First published image of B-21: airplane in the sky
In early 2016, the U.S. Air Force published the first image of a promising long-range bomber Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. Since then, such materials have not appeared. The situation changed only the other day, when the Air Force posted new images of the aircraft, made by the artist. They show the appearance of the aircraft, corresponding to the current status of the project, and are able to reveal some details.
The first official image, published almost four years ago, showed the B-21 in flight against a cloudy background. The artist portrayed a bomber from a characteristic angle, allowing you to understand the main contours of the airframe and notice some other design features.
The latest images show the future plane on earth. Three photo collages showcase the B-21 in the hangars of the Dyce, Whiteman and Ellsworth airbases - this is where it is planned to deploy new equipment. Published images differ only in background, while the three-dimensional model of the bomber is the same in all cases and is shown from one angle.
With all this, new collages show some features of the aircraft and reveal the details of the project. In addition, there are some opportunities for evaluating the size and other parameters of promising technology. However, one cannot count on special accuracy yet.
Available materials allow us to understand and evaluate the general features of the B-21 airframe, as well as determine its potential in terms of stealth. Obviously, the design of the Raider goes back to the older B-2 Spirit, but there are noticeable differences, apparently giving certain advantages.
B-21 based on Ellsworth. There will begin the deployment of new technology
Like its predecessor, the B-21 is designed according to the “flying wing” pattern with an arrow-shaped leading edge and a rudimentary protruding fuselage. The trailing edge of the wing has the shape of an inverted letter W; on a B-2, this part of the airframe has a more complex shape and design.
Unlike the B-2, the new B-21 does not have protruding air intakes on the sides of the fuselage. These devices are recessed into the wing and do not extend beyond its profile. On the sides of the fuselage there are medium-sized protrusions-fairings of the power plant, and the nozzles of the engines are maximally “hidden” in the glider.
In the front of the fuselage there is a cockpit glazing similar to that used in the B-2 project. Its dimensions may indicate the internal dimensions of the cabin and, accordingly, the number of crew.
Pay attention to the design of the chassis. The three-point scheme with the nose support is preserved. All racks have two wheels; the main ones use larger wheels. The chassis niches are covered with complex-shaped wings that open to the side. B-2 had a more developed chassis with a different design of the wings.
"Raider" in the hangar of the Dyce base
Unfortunately, along with the new images, the US Air Force did not publish any technical data. Earlier, the most general features and approximate tactical and technical characteristics were mentioned, and so far they have not been specified. Perhaps this will happen in the near future.
Dimensions "Raider" has not yet been specified. There is reason to believe that this aircraft is no larger than its predecessor. A different, simpler chassis design indicates a possible reduction in dead weight and flight weight. Despite this, the aircraft should not be inferior in terms of performance characteristics to the older Spirit. This indicates the use of more efficient engines and the availability of sufficient volumes of fuel.
Progress in the field of electronic systems allows us to reduce the volumes required for deploying avionics and to optimize the layout of the airframe as a whole. It is also possible to allocate sufficient volumes for the cockpit and reduce the burden on people. A significant change in layout can be indicated by the fact that the niche of the nose landing gear is shifted back: on the B-2 it was located almost at the nose fairing.
Even when the program for developing a promising bomber was launched, it was announced that this aircraft would be inconspicuous. As can be seen in the available images, this requirement became the main one and had the most serious impact on the formation of the appearance of the machine.
It can be seen that the B-21 differs from the B-2 in more complex contours of some elements. This may indicate the use of modern design tools, which made it possible to calculate all the parameters and obtain the optimal ratio of aerodynamic characteristics and stealth.
Whiteman Air Base
In the context of stealth, first of all, it is necessary to consider the general shape of the aircraft in plan. Probably, the rejection of a more complicated broken trailing edge is due precisely to a reduction in the EPR and, possibly, optimization of the nozzle units of the power plant. Another important innovation is the use of recessed air intakes in the wing. In the same vein, a change in the chassis flaps should be considered.
Recently it was said that the B-21 will be able to carry a wide range of ammunition of all main classes, from free-falling bombs with conventional equipment to guided missiles with special warheads. However, the exact list of compatible ammunition is unknown. Not reported and combat load. It is only known that all weapons will be transported in the internal compartment. External suspension is not provided.
Thus, in essence, the promising B-21 Raider bomber can be considered an option for the development of the concepts laid down in the previous B-2 project. Already tried and tested by time ideas are processed and implemented at the modern scientific and technological level, which should lead to noticeable positive consequences.
Some of these effects are noticeable even on published images. Others will become clear after the disclosure of other information, incl. TTX of the aircraft. At the same time, the economic advantages of the B-21 are already known. The Air Force has limited the cost of a production aircraft to 550 million dollars in 2012 prices (about 650 million dollars at the current rate). This is several times less than the price of the serial B-2, which is expected to allow the construction of a large fleet of aircraft at affordable costs.
So far, the B-21 Raider bomber exists only in the form of a few images and design documentation. However, Northrop Grumman has already begun the necessary work and is taking the project to the next stage. In December last year, it became known that at one of its plants the assembly of the first units for the future experienced "Raider" was begun.
Construction will continue for about a year. Tests and the first flight of the prototype are scheduled for the next 2021. At the end of the year, they promise to show the car to the public. After this refinement will continue, which will prepare the project for mass production. The Air Force will begin to receive new equipment in the second half of the decade, and by 2030 it is planned to achieve initial operational readiness.
According to current data, the US Air Force will order at least 100 new bombers. At the level of wishes, a twice as many figure appears - in this case, it will be possible to increase the potential of the far aviation to the desired level.
Using the “mandatory” hundreds of B-21s will replace the outdated fleet of B-1B and B-52 aircraft. In addition, a partial replacement of the newer B-2s is possible. The deployment of new equipment will begin at Ellsworth Air Base. Then the "Raiders" will go to the bases Dyce and Whiteman. The Air Force has already shown how the new B-21s will look at these airfields.
However, so far only three-dimensional models of equipment have hit the airbases. The deployment of aircraft is still a long way off, and Northrop Grumman's main task now is to build a prototype. As it continues, and during testing, new information of one kind or another will have to appear. All of them will supplement and correct the existing picture.