Air Force Releases First Official Photos of B-21 in Flight

Editor’s Note: This story was updated May 23 with an additional photo.

The Air Force released new photos of the B-21 Raider on May 22, offering the first official images of the bomber since it made its first flight last year. 

A day later, B-21 manufacturer Northrop Grumman released a new photo of its own.

The images, which show the bomber taking off, in the air, and in a hangar at Edwards Air Force Base, are rare glimpses of the highly secretive aircraft. Outside of its official unveiling in December 2022, the Air Force has released just a handful of photos.

The service did not even release any imagery of the bomber’s first flight at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, Calif., facility on Nov. 10, 2023, or when the aircraft started test flights out of Edwards a few months later. Instead, local aircraft spotters and photographers have captured most publicly released photos of the Raider. 

According to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, the photo of the B-21 taking off is from January, while the photos of it in flight and in a hangar are from early April. 

In an accompanying release, the 412th Test Wing at Edwards reiterated comments made by Air Force acquisition executive Andrew Hunter earlier this month that the B-21’s test flight program “is proceeding well.” 

“It is doing what flight test programs are designed to do, which is helping us learn about the unique characteristics of this platform, but in a very, very effective way,” Hunter told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 8.

Hunter also said “there are some key points still to come this year” in testing. 

The exact number of test flights the B-21 has completed is not publicly known. 

The B-21 is a developmental, penetrating strike bomber planned to deliver both conventional and nuclear munitions. Its wingspan is projected to be about 140 feet; smaller than the B-2’s 172-foot wingspan. The service plans to acquire at least 100 B-21s to replace its 45 B-1s and 20 B-2s over the next decade. 

The Air Force previously said that B-21 test aircraft will be “usable assets” as soon as they are airworthy, and that the test aircraft will be converted to operational configuration after developmental and operational testing is complete.