will have a real effect for the U.S. Air Force in combating the threat.
To accomplish this, Northrop Grumman has stated that it would adopt “innovative application of digital engineering and commercial off-the-shelf digital tools,” which will help ensure the delivery an advanced degree of precision and efficiency in the build process; with production risk reduction progressing every day as B-21 test aircraft move down the actual production line.
Six aircraft are already in various stages of production and testing.
That will allow the aerospace company to continue to refine the building process while reducing risk. It will further mature the test fleet ahead of the first flight.
“The B-21 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,” Randy Walden, director of the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and program executive officer of the B-21 Raider program.
Other B-21 Program Advances
The fiscal year 2022 Defense Appropriations Act provided funding for five new military construction projects to stand up the B-21 mission at Ellsworth (AFB), South Dakota, which will become the Raider’s first main operating base. Construction is already underway of a low observable maintenance hangar, the first of its kind at the 80-year-old conventional bomber base.
An environmental impact statement was set to begin this year to inform final decisions on the second and third main operating bases to bed down the B-21 fleet. As announced by the secretary of the Air Force in 2019, preferred locations for those bases include Whiteman AFB in Missouri, and Dyess AFB in Texas.
The B-21 Raider was designed as a dual-capable penetrating strike stealth bomber that can deliver conventional and nuclear munitions. It is set to enter service by the end of the decade, with full-scale production of the Raider expected to begin by late 2025 or early 2026. Over five years, the Air Force will spend $19.536 billion for B-21 procurement.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.