Veil Lifted On B-21


The head of the Air Force released the most detailed photos yet of the B-21 Raider, the pricey pilot-optional strategic bomber that will replace the B-2. Gen. Charles Q. Brown, who is likely the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, showed off two new images of the super-secret aircraft while attending the Air and Space Forces Association conference near Washington, D.C., as reported by the Drive.

Even though the Air Force formally rolled out the prototype last December, the photos released were all the head-on view of the plane with nothing to give scale or perspective. One of the new pix shows the Raider from an angle with a good look at the flight deck windows, engine inlets and landing gear. Another is the head-on view but with people and equipment to give it scale. The images were taken July 31, a few days after the prototype was powered up for the first time at Northrop Grumman’s Site 4 facility at USAF Plant 42 in in Palmdale, California.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Since the B-21 is a “super-secret aircraft” I have to assume that the information being released for the benefit of the Reverse Engineers in Russia and China is for an aircraft that doesn’t exist, and the real B-21 is still a “super-secret aircraft”.

  2. While keeping things under wraps can be useful in gaining a little developmental head start on your competition, it’s just a temporary state of affairs. If you intend to actually operate the aircraft, eventually people are going to see it.

  3. The external views of the B-21 expose very few “secret” items that haven’t already been discussed by AW&ST or others, or soon will be. The real secrets lie within. Hopefully they can remain secret for a few more years. What really concerns me is the “crew-optional” aspect. As we’ve seen with drones, GPS and data signals can be jammed. Pre-programming an entire mission is also problematic as it would require external signals for recall or mission changes. I sure hope this thing proves worthy of all the money spent on it.

    • What makes you think that we don’t already HAVE such an aerial refueler, Don?

      Once an airplane is parked outside a hangar at Plant 42, it’s fair game for photos to be taken of it. USAF Plant 42 airport is Class D airspace with a ceiling of 2500’AGL. It’s outside the Edwards AFB MOA and restricted airspace and outside the LAX Mode C veil so an airplane COULD fly overhead and get pics, IF they wanted to and the timing was right during the day. That said, I wish the USAF Chief of Staff would zip his pie hole and his staff would stop providing these types of pics to him so he could give revealing presentations. 🙁

      When the B-2 was revealed in 1988, Northrop employees viewed the unveiling on a jumbotron in the parking lot at the (then) facility in Pico Rivera. There comes a point when the ‘secret’ of its existence has to be revealed … otherwise people would be reporting UFO’s over the Antelope Valley. 🙂