On February 26th, 2016, the designation of "B-21" was revealed for the upcoming Northrop Grumman LRS-B program. Artist renderings were also revealed and showcase a bomber form not unlike the current B-2A "Spirit" series currently in USAF service. Performance and capabilities will be forthcoming as the project is evolved - as such, this article will be updated accordingly.
Partners announced for the B-21 program are Pratt & Whitney (engines), BAe Systems (electronics), GKN Aerospace (metals and composites), Janicki Industries (composites and tooling), Orbital ATK (wing skins and nacelles), Spirit Aerosystems (metals and composites), and Rockwell Collins (communications). Northrop Grumman will provide the onboard radar fit.
The B-21 is expected to enter service in the latter half of the 2020s with a target fleet of 100 aircraft. These will be used to succeed (perhaps optimistically at this point) the aging line of Boeing B-52, Rockwell B-1 and even Northrop's own B-2 stealth bombers currently in service. The USAF's Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) is heading the initiative.
Based on released artist renderings, the B-21 will have an all-wing planform not unlike the B-2A "Spirit" stealth bomber, incorporating all learned, and possibly new, stealth techniques into its design. The flight crew numbers two and the team is seated at the apex of the "arrow" shape of the planform. All major compartments are situated at the center mass of the aircraft whose fuselage is blended into the wings to promote a very-low-profile when viewed from the size. At rear, the engines will be (as in the B-2A) embedded into the design with its exhaust protected as much as possible from IR locators. A conventional, multi-wheeled retractable tricycle undercarriage is assumed for ground-running. An unmanned option has been bandied about for the new bomber design.
Compared to the B-2A, the B-21 will be given an extended nose section, or "beak", forming the apex of the arrow-like form. The nose leg of the undercarriage is set to be placed further aft in the nose compartment and will be made to a shorter height specification while the main legs are simplified by showcasing fewer wheel bogies. The cockpit is detailed with two windscreens (as opposed to four as seen in the B-2A) and the engine inlet will be integrated closer to the center mass of the fuselage, reducing the overall length of the fuselage itself. Attention is being paid to medium-/higher-altitude flight controlling by implementation of a simplified wing by the trailing edges and "sawtooth" leading edges.
Overall dimensions appear to indicate a smaller overall bomber form when compared to the relatively massive B-2A though true specifications have yet to be revealed.
February 2016 - Work on the B-21 project began.
September 2016 - The name of "Raider" has been assigned to the B-21 by the USAF. It is in honor of the "Doolittle Raiders" of World War 2. The service seeks to purchase 100 B-21s at a cost of $564 million per aircraft.
March 2017 - It was announced that the B-21 had passed a pair of preliminary design reviews.
November 2017 - Requirements of the B-21 product, and its basic design, have been completed.
June 2018 - The B-21's Critical Design Review (CDR) is slated for completion before the end of 2018. The CDR phase precedes the component manufacturing step required to produce a flyable prototype.
October 2019 - The first B-21 airframe is under construction by Northrop Grumman out of the company's Palmdale, California facility. A first-flight is tentatively scheduled for December 2021.
February 2020 - New USAF renderings depict the soon-to-be B-21 Raider stealth bomber in hangar at Whiteman AFB.
August 2020 - The first B-21 test aircraft is entering final assembly. A first-flight is tentatively scheduled for sometime in 2022 with deliveries to occur sometime in the middle of the decade at the earliest.
August 2020 - The B-21 avionics testbed has been announced as operational.
January 2021 - First-flight of the B-21 Raider prototype has been delayed from December 2021 until the middle of 2022.
June 2021 - Ellsworth Air Force Base has been selected as the first operational base to feature the new USAF B-21 stealth bomber.
September 2021 - The USAF has revealed that five test-minded B-21 airframes are currently under construction by Northrop Grumman, these examples nearing final assembly.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
Houses, or can house (through specialized variants), radar equipment for searching, tracking, and engagement of enemy elements.
Survivability enhanced by way of onboard electronic or physical countermeasures enacted by the aircraft or pilot/crew.
Incorporates two or more engines, enhancing survivability and / or performance.
Mainplanes, or leading edges, features swept-back lines for enhanced high-speed performance and handling.
Fuselage volume includes space for internally-held weapons or special-mission equipment.
Can reach and operate at higher altitudes than average aircraft of its time.
EXTENDED RANGE PERFORMANCE
Capability to travel considerable distances through onboard fuel stores.
PILOT / CREW EJECTION SYSTEM
Assisted process of allowing its pilot and / or crew to eject in the event of an airborne emergency.
Supports pressurization required at higher operating altitudes for crew survival.
65.6 ft (20.00 m)
164.0 ft (50.00 m)
16.4 ft (5.00 m)
154,324 lb (70,000 kg)
374,786 lb (170,000 kg)
+220,462 lb (+100,000 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Northrop Grumman B-21A production variant)
monoplane / shoulder-mounted / delta, tailless
Design utilizes a single primary wing mainplane; this represent the most popular mainplane arrangement.
Mainplanes are mounted at the upper section of the fuselage, generally at the imaginary line intersecting the pilot's shoulders.
The delta planform lacks a conventional tailplane arrangement with all wing surface area taken up by the delta planform.
(Structural descriptors pertains to the Northrop Grumman B-21A production variant)
(Assumed): 2 x Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines developing over 15,000lb of thrust each (estimated).
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