A B-21 in its hangar at Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.

A B-21 in its hangar at Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. U.S. Air Force

B-21 takes flight, heads to Edwards AFB for more tests

Air Force “on track” for delivery of first operational Raider bombers in the mid-2020s, officials say.

The Air Force’s B-21 Raider flew for the first time on Friday, a milestone for the Pentagon’s first new bomber in a quarter-century.

The momentous flight from Palmdale, California, was captured on camera by Matt Hartman, a freelance photojournalist, and confirmed by Air Force officials.

“The B-21 Raider is in flight testing,” which includes ground testing, taxiing, and flying operations, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said. “Flight testing is a critical 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."

Planemaker Northrop Grumman has said it expects to receive a low-rate-initial-production award after first flight. 

“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,” a Northrop spokesperson said. 

There were signals that the bomber’s first flight was imminent after photos of the aircraft taxiing in Palmdale started circulating on social media last month.

Stefanik said the program is on track to deliver the first B-21s in the “mid-2020s” to to Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, which announced last year would host the B-21’s training unit and serve as the plane’s first main operating base.

“Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and Dyess AFB, Texas (pending the Environmental Impact Statement) will receive aircraft as they become available. Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, will coordinate maintenance and sustainment of the B-21 and Edwards AFB, California, will lead testing and evaluation of the aircraft,” Stefanek said. 

The B-21 that flew on Friday is one of six test aircraft being produced. The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 to replace its B-1 and B-2 fleets.