See the B-21 nuclear stealth bomber’s first official flight photos

The B-1 and B-2 bomber successor is reportedly on schedule for deployment within the next few years.
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B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight
A B-21 Raider conducts ground testing, taxiing and flying operations at Edwards Air Force Base, CA. US Air Force

The US government released its first official photos of a B-21 Raider nuclear stealth bomber in flight, providing at least a few new angles to scour for more information on what is intended to become “the backbone of the US Air Force Bomber fleet.” The new images offer some of the best looks yet at many features, including the sharpened nose, radar-deflecting undercarriage covers, and flying wing fuselage. As New Atlas pointed out earlier this week, you can also see the temporary addition of a red pitot tube used to amass test flight data. There also appears to be visible engine air inlets and an open hatch that might provide air intake for an auxiliary engine.

B-21 Raider stealth bomber taking off from desert runway
Credit: US Air Force

The Air Force previously confirmed six of the aircraft are allegedly in production. Each nuclear-capable stealth bomber reportedly costs around $700 million—roughly $200 million more than earlier estimates in 2010.

Although the B-21 Raider had its very flashy, formal unveiling back in December 2022, the military is extremely careful about how, when, and where it shows off its cutting-edge aircraft to the public. Previously released official pictures last year, for example, intentionally omitted any look at its exhaust ports. These ports can still appear on sensitive radar systems designed to search for infrared and heat signatures.

[Related: New B-21 stealth bomber photos reveal tantalizing clues about the aircraft.]

Of course, unofficial channels often offer additional looks at secretive aircraft, as was the case in November 2023 when civilians grabbed video of the B-21 Raider actually conducting a test flight. Such leaks forced the Air Force to quietly admit it had actually transitioned from on-the-ground engine tests to in-air trial runs around that same time.

B-21 Raider stealth bomber in hangar
Credit: US Air Force

In a Senate Armed Services Committee testimony earlier this month, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Andrew Hunter confirmed the B-21 Raider flight test program “is proceeding well” and on schedule. Hunter also highlighted the plane will be the first-of-its-kind to be “more digital than not” to meet certain, unspecified requirements. The US military previously reported it has ordered a minimum 100 of the 132-foot wide, 70,000 lbs stealth bombers from Northrop Grumman, with an eye to begin deploying the first of them within the next few years.

After more than three decades of development, the initial B-21 Raiders will fly alongside existing B-1 and B-2 bombers before replacing them entirely in the coming decades. In this week’s photo release, officials described the stealth aircraft as “long-range, highly survivable, penetrating strike stealth bomber that… will play a major role supporting national security objectives and assuring US allies and partners across the globe.”