The B-21 is Actually Outside and Rolling Around!

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1st Lieutenant
May 30, 2011
Cape Canaveral
Latest picture released by the USAF.

Screenshot 2023-09-13 at 19-46-09 U.S. Air Force Shows New B-21 Images.png
I wonder if, like the B-2, its dimensions are very close that of the YB-49.

Several years ago my Mom, dog, and I were driving the back way to my brother's home in Augusta, GA. While driving down one two lane road through a dense forest I looked to the Left through a gap in the trees and saw something I could not believe. Then I recalled that there was a bombing range over that way, and sure enough, when we got closer, two B-2 bombers could be seen making low passes over the target area.

But while I had seen a B-2 in flight before at airshows, I had not realized that from a rear quarter angle, looking right up the wing, it looks so much like a flying saucer.
Where are they doing the engine runs? I wonder if the old B-2 engine run hangar at Plant 42 has been refurbished. Back in the day, you could run engines "indoors" with the hangar doors closed up to takeoff thrust (so I heard). There was a similar hangar at the Edwards AFB South Base complex. It had huge anchor points for holdback cables, and there were special metal wheel chocks. These were much bigger than ordinary wood chocks and the part in contact with the tires was curved to match the tires.

In the early days of the program this protected engine run capability was used often. With a lot of instrumentation connected to the plane it was convenient to be indoors with a control room at hand. Much nicer than working outdoors on a parking spur. At Edwards the control room had camera views of the plane from different angles. I always enjoyed watching the engine starts from an overhead view. A fog or mist would blow out the exhaust for a moment, then a flash of orange flame as the engine lit off.

The ERD (engine run dock) had exhaust ducts with a V shape as seen from above, to match the shape of the B-2 trailing edge. The plane would be backed right up to these ducts for an engine run. Exhaust was turned upward and discharged from a pair of big chimneys outside the hangar. I wonder what the construction crew thought as they built the hangar in the mid 1980s. Obviously the exhaust from a big jet (or rocket plane?) would be disposed of via the ducts, but it must be a really weird craft.

The exhaust system was removed from the Edwards facility many years ago, but the hangar is still home to the B-2 stationed at Edwards, and still called the "ERD" though it's no longer possible to run engines there.

By the time I got engine run qualified it was common to do runs outside. I can't remember if I ever did a run in the ERD. Outdoors on a parking spur there was no requirement for special hold-back restraints, even for 4-engine runs to TRT (takeoff rated thrust). The only precaution was to double chock the wheels. The parking brake was enough to hold the plane, though with all four at TRT the combined thrust would make the B-2 pitch down in a most menacing way. I would compare it to sitting in your car with the front tires flat - definitely a nose-low attitude. Dear God let the parking brakes hold because this plane is straining at the leash! Fortunately, the B-2 behaved perfectly in every engine run I ever did.

But you have to be ready for trouble. Aircraft have been destroyed during routine engine runs. Keep in mind that the main reason for a maintenance engine run is that some work has been done that needs to be checked out. Maybe a newly installed engine, or hydraulic pump or generator, Maybe the bleed air ducting has been disconnected and restored. If you were certain everything was OK, you wouldn't be doing the engine run!

Trouble can come from some weird circumstance. One time the engine bay door was open with engine running. A few guys were under the engine looking to make sure all was well. One of them saw a little oil and reached up to wipe it off. A gust of wind caught the free end of the rag and flipped it up, where it was snatched by the accessory drive shaft on the bottom of the engine. Ouch. Flight cancelled. (It turned out that no damage had been done.)

Getting back to the B-21, I suppose the next big step is taxi tests. I remember at one point the B-2 was festooned with radar reflective material. It's been oh so long, but I think that was during the taxi tests since it was so exposed to view. Probably was an unnecessary precaution since with the landing gear down and no care taken to seal the gaps in the numerous maintenance access panels, you can't get a read on the B-2's signature. But I'm waiting to see if they do the same thing for the B-21.

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