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Ellsworth Wing Commander reacts to B-21 first flight

Colonel Derek Oakley, Wing Commander at Ellsworth Airforce Base
Lee Strubinger
Colonel Derek Oakley, Wing Commander at Ellsworth Airforce Base

The head of Ellsworth Airforce Base is reacting to the first test flight of a nuclear capable stealth bomber earlier this month.

Ellsworth is the future home of the B-21 Raider, which is expected to arrive in the mid-2020’s.

Ellsworth Wing Commander Derek Oakley wishes he got to see the new nuclear capable stealth bomber take off in southern California. He really wishes he got to fly it.

Instead, the colonel is overseeing a $1.5 billion dollar construction campaign underway at Ellsworth Airforce Base to prepare for the bomber’s arrival.

Still, Oakley said he was excited to see it fly for the first time.

“Having been on the program for four and a half years and waiting and waiting and waiting to see what happens when it flies—it’s a huge day for me,” Oakley said.

With the return of nuclear weapons to Ellsworth, Oakley said he’s in the process of instilling a “nuclear culture” at the base near Box Elder.

There are currently six B-21 Raider test aircraft in production. The Air Force expects a minimum of 100 B-21’s and says each plane costs $695 million.

Going forward, Oakley said the Air Force and Northrup Grumman, the military contractor building the B-21, will conduct various testing on the bomber.

“You can only imagine if I build a new airplane, I’m probably going to fly it pretty low to the ground the first time and then I’m going to get higher and higher. That’s essentially what they’re doing with the flight test campaign now," Oakley said. "They’ll start to expand that out to make sure it can do everything that we’ve built it to do.”

South Dakota Republican US Senator Mike Rounds has called the B-21 a “China-deterrence weapon.” The Raider’s first flight came days before high-level talks between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Bay Area of California.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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