At least one Northrop Grumman B-21 stealth bomber has left the assembly line and entered the ground test phase.
The aircraft is one of six B-21s reportedly under construction, and the first to be completed as the maiden flight of the type draws closer.
The news was revealed by Tom Jones, president of Northrop Grumman Aeronautic Systems, in an interview with Flight Global.
“The B-21 programme continues to make excellent progress,” Flight Global quotes Jones as saying.
The B-21 Raider is a strategic bomber intended to complement and possibly replace the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and the Rockwell B-1 Lancer in the arsenal of the United States Air Force (USAF).
An initial batch of five B-21s was reportedly under construction at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California in late 2021. In February 2022, it was reported that the sixth aircraft had entered the assembly line.
The aircraft’s maiden flight is expected to take place in late 2022, although the exact date has not yet been confirmed. According to Jason R. Armagost, director of Strategic Plans, Programs, and Requirements at the USAF, the jet’s rollout ceremony is also due to take place later this year.
The B-21 is expected to enter service by 2026. While the exact capabilities of the aircraft are still unknown, the USAF has released some information over the past several years, hinting at its stealth characteristics, ability to function in conjunction with a swarm of drones, and the possibility of an unmanned variant.