The US Air Force (USAF) and Northrop Grumman have started engine runs on the service’s next-generation stealth bomber.

The service on 12 September said manufacturer Northrop began powerplant evaluations on the first example of the B-21 Raider as part of the new aircraft’s ground-testing programme.

“Engine testing is an essential milestone for the programme, as the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft continues on the path to flight test,” Northrop says.

The first engine run came just days after the B-21 was fuelled for the first time, according to William Bailey, who heads the USAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office.

“We went from fuel to engine run in less than five days,” Bailey said on 13 September at the annual Air Space Cyber conference near Washington, DC. “That’s usually measured in weeks, if not more.”

Both the service and Northrop are remaining quiet about when they expect to complete the B-21’s first flight, saying only that scheduling the programme milestone will be a “data-driven event”.

At the same time it announced the engine test milestone, the USAF released several new photos of the B-21 at the Palmdale, California facility where Northrop is assembling the aircraft.

Northrop unveiled the new flying-wing bomber in December 2022, at Palmdale.

The USAF plans to buy at least 100 B-21s, with service leaders hopeful they can expand that number.