Beginning to retire B-1B Bone legacy bombers allows USAF to pave the way for the B-21 Raider.
On Sep. 23, 2021 Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) concluded its divestiture of 17 B-1B Lancers, as the last bomber departed Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, to fly to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.
As explained by 1st Lt. Carla Pampe, Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs, in the article AFGSC wraps up divestiture of 17 B-1B aircraft, moves toward B-21, the divestiture of the aircraft is in support of the US Air Force’s efforts to modernize America’s bomber fleet, as authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act.
“The divestiture plan was executed very smoothly,” said Brig. Gen. Kenyon Bell, AFGSC director of logistics and engineering. “With fewer aircraft in the B-1 fleet, maintainers will be able to give more time and attention to each aircraft remaining in the fleet.”
The 17 B-1B aircraft were retired from a fleet of 62, leaving 45 in the active inventory. Out of the 17 retired, one (the B-1B Lancer 86-109, “Spectre,” that had an in-flight fire in one of its engines and a subsequent ejection seat failure) went to Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, as a prototype for structural repair actions; one went to Edwards AFB as a ground tester; and one went to Wichita, Kansas, to the National Institute for Aviation Research for digital mapping; and one went to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, as a static display for the Barksdale Global Power Museum. The remaining 13 aircraft will be stored at the boneyard at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB in Type 4000 storage. Four of those will remain in a reclaimable condition that is consistent with Type 2000 recallable storage.
The retirement of the B-1B did not affect the service’s lethality or any associated maintenance manpower, and allowed officials to focus maintenance and depot-level manpower on the remaining aircraft, increasing readiness and paving the way for bomber fleet modernization to meet future challenges.
“Beginning to retire these legacy bombers allows us to pave the way for the B-21 Raider,” Bell said. “Continuous operations over the last 20 years have taken a toll on our B-1B fleet, and the aircraft we retired would have taken between 10 and 30 million dollars per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the B-21 comes online.”
By retiring these aircraft now, AFGSC can focus on prioritizing the health of the current fleet, including modernization efforts, to make the bomber fleet more lethal and capable overall, said Bell.
The Air Force needs to transition from three bombers to two — the rebuilt B-52H Stratofortresses and the next-generation B-21 — to deter both established and rising powers. This change is vital to future joint and allied operations because no other service or partner nation provides long-range bomber capability.
The B-1 Lancer is a swing-wing bomber intended for high-speed, low-altitude penetration missions. Its first flight was in December 1974, but by June 1977 the program was canceled. Four Rockwell International B-1As were built and used for flight testing with the final flight made in April 1981. In October, President Ronald Reagan revived the program as the B-1B. It first flew Oct. 18, 1984, could operate at 60,000 feet and had a range of more than 7,000 miles. The U.S. Air Force ordered 100 B-1Bs in 1982, and the first B-1B aircraft was delivered to the Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in October 1984, just 33 months after contract go-ahead. The last Rockwell B-1B rolled out of final assembly at Palmdale, Calif., on Jan. 20, 1988.
The B-1B holds 61 world records for speed, payload and distance. The National Aeronautic Association recognized the B-1B for completing one of the 10 most memorable record flights for 1994.
Photo credit: Clay Cupit / U.S. Air Force