At least officially, there are no existing prototypes of the B-21 Raider, the U.S. Air Force’s next stealth bomber built by Northrop Grumman and destined to replace the B-1 and B-2 fleets.
In 2016, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James revealed the first artist rendering of the Long Range Strike Bomber designated the B-21, at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, that showed a concept quite similar to the B-2’s flying wing design; then, more recently, on Mar. 3, 2018, Brigadier General Carl Schaefer, Commander of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, publicly announced that the aircraft will be tested at Edwards: “the B-21 is coming to Edwards and we will be testing it here in the near future,” he said in his address at the Antelope Valley Board of Trade and Business Outlook Conference.
The fact that the aircraft will be tested “in the near future” seems to suggest that a prototype of the new platform has already been built or is about to be readied for testing.
Meanwhile something interesting, that might confirm the B-21 is something more than a concept, popped up on eBay: journalist and photographer Steve Douglass, has just found a B-21 Combined Test Force patch.
Flying units under the 412nd Operations Group of the 412nd TW are called flight test squadrons (FTS) and the squadron commander also usually fulfills the role of Combined Test Force, or CTF, Director.
“The CTF is an organizational construct that brings together the government developmental test and evaluation personnel (i.e., military personnel and government civilians and support contractors), the operational testers or representatives of the warfighters who will eventually employ the aerospace system in combat, and the contractors who develop and test the aerospace system.
Members of the CTF formulate the test program, develop the criteria for flight test missions, execute flight test missions, analyze data from the test flights and report on the results. The CTF military personnel, government civilians, and contractors all work together as a team. This concept enables a cheaper, faster, and more effective test program and produces a more effective aerospace system for the warfighter.”
For instance, the 411th Flight Test Squadron acts as the F-22 Raptor CFT whereas the 419th FTS acts as the Strategic Systems (B-52, B-1, B-2) CFT. Provided it is genuine, the new patch may suggest the existence of a B-21 CTF dedicated to the new bomber.
Interestingly, the patch features the text “Praenuntius” that means “Harbinger” and the Roman numerals XVII (17) with the latters [speculation on] possibly pointing to a squadron: the 417th FTS, officially inactivated on Feb. 14, 2012, formerly part of the 412th OG at Edwards AFB….
The seller has explained that organizations, personnel and infrastructure at Edwards AFB are all beginning to stand up in preparation for the testing and he purchased the patch there from personnel who are standing up the testing of the new aircraft. We don’t have many details about the aircraft but collectors can get the patch ahead of the unveiling.
By the way, at the time of writing the patch costs $31 (6 bids) but it is probably going to become more expensive…