The US Air Force’s B-21 Raider, designed to replace and work alongside existing strategic heavy bombers, made its maiden flight from Palmdale, California. Freelance photojournalist Matt Hartman captured the secretive event, raising attention to the aircraft that’s been shrouded in secrecy. Despite an exclusive unveiling and limited image releases, detailed information about the first US bomber in 40 years has been tightly controlled by the government.
Even the commencement of taxi trials was initially kept under wraps until social media rumors and images prompted the Air Force to confirm their initiation. A similar situation arose when a video of the B-21 in flight surfaced, leading to the Air Force confirming the aircraft’s short flight to Edwards Air Force Base in California for further ground testing and flight operations.
Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek highlighted the significance of the B-21’s flight testing in the broader campaign managed by the Air Force Test Center and the 412th Test Wing’s B-21 Combined Test Force. The goal is to fortify the nation and its allies with long-range, survivable capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks.
“The B-21 Raider is in flight testing,” said Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek. “Flight testing is a critical step in the test campaign managed by the Air Force Test Center and 412th Test Wing’s B-21 Combined Test Force to provide survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capabilities to deter aggression and strategic attacks against the United States, allies, and partners.”
Currently, the B-21 fleet comprises a few test prototypes, expected to expand to at least 100 operational bombers by 2027. This sixth-generation aircraft will eventually phase out the existing B-1B Lancer, B-2 Spirit, and B-52J Stratofortress, aiming to replace them entirely by the 2050s.
The secrecy surrounding the B-21 Raider reflects the government’s efforts to control information about this cutting-edge aircraft. Its successful flight testing marks a significant step toward ensuring national security and bolstering the country’s defense capabilities for the foreseeable future.