The first B-21 Raider stealth bomber will fly in mid-2022, according to the U.S. Air Force, while a second plane is currently on Northrop Grumman's production line. Artist's rendering courtesy of U.S. Air Force
Jan. 20 (UPI) -- The first flight of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber is expected in mid-2022, with a second plane already under construction, the U.S. Air Force said.
The plane is an element of the Air Force Long Range Strike Bomber program to compliment and eventually replace B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers.
The B-21, expected to be available for service by 2026, is designed as a very long-range, large, heavy-payload stealth plane capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons.
At least 100 B-21s have been budgeted by the Pentagon, at a cost of $80 billion.
Under construction at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, Calif., facility, the first B-21 is "really starting to look like a bomber," and the second plane is on the assembly line, Randall Walden, of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, told Air Force Magazine.
"The second one is really more about structures, and the overall structural capability," Walden added. "We'll go in and bend it, we'll test it to its limits, make sure that the design and the manufacturing and the production line make sense."
Walden reiterated indications from Air Force officials last year that the bomber's first flight may be delayed.
Northrop Grumman is using a business jet as a test bed for debugging avionics and software, according to Defense News.
A virtual conference for defense industry professionals was held on Jan. 11 by the Air Force Civil Engineering Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss details and scheduling for maintenance hangers and similar ancillary equipment.
Air Force officials have offered few facts about the B-21, and only shown artists' renderings to protect information about the aircraft's stealth technology.
They have, however, acknowledged that Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., will be the home of the first B-21 squadron. Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, are expected to house the next squadrons.