by Larry Grooms
special to Aerotech News
AEROSPACE VALLEY, Calif.— “This changes everything,” is the silent message superimposed on an 11-second Northrop Grumman video of a shrouded B-21 Raider to either roll out or be unveiled Dec. 2 at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif.
With security measures that could be fodder for a Tom Clancy techno-thriller, the public debut of the first new U.S. Air Force bomber in more than 30 years invites contrasting comparison with aviation disclosures of the early distant past. Asked to recall any similarly secretive rollouts, 412th Test Wing Historian James Tucker said one that came close was the XP-59, America’s first jet fighter during World War II, shipped by rail from the factory to Muroc Army Air Base (now Edwards) and flown in total secrecy.
Although the B-21’s predecessor, Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, appeared before a large and enthusiastic crowd in the sunlight outside the doors of the same assembly hangar three decades earlier, that’s where the similarity ends —”Changing Everything.”
This Friday [Dec. 2] an as yet undisclosed number of unnamed guests are expected “by invitation only” to witness the event from a likewise undisclosed location inside or outside.
Because Congress is scheduled to remain in session on Friday, both Aerospace Valley Congressional representatives are committed to remain in the Capitol to vote. However, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Republican Congressman Mike Garcia are expected to make formal remarks concerning the B-21 Raider defense program.
News releases and statements from Northrop Grumman officials used the terms rollout and unveiling interchangeably, and artistic representations vary between artist renderings of an aircraft and the featureless shape of a tailless fuselage veiled in a semi-transparent shroud.
The American public will be able to watch on their devices live-streaming video of Friday’s proceedings. And based on nervous and dismissive tweets from the People’s Republics of whereever, the rest of the world will be taking an interest as well in what NGC Aeronautics Systems President Tom Jones called “a sixth-generation aircraft.”
The public can access the livestream reveal of the B-21 Raider unveiling Friday, Dec. 2 at http://ms.spr.ly/6186dCONr
The unveiling is currently scheduled for 5 p.m., PST.
While much of what has been revealed about how the B-21 Raider’s visible features and flight performance envelope are improved from the B-2, including a smaller airframe configuration, altered exhaust ports and refined trailing edges, the blockbuster news that “Changes Everything” concerns the skin and everything below it, including engines, armaments, mission profiles, and perhaps the most significant change that Changes Everything Else in the likely future of aerospace technology.
The Quantum Leap allowing America’s aerospace to build better, faster, possible cheaper and world-beating invention derives in part from technology used in the B-21’s testing — and the Air Force’s decision to flight test a production-model aircraft instead of the traditional X-plane. Andrew Hunter, Air Force acquisition chief, was quoted as saying the early decision on flight-test aircraft production, “is paying dividends as we look towards first flight.”
The B-21’s advancements in stealth capabilities also incorporate open-systems architecture, and Joint All-Domain Command and Control technologies to share data across platforms. Northrop’s system for digital testing is touted as a way to reduce risk by catching and fixing problems before they reach the assembly line.
So far, there are still six B-21s in various stages of development, including the first flight test aircraft. The second complete B-21 is dubbed G1, a ground test aircraft. One of the mysteries yet to unfold is whether any of the B-21 Raider bombers, so-named in honor of the Jimmy Doolittle Raiders who first bombed Tokyo in World War II, will be built to operate without a crew onboard.
The Sept. 18, 2021 edition of Aerotech News and Review reported Northrop Grumman’s demonstration of technology allowing uncrewed aircraft to track enemy aircraft and securely share mission-critical data to commanders for strategic advantage. All of that would depend on aircraft capable of safely penetrating the full range of environments. The logical and now technologically feasible and affordable solution, NG executives pointed out, is producing aircraft with the flexibility to be quickly transformed to meet mission parameters, and the capability to be optionally piloted vehicles.
And yes, they demonstrated an existing airframe that can be converted from crewed to remotely piloted or autonomously operated and back again in hours and minutes or no more than a day or two, and by a pair of technicians using simple hand tools.
Such planes already exist at Northrop Grumman. That is no mystery.
For more on the B-21 Raider roll-out, visit www.aerotechnews.com on Friday, Dec. 2.