Northrop Grumman [NOC] said on Sept. 20 that it will unveil its B-21 Raider stealth bomber for the U.S. Air Force the first week of December at the company’s Palmdale, Calif., plant–a timeline confirmed the same day by Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter during his appearance at a media roundtable at the Air & Space Forces Association annual conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland.

B-21 first flight is to occur next year. “The actual timing of first flight will be based on ground test outcomes,” Northrop Grumman said on Sept. 20.

“Since contract award in 2015, Northrop Grumman has assembled a nationwide team to design, test and build the world’s most advanced strike aircraft,” the company said. “The B-21 is a product of Northrop Grumman’s pioneering digital engineering practices and advanced manufacturing techniques together with breakthrough stealth technology.”

The December B-21 roll out in Palmdale will be “an invitation-only event,” Northrop Grumman said.

The Air Force and Northrop Grumman have said that six of the bombers are under construction in Palmdale, and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said in July after visiting the plant that he was “pleased to report the B-21 is on time and on budget” (Defense Daily, July 22).

Ellsworth AFB, S.D. is to be the first base to receive the B-21. Last year’s omnibus appropriations law included B-21 related construction at Ellsworth, including the Air Force’s request for $91 million for a two-bay low-observable coatings restoration plant, $65 million for a wash rack and maintenance hangar, and $24 million for an expanded flight simulator facility.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the fiscal 2023 defense authorization bill “continues that work with additional funding for the low-observable (LO) coating restoration facility, as well as funding for two additional construction projects—a weapons generation facility and a radio frequency facility—that will be needed to ensure Ellsworth is fully able to conduct the nuclear and stealth B–21 missions,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said in July.

The SASC bill authorizes the Air Force request for $77 million for the B-21 radio frequency facility and $50 million for the weapons generation facility but only $31 million of the Air Force’s $91 million ask for the LO coating restoration building.

Northrop Grumman said in May that the company had begun loads calibration testing in Palmdale of the first B-21 (Defense Daily, May 25).

The Air Force fiscal 2023 budget request contains the first procurement funding for the B-21–nearly $1.8 billion for the low-rate initial production phase (LRIP).

The loads calibration of the first B-21 consists of a number of instrumentation and aircraft structural tests that stress the airframe from zero to 100 percent under various flight and maneuver conditions.

Northrop Grumman’s bid for the B-21 included a specific quantity of LRIP aircraft at a fixed-price, Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden has said, noting that while she can’t disclose the number of aircraft, “it’s a small portion of the overall program of record.”