RCO director: 'I would not bet on' B-21 first flight in 2021

By Courtney Albon / October 24, 2019 at 12:48 PM

The head of the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office said today he "would not bet on" the B-21 bomber being ready for first flight by December 2021 -- the target date for the milestone, which the service revealed this summer.

"There's a lot of things that have to happen between now and a couple years," Randall Walden said today during an Air Force Association event. "But in general terms, that's what we're shooting for."

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson announced the time line for first flight in July. Walden, whose office manages the largely classified program, told reporters after the event the December 2021 target is "the earliest opportunity" for a B-21 flight.

"That's when we're predicting we're going to go," he said. "But like anything, building a complex system could have those schedule pressures. We've got to bring parts together, we've got to assemble it and get it stuffed with the right avionics, get the landing gear -- all the things that go along with building an airplane. . . . All of those complex variables weigh into those pressures."

The first B-21 test aircraft is being built at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, CA, production facility, Walden said, though he wouldn't discuss how far along assembly is. He noted that once the aircraft is ready, he does expect there to be a public roll-out.

"I'm sure there will," he said. "We can't just say we're going to sneak it out and get a first flight in.”

The program completed a critical design review late last year, and the Air Force is aiming to achieve initial operational capability in the mid-2020s.