Production of Air Force's first B-21 stealth bomber on schedule

Northrop Grumman's construction of the first B-21 Raider stealth bomber, slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, is back on track, a U.S. Air Force official said.

Randall Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, acknowledged on Thursday that some B-21 subcontractors were affected by the pandemic.

Walden cited Spirit AeroSystems, which makes large composite aerostructures for the planes, as well as sections of the Boeing 737 Max. The company received $80 million in Defense Production Act funds to help stimulate struggling businesses, and placed employees who normally work on the temporarily-closed 737 Max line into B-21 production efforts.

"The folks that are not manufacturing 737s and those components came over to our production line and really kind of beefed up -where people had some COVID issues - they beefed up that portion of our production," Walden said.

In a statement earlier in August, Walden said that the B-21 "is starting to look like an airplane," and that "overall, the B-21 Raider is coming along nicely."

The first B-21 Raider is under construction at Northrop Grumman's facility in Palmdale, Calif., with an expected rollout for testing in December 2021. The plane is expected to enter service in 2025.

The Air Force has ordered 100 B-21s, heavy bombers, as part of its Long Range Strike Bomber program.

With its stealth design, it is meant to eventually replace the B-1, B-2 and the now-65 year-old B-52 Stratofortress, officials say. The B-21 will be a long-range, large, heavy-payload stealth intercontinental strategic bomber capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons.

Air Force officials have offered few facts about the B-21, and only shown off artists' renderings of it, to protect information about the aircraft's stealth technology.

They have, however, acknowledged that Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., will be the home of the first B-21 squadron. Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, are expected to house the next squadrons as well.

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