Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force recently signed an industry-first data rights agreement, opening up access to B-21 data and collaboration across the program, including the launch of a shared environment for the digital twin B-21.
The agreement establishes a level of access to common data and data environments that had not yet been achieved on a program of this scale or so early in the lifecycle. It creates greater transparency and collaboration between Northrop Grumman and the Air Force, helping to provide greater accessibility and rapid scalability throughout the program lifecycle. Northrop Grumman has placed a high priority on advancing digital engineering at the B-21 enterprise.
Also earlier this year, Northrop Grumman and the Air Force successfully demonstrated data migration from B-21 ground systems to a cloud environment. This demonstration included the development, deployment and testing of a B-21 data suite, including the B-21 digital twin that will support B-21 operations and sustainment. This successful test proved that the footprint of ground systems can be significantly reduced in major operating bases and in deployment packages. This approach will promote affordability and readiness for operations and sustainment.
The B-21 program’s accomplishments in data access and data management are best practices that Northrop Grumman uses to benefit other programs in the company.
“The B-21 Raider is a true digital native, and this data rights agreement coupled with the cloud-based digital twin allows us to reduce risk in the EMD phase, enable rapid capability upgrades and reduce costs. sustainment over the life of the program,” said Doug Young, industry vice president and general manager, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems.
As the B-21 continues its ground test phase, 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.
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 impact for the Air Force as it evolves threats. 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.
On September 20, 2022, Northrop Grumman announced that it would unveil the B-21 Raider during the first week of December at the company’s facility in Palmdale, California in partnership with the Air Force. The first flight projection of 2023, as reported by the Air Force, is aligned with information reported during the company’s 2022 earnings calls and remains on schedule against the baseline of the government procurement program.
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.