America’s new long-range strike bomber is now officially called the B-21 Raider. The Air Force announced the new moniker last week following a naming contest conducted among service personnel.
The Raider name honors Doolittle’s Raiders, the strike force of 16 B-25s led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle that bombed Tokyo on April 18, 1942, in retaliation for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The new bomber is the centerpiece of an estimated $80 billion program to replace the existing fleet of B-52 Stratofortresses and some B-1 Lancers. Northup Grumman won the initial contract to build 100 of the aircraft, which is still in development and not expected to be in service until 2015, but many details about the plane are still unknown, including its appearance.
A 2015 video Northrop video showed a massive dark shadow on the clouds below, but little else. A somewhat vague artist’s rendering of the plane was released in February, and a tantalizing Super Bowl ad for Northrop showed an arrow-shaped aircraft covered by a giant sheet. The final design and full capabilities of B-21, however, remain a mystery.
Even the total value of the Northrop contract is under wraps, with the Air Force contending that more information beyond the $550 million cost of each B-21 could compromise the classified program.
The new “Raider” name was chosen from among 4,6000 submissions received by the Air Force. (The complete list is here courtesy of War Is Boring, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the information.) Not surprisingly, some of the names were less than serious, including such gems as Bat-plane, Lady Fighter, Lurking Sasquatch, Santa’s Little Helper, Baconator, Sir Bombs-a-lot, Shooty Von Bomberton and the inevitable Bombie McBombface.
There’s no word on whether the Air Force seriously considered naming its new plane after a TV show or hamburger, but it did release a list of the top 15 contenders: Boomerang, Ghost, Horizon, LeMay, Liberator II, Mitchell II, Night Fury, Phoenix, Raider, Shadow Fortress, Stingray, Valkyrie, Victory, Wraith and Zeus II. Taxpayers looking for more amusing names may just have to wait until the next billion dollar weapons program comes along.