A recent image of the highly anticipated B-21 Raider, shared by a Reddit user known as Mug_of_Fire, provides aviation enthusiasts and experts with an intriguing rear-end view of this next-generation bomber. The image has sparked discussions about the aircraft’s design, particularly in regard to its exhaust and stealth characteristics.
One of the most striking observations from the image is the noticeably smaller exhaust area when compared to its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit. This design choice suggests a focus on improving the aircraft’s rear-aspect stealth. The rear aspect is critical for reducing an aircraft’s vulnerability to radar detection, and a smaller exhaust could significantly enhance the B-21’s ability to operate in contested airspace without being easily detected.
The B-21 Raider features a distinct planform that differs from the original B-2 design. The B-2’s planform, as defined at the contract award in October 1981, shared similarities with the B-21’s current configuration. However, the B-2’s development process saw changes, including the addition of a low-altitude dash capability. This alteration required a redesign to address control power issues and gust load management. The result was the unique, iconic planform of the B-2, which contributed to its stealth capabilities. Notably, the low-altitude capability was never utilized in practice.
The design and construction of the B-21 Raider benefit from not being bound by the low-level flight requirement that influenced the B-2. Advances in composite materials and radar-absorbing materials (RAM) have led to a reduced need for fillers and tapes in the B-21’s structure. While the function of RAM remains consistent with earlier stealth aircraft, involving multiple layers to absorb energy, diffuse surface currents, and protect the aircraft’s skin from lightning strikes, the B-21’s RAM is expected to require less maintenance. This is a notable departure from the B-2, known for its meticulous and finicky maintenance requirements.