The Air Force Has Released the First New Images of the B-21 Raider in Nearly Four Years

Kyle Mizokami
·4-min read

From Popular Mechanics

  • The U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman released the first new images of the B-21 Raider in nearly four years.

  • The new bomber is similar to the B-2A Spirit, but subtle differences hint at some major changes.

  • The B-21 Raider is expected to fly for the first time sometime in 2022.

The U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman have released the first new image of the B-21 Raider bomber in nearly four years. The image, designed to show the plane in hangars at air bases across the country, shows a few more details of the stealthy bomber. According to aviation experts, the new plane looks like the B-2 bomber—with some key differences.

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The three images show the plane sitting in hangars at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. Ellsworth and Dyess are currently home to B-1B Lancer bombers, while Whiteman is home to America’s fleet of B-2A Spirit bombers. The B-21 Raider will eventually replace both types.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

The B-21 Raider is the first new Air Force bomber since 1988, the year the B-2A Spirit was unveiled. Named after “Doolittle’s Raiders,” the force of B-25 Mitchell bombers that bombed Tokyo in the Spring of 1942, the B-21 is designed to overcome modern air defense threats, including such systems as the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system and Chinese J-20 stealth fighter to penetrate enemy airspace. The B-21 will be capable of carrying precision-guided conventional missions and nuclear weapons.

The B-21 will be a flying wing design, a specialty of Northrop Grumman’s since the end of World War II. The blending of the fuselage and wing, combined with the lack of horizontal and vertical stabilizers in the rear, is generally thought of as the best shape possible to avoid enemy radars from all directions. A bomber penetrating deeply into enemy territory will likely have radar waves bouncing off it from multiple angles, making all-around stealth a necessity.

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The new images sparked some conversation, as reporters and aviation enthusiasts discussed the new plane’s features. Here’s a sketch of the B-21 with notes by reporters from Aviation Week & Space Technology:

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The Aviationist also took a stab at analysis of the photos, which you can see here.

Overall, the trend for the B-21 is a refinement of the B-2A’s original flying wing shape. The leading edge shape of the B-21 is simpler than the B-2A’s sawtooth trailing edge. The cleaner, simpler trailing edge is probably how the original stealth bomber was supposed to look, but in the 1980s, a last-minute demand by the Air Force that the Spirit be capable of low-altitude flight necessitated an expensive design change. As a result, per Aviation Week’s analysts, the plane is likely optimized for medium- and high-altitude flight.

Photo credit: Jerod Harris - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jerod Harris - Getty Images

Experts believe the B-21 will be smaller than the B-2A, running about two-thirds the size and weight of the older bomber. This is reflected in the fact that the B-21 rendering features fewer main landing gear wheels. The aircraft simply needs fewer landing wheels to support a lighter airplane.

Aviation Week points out that the rendering displays a shorter fuselage and air inlets farther forward than the older bomber. This is all to increase internal volume for crew life support, fuel, sensors, and weapons. As a stealthy airplane, the B-21 must store all weapons, sensors, fuel, and other items internally, so space is at a premium.

The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 B-21 Raiders, though ideally, the service would like 200 or more. The aircraft is currently under development at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Palmdale, California, with the first demonstrator aircraft in the construction phase. The bomber was originally supposed to fly in late 2021, but that date will likely slide into early 2022.

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