In early May 2022, Northrop Grumman passed the first – and most critical – load calibration test of the first B-21 aircraft.
The recent test is one of three major conditions the aircraft will experience in this phase of ground testing as it progresses to first flight. Load calibration, which focuses on pre-flight instrument calibration and structural integrity verification, has shown positive and consistent results.
During testing, the B-21’s airframe experiences varying percentages of stress to ensure the aircraft can continue on its way to flight readiness.
During the ground test phase, in addition to calibrating loads, the team will power up the aircraft, test its subsystems, and apply coatings and paint. The next steps will include performing engine runs as well as low and high speed taxiing tests and then the first flight.
From day one, Northrop Grumman has worked proactively to reduce production risk as much as possible. Throughout the engineering, manufacturing and development phase, the company has emphasized risk reduction efforts and production readiness as one of the many priorities of the B-21 program. In line with the risk-based approach, successful calibration testing is an important milestone that further validates the effectiveness of the company’s digital design capabilities and advanced manufacturing techniques.
Northrop Grumman has invested in a robust production program – which is the foundation of the National Defense Strategy – to deliver the B-21 at a rate that will have real effect for the US Air Force in countering the threat. The innovative application of digital engineering and commercial off-the-shelf digital tools continue to deliver an advanced degree of accuracy and efficiency in the construction process, with the reduction of production risks advancing every day as B-21 test planes move through the actual production line.
The first flight projection of 2023, as now reported by the Air Force, is aligned with information provided during the company’s first quarter earnings call and remains on schedule with the government procurement program baseline.
As the Air Force has indicated, the focus is on a safe first flight of a representative production aircraft. With six aircraft in various stages of production and testing, Northrop Grumman is making progress toward this goal while continuing to reduce risk, refine the build process and mature the test fleet before first flight.
Randy Walden, director of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office and director of the B-21 Raider program, recently said, “The B-21 test aircraft is the most representative aircraft in production, both structurally and in its mission. systems, at this stage of a program, that I have observed in my career. With the first aircraft in ground testing and successful payload calibration under its belt, Northrop Grumman is paving the way for the B-21 to deploy later this year and first flight in 2023.