Listed below are all of the fascinating issues we’ve got seen within the photos of the B-21’s first flight.
At 6:51 a.m on Nov. 10, 2023, native time, the B-21 Raider made its first flight from Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base. As time goes by extra sightings of the historic flight of “Cerberus” are being revealed on-line. Most noteworthy are the high-quality photos of the plane’s underbelly photographed by fellow airplane spotters that have been ready beneath the flightpath. This has allowed for an in-depth evaluation of the Raider’s lesser-known particulars.
The sideview of the B-21 taxiing below its personal energy appears to substantiate that the plane has one secondary air intake door on high of every nacelle. On the B-2, the semi recessed engines have secondary consumption doorways that open throughout take off to offer sufficient airflow. Whereas the B-2 has two doorways per nacelle for its 4 engines, the B-21 solely seems to have a complete of two doorways.
Whereas it’s doable that the airduct splits into two from a single opening to cater for 2 engine, it’s extra seemingly that the only consumption door signifies that there’s just one engine in every nacelle. Whereas extra proof ought to be overviewed earlier than making a sound conclusion, it appears ever so seemingly that the B-21 is a twin-engine bomber.
The B-21 appears to have two smaller bays subsequent to the primary central bay.
Having accomplished a extra in-depth evaluation, some key options on the B-21’s underside will be famous.
What some initially considered the radar reflectors situated on both finish of the flying wing appears to be retractable navigation lights, much like what will be discovered on the B-2. Whereas the outboard navigation lights keep deployed in regular working circumstances, they protrude out of the wing and thus influence the full radar cross part of a stealth plane. Thus, it is not uncommon apply for the B-2 to retract its navigation lights when present process a fight sortie. The identical sort of retractable navigation lights is predicted to be the protrusions proven on both finish of the B-21’s wing.
The actual radar reflectors, or Luneburg Lenses, are pictured right here put in between the touchdown gears. As a stealth plane is not going to usually seem on radar, they have an inclination to fly with radar reflectors on except the necessity for low detection is required. Moreover, on a prototype plane as this, it’s uncommon to see one flying with out radar reflectors because the true radar return tends to be a carefully guarded secret.
As a result of plane’s low observable nature, its pitot tubes and static probes are additionally of a non-conventional form. Practically similar to the setup discovered on the B-2, the B-21 additionally utilises three units of 4 air information probes situated on the nostril and cheek of the plane. Whereas any plane wants a set of pitot tube and static ports to measure its airspeed, altitude, and vertical velocity, they have an inclination to stay out into the free-stream for correct measurements. Nonetheless, having a traditional pitot static tube might be detrimental to a stealth plane’s radar return. Thus, the B-2 utilises a set of flush mounted static ports and information correction to mimic the function of a traditional pitot tube. As a result of air information probes’ location being at an angle to the native airflow, there tends to be a couple of arrays of the identical sensors to account for inaccuracies in measurement. On this case, the B-21 appears to have a close to similar setup on its air data ports because the B-2’s.
Usually talking, as observed on other types, the “trailing cone” is often a nylon cable with a stabilizing cone deployed in flight, typically 1 to 1.5 instances the wing span size, or about 50 metres, behind the plane to measure the ambient atmospheric strain (static strain) exactly, within the “free-stream air-flow” exterior the disrupted air-flow generated by the plane – a key parameter for the pilots.
Very similar to that on the B-2, a darker shaded strip will be seen extending to the underside of the Raider’s rear finish. This seems to be a thermal coating utilized to the realm in direct contact with the engine exhaust. Normally comprised of a carbon fibre strengthened polymer, thermal coatings like this make sure that the engine exhaust is cooled down to cut back IR signature. It ought to be famous that Very Low Observable expertise (or “stealth”) not solely refers to low detection from radar, but in addition in different spectrums of together with each seen and infrared. Therefore, an effort is made to cut back the B-21’s detection in these arenas by a gray paint scheme and thermal coatings.
Probably the most intriguing element discovered can be the potential for a second set of inner weapons bays.
With the primary touchdown gears seeming to fold forwards, the panel line between the primary touchdown gear doorways and the central weapons bays raises suspicion for an additional weapons bay. Whereas the central weapons bay has two units of doorways that swing open, the secondary weapons bays seem to open up with a single door. As evident from the annotated image, the 2 set of secondary weapons bays can be smaller in width and size than the primary bay. It may be speculated that there might be area for self defence options reminiscent of decoys, air-launched drones, and even air-to-air missiles. It ought to be famous that the USAF web page on the B-21’s capabilities mentions that the platform will “…accommodate manned or unmanned operations”. There’s a risk for the drone decoys to be launched from the smaller weapons bays to permit for the primary weapons bay to be solely devoted for munitions supply. The USAF utilizing ADM-160 Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) on F-16s and B-52s, it’s thought that the MALD could possibly be built-in to the B-21 as properly. Most just lately AGM-160Bs have been seen employed in Ukraine performing as decoys for Storm Shadow cruise missiles.
There are additionally possibilities the doorways are used for one thing else: somebody recommended they could be used for upkeep functions, as an illustration to facilitate the entry to the engines.
Whereas the prototype plane is just not anticipated to hold an inner radar, a tough estimate of the scale and place of the radar will be deduced from the panel gaps. With the B-2 utilising two AN/APQ-181 radars beneath the forefront on its cheeks, the B-21 is prone to have its radar, if any, to be in an analogous place. The AN/APQ-181s on the B-2 offered 21 separate modes for terrain-following and terrain-avoidance, navigation system updates, goal search, location, identification and acquisition and weapon supply.
With the event of energetic electronically scanned array (AESA) expertise, the radars onboard the B-21 can have s a lot smaller quantity than the earlier technology that may be discovered on the B-2. Due to this fact, it appears pretty cheap for the B-21 to hold its personal radar.
Primarily based on the panel strains photographed, it seems that a two-radar setup like that on the B-2 might be determined, both having the antennas positioned contained in the blue or pink packing containers proven above. Though, contemplating the scale of recent AESA radars on fighter platforms, it appears extra seemingly that the radars might be situated within the pink packing containers attributable to measurement constraints. One of many pink panels marked above is taken up by an air information probe in the intervening time, however that is for sensor calibration and can solely be current on the prototype plane. Therefore, it’s a cheap assumption that the present area occupied by the air information probe mount is area for the later instalment of a low likelihood of intercept radar on manufacturing variants.
Lastly, earlier than you freak out about delicate particulars being disclosed and issues like that, please bear in mind the flight was considerably “introduced” (i.e. a number of spotters knew it will occur on Nov. 10 after being cancelled on Nov. 9) and occurred in plain daylight. So there was nothing to cover. Furthermore, as usually highlighted by Northrop Grumman, the B-21’s most essential options are contained in the plane and may’t be seen from the skin…
David Cenciotti and Stefano D’Urso contributed to this report.