As a stealth aircraft, the B-21 Raider remains a well-kept secret, but little by little the US Air Force shares some information about the future bomber that is in charge of Northrop Grumman.
This week, new renderings of the aircraft were released inside the hangars of the three air bases that will host their squadrons – Elsworth, Dyess and Whiteman. The images, of course, do not detail many things, but it is possible to notice some characteristics of the new bomber.
For those who don’t know, the B-21 will be the successor to the B-1B Lancer and also to the B-2 Spirit, the first bomber invisible to radars. Northrop Grumman won the competition in 2015 and will make a new flying wing that is expected to enter service in the middle of this decade.
More than that is little known. The jet is expected to fly in 2021, but the USAF does not reveal how many units will actually be ordered. Even the manufacturer dodges the issue: on the B-21 page on its website, Northrop Grumman says that there have already been talks about 100 aircraft or up to 200, depending on the source of the information in the government.
Before the new images revealed now, there was only a single illustration of the B-21 that explained little about the aircraft. The new bomber is very reminiscent of the B-2, but it looks like a simpler project, one of the main requirements of the program, after all, the “Spirit” became the most expensive aircraft in history and only had 21 units completed.
In the image published a few years ago, it was possible to notice that the engine’s air intakes would have an oblique cut in addition to the turbofans being positioned well at the wing-fuselage junction. In the B-2, the four GE F-118 engines are further apart and have more apparent air vents than in the Raider, supposedly installed in the lower part of the wings.
At the rear, the cutout of the B-21 has only two “Vs” while on the B-2 there are four. Another reduction is in the cockpit windshield, simpler in the Raider that has no side windows. This was an unclear detail in the first drawing and can now be confirmed.
There is no way to say that the new bomber is smaller than the B-2, however, the illustration induces this thought. His main landing gear, for example, has only two wheels against Spirit’s four, but that doesn’t mean that the Raider cannot have the same capacity as its older brother.
Finally, the fuselage curve of the B-21 looks shorter than that of the B-2, yet another indication that the new jet may be lighter. Despite this, it is hoped that the stealth bomber will be able to carry the same armaments as its predecessor, including nuclear items.
It will also not be surprising if the Raider ends up taking advantage of systems and equipment from other planes. The engines, for example, will be from Pratt & Whitney and it is speculated that the manufacturer has chosen to use the F100 (from the F-15) or the F135, which equips the F-35. On the other hand, the USAF wants the B-21 to be a versatile platform, capable of absorbing new technologies in order to prolong its useful life.
The mysterious bomber, however, has the objective of costing much less, not only to be manufactured, but mainly to be kept active, something that other stealth projects like the F-22, F-35 and the B-2 itself did not manage . Here is a greater challenge than going unnoticed by the radars.