On November 10, the US Air Force’s new bomber, the B-21 Raider, took to the air for the first time. The event was impressive even to a layman’s eye, the single, futuristic-shaped, incredibly flat machine resembling a huge boomerang presented a very strange sight in the sky. But what could we learn from the first flight of the device that promises to bring a new era to American aerial strike measurement?
The situation is that you could hear a lot about the B-21 recently, but the program details, and thus the aircraft’s real capabilities and technological solutions, remain among the most closely guarded secrets – for understandable reasons, of course.
What we have heard before are generalities that sound good, or even terrifying: the B-21 shows how much stealth technology has developed in recent decades, discovering the plane will be a huge challenge even for the most advanced air defense systems; the plane will have such a range that “no” enemy target will be safe from it, and this will not require advanced bases, maintenance capacities installed on far ground; the B-21 will be a “digital bomber”, which will be outstanding as a reconnaissance system, as well as a data collection and transmission center, and will also be able to control other devices.
(Our foreign policy expert Csaba Káncz summarized the previously promised capabilities of the machine in an article published at the end of last year, which you can read by clicking on the box below.)
Those who want more specific information should either get a better job in the Pentagon or just collect and fit together the puzzle pieces. Fortunately, many experts jumped right into the publicly released footage of the B-21’s maiden voyage.
An ominous radiation
As far as we know, six B-21s are currently being built by the Northrop Grumman company, of which the first test flight was given a special nickname, namely the rather ominous Cerberust was written on the trapdoor hiding the undercarriage (i.e. named after Kerberos, the huge, three-headed dog guarding the underworld in Greek mythology).
In the pictures, you could also see a long cord hanging from the back of the machine, this is not some piece of equipment that was accidentally left there, but sensors are attached to it, which with this solution can also collect data in “clean” air further away from the machine. Of course, the Cerberus was packed with all kinds of sensors measuring the flow of air around the fuselage and a billion other things anyway, since the primary purpose of the test flight was data collection.
The final form of the machine is roughly as expected. During the design process, the engineers clearly stated that the primary goal of the form is to achieve the lowest possible detection (i.e. the ability to “stealth”), and according to our current knowledge, the most suitable form for this, capable of flying, is a large but flat wing , it is no coincidence that the US Air Force’s previous stealth bomber, the B-2, also had a very similar basic shape, but the first stealth bomber, the F-117, was already the starting point for the designers, but they just didn’t do it so cleanly yet to implement with the then technology.
The beak-like overhang on the nose of the plane also serves to reduce visibility, and optically hides both the body and the cabin from onlookers when viewed from below. – since the B-21 will usually be flying higher than enemy fighters during a deployment, this can also help avoid detection.
It’s no surprise that the plane is slightly smaller than its predecessor, the B-2, but it’s incredibly flat even relatively speaking – the smallest possible size is still one of the main determinants of stealth. Based on the footage, the B-21 can be roughly 40-45 meters wide (compared to the B-2’s 52.5 meters), but it’s worth watching the video below, from certain angles it doesn’t even look bigger than the accompanying F-16. os, the width of which is less than 10 meters.
The optical deception – and thus affecting radar detection – was already very spectacular in the case of the B-2, in the post below you can see the B-2 first from the side, then from above, a B-1, or a superbomber from the 1950s, next to the B-52, when viewed from the side, it dwarfs them and almost resembles a flying saucer, while its wingspan is otherwise comparable to them.
However, there was a question as to what the “horns” seen in the previous pictures in the central part of the machine trunk are for. Well, contrary to earlier speculation, these aren’t additional sensors or some kind of radar-reflecting capability, but rather doors that open on the ground and during takeoff and landing to provide more air to the still-unknown number, type, and power of the engines.
One of the biggest challenges in designing a stealth aircraft is the placement and design of the air intakes, as they must be cut into the plane’s cover., large enough for the engines to get enough oxygen. However, each such opening increases the radar-detectable profile and creates turbulence in the air flowing around the plane. On the B-2, these openings were much larger, and they tried to minimize the harmful effects with a “toothed” design that breaks the flows and reflections. Compared to this, the B-21 only got two openings that look almost like slits, but it seems that extra air is needed for operations that require more power and cooling, “taxiing” on the runway, and during take-off and landing, this is due to the opening “horns” provided by openings below.
From this flight it was not even revealed whether there were two or four engines, but if the latter is true, they may be small enough and, as in the case of the B-2, they are hidden deep in the plane so that reduce, for example, the possibility of detecting radiated heat.
It gave rise to much preliminary speculation as to whether the B-21 would have a compartment suitable for transporting one or more weapons. Based on the pictures taken of the belly of the plane, the existence of only one such storage is clear, and its dimensions seem much smaller than the two similar compartments of the B-2, but with the development of precision bombs and missiles, even this may be enough, so that the plane can also carry a highly destructive bomb if necessary. (It was previously revealed that it will also be suitable for delivering the B-21 nuclear charge.)
However, there are also smaller, trapdoor-like shapes on the bottom of the machine, and it is conceivable that these serve as storage for smaller, additional weapons, such as air-to-air missiles for self-defense, but it is also not impossible that they simply hide hatches to facilitate maintenance. In any case, it is certain that the weapons storage of the B-21 will be a “smart” and modular system, so it will be better suited to quickly receive various devices, such as drones that can be launched from the air, “decoys” or new weapons that will arrive in the future.
The components of high-performance radar systems that can be detected from the outside are less visible on the plane – this may mean that with technological progress they have also been integrated into the body of the plane, but also that the B-21 is already being designed in such a way that certain tasks can be carried out by flying nearby, he will “outsource” it to smaller drones he controls.
Day and night, soon
The experts also found the detail that the plane was still visible with gray paint to be important, as opposed to black, this indicates that they are planning not only night but also daytime operations with it – of course, the color is perhaps the most easily changeable feature of the entire structure.
All in all, we still don’t know much about one of the most important American weapons of the coming decades, which is expected to be able to strike even Chinese targets without being detected and targeted. The Air Force plans to purchase a total of 100 of the machines, each of which is estimated to be worth approximately 700 million dollars.
Since, thanks to the design process that used modular computer modeling to an unprecedented extent, the project has become cheaper and progressed faster than expected so far – in an almost unprecedented way in modern military technology – this will probably come true. Hopefully, of course, we won’t find out what the B-21 Raider is really capable of in a few years against another superpower.
(via The Drive)