Mysterious B-21 Raider Combined Test Force Patch Emerges
The patch could be yet another indication that the program to develop America's next stealth bomber is moving forward rapidly.
A B-21 Raider Combined Test Force patch has been put up for sale on Ebay. If the insignia is authentic it would be the first indication that such an outfit has been established to support the new stealth bomber's development. It would also be yet another indication that the stealth bomber's development is proceeding swiftly and it fits with recent comments made the of flight test operations at Edwards Air Force Base who noted that his staff "will be testing it here in the near future."
We first spotted the patch when our friend and talented aviation photographer Ashley Wallace posted it on Twitter.
Its basic design consists of yellow ring with black borders and the phrases "B-21" and "Combined Test Force" around a central design. In the middle there is a cloaked figure, which appears to either be the Grim Reaper or another sort of wraith, with a star or "twinkle" in its eye, pointing what may be a skeletal finger that leads, through a trail of smoke, to a silhouette of the B-21.
In the background is a globe motif oriented to primarily show the western hemisphere. In red at the top of the globe is the Latin word "praenuntius," which translates to either herald or harbinger, or signs of things to come. Near the bottom there is what may be a bird or dragon in black above the Roman numerals XVII, or 17.
Grim Reapers or similar spectral figures are not uncommon motifs in morale patches, especially those associated with secret programs, those dealing with low-observable designs, or both. "Wraith" is even an informal nickname for the RQ-170 Sentinel.
The star in the eye could be a callback of some sort to the B-2 Combined Test Force logo, which featured a similar heraldic item at the end of one of a pair of bird-of-prey-like talons. If it is indeed a black bird, that could also be related to the names and motifs applied to previous secret and stealth projects, as well.
It's less clear what the Roman numerals "17" might represent. Some have already posited it could be a reference to the actual Combined Test Force squadron, which will be assigned to the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base in the future – if it doesn't exist already in some form.
The Wing's 417th Flight Test Squadron shut down operations in 2012 with the cancellation of the YAL-1A airborne laser program and could be the unit in question, but there is no indication the Air Force has reactivated it since then. The Air Force did, without any other apparent notice, reactivate the 452nd Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base in March 2017, which seems like a more plausible reference to "17."
It could also have some entirely different meaning altogether. There is an Italian superstition that the Roman numerals for 17 are unlucky since they can form an anagram that translates to "I lived," with the implication that one's life is over.
The patch also caught the eye of our friend David Cenciotti of Theaviaitonist.com, and he says the seller obtained the patch from personnel at Edwards AFB who were standing-up the B-21 test program. This vibes with what The War Zone has long reported—the South Base installation at Edwards AFB has been in transition for some time and that the B-21, and possibly other cutting-edge platforms and munitions that will work with it, will use the facility as a headquarters for development.
We also have to remember that Combined Test Forces work to bring all the elements of a program—including those of contractors and various military stakeholders—together to devise and execute test program that will usher the weapon system into an operational state and then sustain and upgrade it after that. This includes developing and evaluating the many different technologies that make up the aircraft as a whole.
With this in mind, a flying prototype isn't needed for test work to begin, far from it in fact, albeit proof of concept, technology demonstrators, and aircraft that the B-21 borrows tech direct from do likely exist in the classified realm. Still, there are plenty of components to put through their paces before they fly on a finalized design.
Systems integration is one of the biggest challenges during the genesis of any weapons platform, yet alone for one that is likely to end up being the most complex airplane the world has ever seen. We have even heard about some of the issues the bomber has already faced during development.
In other words, the B-21 test team should really exist by now as they have a lot of work to do in a fairly short period of time. The USAF wants the aircraft operational by around 2025.
The patch has leaped up dramatically in price in recent hours, with a current bid of $103.50. Let us know what you think of its symbolism in the comments below.
Contact the editor: Tyler@thedrive.com