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B-1 Lancer

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B-1 Lancer
A B-1B Lancer in flight.
Type Strategic bomber
Manufacturer North American Rockwell
Rockwell International[1]
Maiden flight 1974-12-23
Introduced 1986-10-01
Status 67 active, 24 mothballed
Primary user United States Air Force
Number built B-1A: 4
B-1B: 100
Unit cost US$ 283.1 million in 1998

The B-1B Lancer is a long-range strategic bomber in service with the United States Air Force (USAF). Together with the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-2 Spirit, it is the backbone of the United States's long-range bomber force.


The B-1 was conceived as the Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft (AMSA) program circa 1965. AMSA was the last in a series of programs though the 1960s that looked at replacing the B-52 Stratofortress with a multi-role aircraft capable of long-range bombing and missile launching with nuclear weapons.[1]


Prior to the B-1 program the last US bomber project was the B-70 Valkyrie, an aircraft designed to fly at very high speeds in order to avoid air defenses. At the time these consisted of interceptor aircraft with fairly short ranges and flight times. A B-70 attacking Moscow crossing the northern border of the USSR near Arkhangelsk would be over land for only 30 minutes to cross the 615 mile distance at its cruising speed of 2,000 mph. This made the problem of launching and guiding the fighters to an interception extremely difficult, and it was believed the aircraft would fly right by most defenders.

The introduction of anti-aircraft missiles rendered this mode of operation dangerous; in order to maintain its high speed the aircraft had to fly at high altitudes, which allowed missile sites more than enough time to track and attack the B-70. For instance, the SA-2 Guideline's primary search radar had a nominal range of 170 miles. This would give the operators about five minutes warning, more than enough to launch an attack. The Valkyrie program was eventually cancelled by President Kennedy largely for these reasons, and the aircraft were used for test vehicles.

Air planners looked to low-altitude penetration as the solution to this problem. Radar is line-of-sight; by flying close to the ground and carefully selecting approaches to the targets would minimize the amount of time the radars could see the bombers, to the point where it would be difficult to launch an attack. The targets themselves often had defenses located nearby to prevent this sort of approach, but stand-off weapons like cruise missiles and SRAM allowed attack from outside the defensive missile's range. Low-altitude flight also made the bombers very difficult to detect from aircraft at higher altitudes, including the interceptors, as radar systems of that generation could not "look down" due to the clutter of the ground reflections. On the downside, flying at low altitudes consumes much more fuel, so this approach demanded extremely long overall range.

This was only one of several roles a bomber could be expected to be called on to provide. The B-52 was also an excellent "bomb truck" in the conventional role, notably in its modified "big belly" versions that increased bombload. With improved coordination with ground spotters, three-plane formations had proven to be superb ground-attack weapons during the Vietnam War. The same was not true of the Valkyrie, which would have had limited uses in the conventional bombing role and featured a much smaller bombload than the B-52, at 25000 lbs.[2]

Although the exiting B-52 Stratofortress could fill these roles, by this time the state of the art in engine and airframe design had improved considerably; even an aircraft designed to match the B-52's strategic roles would nevertheless end up being much more advanced. The Air Force studied various solutions through the 1960s that took these considerations into account in the development of a new bomber.


The first such study was known as the Subsonic Low Altitude Bomber (SLAB), which was completed in 1961. This was followed by the similar Extended Range Strike Aircraft (ERSA), which added a variable geometry wing planform, something then very much in vogue in the aviation industry.[3] ERSA envisioned a relatively small aircraft with a 10,000 lb load and a range of 8,750 nautical miles, with 2,500 nm being flown at low altitudes. In August of 1963 another similar design was completed, the Low-Altitude Manned Penetrator (LAMP), which called for a aircraft with a 20,000 lb load and somewhat shorter range of 7,150 miles. These all culminated in the October 1963 Advanced Manned Precision Strike System (AMPSS), which led to industry studies at Boeing, General Dynamics, and North American. In mid-1964, the USAF had revised its requirements and retitled the project as Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft (AMSA), which differed from AMPSS primarily in that it also demanded a high-speed high-altitude capability, albeit slower than the Valkyrie at about Mach 2. Rockwell engineers joked that the new name actually stood for "America's Most Studied Aircraft", given the lengthy series of design studies.[4]

The ending of the B-70 project had also led some to question the need for a newer aircraft in the strategic bombing role at all. The Air Force was adamant about retaining bombers as part of the nuclear "Triad" concept that included bombers, SLBMs and ICBMs in a combined package that complicated the defense. But the arguments for keeping the bombers was hotly debated. The original argument was that the bombers could be kept in the air during times of increased defensive posture, where they would be difficult to attack. Missiles of the era, like the Atlas and Redstone, required fueling before launch, and were therefore vulnerable to attack while still on the ground. But this was with during the introduction of newer missiles with solid rocket motors that could be launched quickly, and in particular the SLBM force which would be difficult to attack under any circumstances. These newer systems could be in the air even faster than the bombers, and that argument became moot. After this period the Air Force used a number of different arguments to make its case for the strategic bomber, including the conventional role and "recall-ability", but these arguments seemed much less convincing.

One of the biggest critics of the bomber portion of the Triad was Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who preferred ICBMs over bombers for the Air Force side of the deterrent force. In testimony before Congress, McNamara said, "The strategic missile forces for 1967-71 will provide more force than is required for 'Assured Destruction' ... a new advanced strategic aircraft does not at this time appear justified."[5] His opposition led to the program being stopped in 1964.[3] The program was revived only a few years later however, and in 1968 an advanced development contract was issued to IBM and North American Rockwell. McNamara remained opposed to the program in favor of upgrading the existing B-52 fleet, and adding just under 300 FB-111's for shorter range roles. He vetoed the AMSA program and cancelled it once again.[3]

B-1A program

President Nixon re-established the program after taking office, in keeping with his flexible response strategy that required a broad range of options short of general nuclear war.[5] Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird reviewed the programs and decided to lower the numbers of FB-111's claiming it lacked the required range, and recommended that the AMSA design studies be accelerated. In April 1969 the program officially became the B-1A. This was the first entry in the new bomber designation series, first created in 1962.

After the prolonged development period, the production contract was finally awarded in 1970. The original program called for 2 test airframes, 5 flyable aircraft, and 40 engines. This was cut in 1971 to one ground test aircraft and 3 flight test articles (74-0158 through 0160). First flight was set for April of 1974. The company changed its name to Rockwell International and named its aircraft division North American Aircraft Operations in 1973.[6] A fourth prototype (76-1074) was ordered in the FY 1976 budget. This fourth plane was to be built to production standards. At one time, some 240 B-1As were to be built, with initial operational capability set for 1979.[3]

Rockwell's design featured a number of features common to 1960s US designs. These included the use of variable geometry wings in order to provide both high lift during takeoff and landing, and low drag during a high-speed dash phase. Penetration of the USSR's defenses would take place in a dash, crossing them as quickly as possible before entering into the less defended "heartland" where speeds could be reduced again. The large size and fuel capacity of the design would allow this dash portion of the flight to be relatively long. Crew escape was provided for using an escape pod that ejected a portion of the entire cockpit with both pilots inside, as opposed to the more conventional ejection seats; it was felt that egress during the high-speed, high-altitude dash would be too dangerous without pressurization.

In order to achieve the required Mach 2 performance at high altitudes, the air intake inlets were variable. In addition, the exhaust nozzles were fully variable. Initially, it had been expected that a Mach 1.2 performance could be achieved at low altitude, which required that titanium be used in critical areas in the fuselage and wing structure. However, this low altitude performance requirement was lowered to only Mach 0.85, reducing the amount of titanium, and the overall cost.

An extensive suite of electronics was planned, including a Litton LN-15 inertial navigation system, a Doppler radar altimeter, a Hughes forward-looking infrared, a General Electric APQ-114 forward-looking radar and a Texas Instruments APQ-146 terrain-following radar. The terrain-following radar, in particular, would allow the B-1 to fly at much lower altitudes during the "dash" phase of the mission than the B-52, which relied on older systems that demanded higher minimum altitudes during bad weather.

The B-1A mockup review occurred in late October of 1971. There were 297 requests for alterations. The first of four prototype B-1A models (s/n 74-158) flew on December 23, 1974.[7] As the program continued the per-unit cost continued to rise. In 1970, the estimated per-unit price was $40 million, and by 1972, the cost had risen to $45.6 million. By 1975, this number had climbed to $70 million.[3]

In 1976 Viktor Belenko defected to Japan with his MiG-25 Foxbat, and described a new "super-Foxbat" that had look-down/shoot-down radar systems in order to attack cruise missiles. This would also make any low-level penetration aircraft "visible" and easy to attack. Countering this problem would require another upgrade to the electronics suite, already one of the most complex and expensive ever fitted. The debate over the need for the bomber opened anew, and this time the reduced low-speed dash was a particular target. Given the performance and the armament suite that was similar to the B-52, the program was increasingly questioned as a very expensive solution that appeared to have limited benefits over the existing fleet.

When President Carter took office in 1977 he ordered a review of the entire program. He was informed of the relatively new work on stealth aircraft that had started in 1975, and decided that this was a far better avenue of approach than the B-1. On 30 June 1977 he announced that the B-1A would be cancelled, in favor of ICBMs, SLBMs, and a fleet of modernized B-52s armed with ALCMs.[3] No mention of the stealth work was made public, the program being top secret, but today it is known that he started the Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB) project in early 1978, which eventually led to the B-2 Spirit.[8]

Flight tests of the four B-1A models continued through 1985.

A B-1 in flight showing its underside, 1981.

The first B-1A was scrapped at the Rome Air Development Center, New York. The second (s/n 74-159) flew for the subsequent B-1B program, but crashed on August 29, 1984. The other two B-1As survived. The third prototype (s/n 74-160) is on display at Wings Over the Rockies in Denver, Colorado. The last B-1A (s/n 74-174) also served in the B-1B program. It was on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio for many years before moving to the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, Nebraska. This aircraft has conventional ejection seats and other features distinctive to the B-1B variant instead of the B-1A.

Shifting priorities

It was during this period that the Soviets, also acting in proxy through Cuba, started to exhort themselves in several new theaters of action. In particular the Cuban support in Angola starting in 1975 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 had revealed a serious lack of capability to insert and support ground troops on distant battlefields. The US strategy to this point was containment and a conventional and nuclear war in Europe, and these actions revealed that military was simply incapable of supporting any sort of effort outside these narrow confines.[9]

The Army responded by developing its Rapid Deployment Force concept, but suffered from major problems with airlift and sealift capability. While gaming a USSR-led invasion of Iran from Afghanistan, then considered (incorrectly) to be a major Soviet goal, it was discovered that only small numbers of units could be in the field in anything close to a week. In order to slow an advance while this happened they relied on air power, but critically the Iran-Afghanistan border was outside the US Navy's range, leaving this role to the Air Force. They, in turn, had limited capability to offer ground support in many areas that were outside of the range of friendly airbases. Although the B-52 had the range to support on-demand global missions, the B-52's long runway requirements dramatically limited the forward basing possibilities. In real-world scenarios the capabilities of this force against 'any possible potential target was limited.

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan campaigned heavily on the platform that Carter was "weak on defense", using the cancellation of the B-1 program as a prime example, a theme he continued using into the 1980s.[10]

B-1B program

On taking office, Reagan was faced with the same decision as Carter before; whether to continue with the B-1 for the short term, or to wait for the development of the ATB, a much more advanced aircraft. Air Force studies suggested that the existing B-52 fleet with ALCM would remain a credible threat until 1985, as it was predicted that 75% of the B-52 force would survive to attacks its targets.[11] After this period the introduction of the SA-10 missile, MiG-31 interceptor and new AWACS systems would make them increasingly vulnerable.

During the FY81 budget funds were given to a new study for a bomber for the 1990s time-frame. These studies led to the Long-Range Combat Aircraft (LRCA) project which compared the B-1, F-111 and ATB as possible solutions. An emphasis was placed on the design being multi-role, as opposed to a purely strategic weapon.[11] Reagan decided the best solution was to purchase both the B-1 and ATB, and this eventually led to Reagan's 2 October 1981 announcement that a new version of the B-1 was being ordered to fill the LRCA role.

Numerous changes were made to the design to better fit it to real-world missions, resulting in the new B-1B. These changes included a reduction in maximum speed, which allowed the variable-aspect intake ramps to be replaced with fixed ramps of considerably reduced complexity. This also allowed the newer design to be made more stealthy, allowing the compressor face of the engines, a major radar reflector, to be partially hidden. Low-altitude speed was somewhat improved, from about Mach 0.85 to 0.95. This left the B-1B with the capability for speeds of about Mach 1.25 "at altitude", a reduction from the B-1A's Mach 2 performance. In order to deal with the introduction of the MiG-31 and other aircraft with look-down capability, the B-1B's electronic warfare suite of the B-1 was significantly upgraded. These changes, along with rampant inflation, dramatically increased the prices to about $200 million per unit.

B-1B banking during a demonstration in 2004.

Opposition to the plan was widespread within Congress. Critics pointed out that many of the original problems with the concept remained. In particular it seemed the B-52 fit with electronics similar to the B-1B would be equally able to avoid interception, as the speed advantage of the B-1 was now minimal. It also appeared that the "interim" time frame served by the B-1B would be less than a decade, being rendered obsolete shortly after introduction by the much more capable ATB design. The primary argument in favor of the B-1 was its large conventional payload, and that its takeoff performance allowed it to operate with a credible bombload from a much wider variety of airfields. The debate remained rancorous. But the Air Force very astutely spread production subcontracts across many congressional districts, making the aircraft very popular on Capitol Hill.[11]

The first production model of the revised B-1B first flew in October 1984, and the first B-1B, "The Star of Abilene", was delivered to Dyess Air Force Base, Abilene, Texas, in June 1985,[7] with initial operational capability on October 1, 1986. The final B-1B was delivered May 2, 1988.[7]

Although officially nicknamed the "Lancer", B-1 crews almost never refer to the aircraft by this name. Crews prefer to call the B-1 the "Bone". Origins of the "Bone" nickname are disputed, but appear to stem from an early newspaper article about the aircraft wherein its name was phonetically spelled out as "B-ONE". Crews, who generally felt the "Lancer" moniker was unappealing, quickly latched onto the "Bone" nickname.


B-1B at RIAT 2004.

The B-1 has a blended wing body configuration, along with canards and variable-geometry wing design and turbofan engines, to improve range and speed with enhanced survivability. Forward wing settings are used for takeoff, landings and high-altitude maximum cruise. Aft wing settings are used in high subsonic and supersonic flight, enhancing the B-1's performance. The wings of the B-1B originally were cleared for use at settings of 15, 25, 55, and 67.5 degrees. The 45-degree setting was later cleared in 1998–1999.

The length of the aircraft presented a serious flexing problem due to air turbulence at low altitude. To alleviate this, Rockwell included small canards near the nose on the B-1. An accelerometer would actuate the canards automatically to counteract turbulence and smooth out the ride.[12] There was some suggestion that this system might be useful on commercial airliners as well, but to date no airliner has made use of this system.

Unlike the B-1A, the B-1B made no attempt at Mach 2+ speeds. Its maximum speed at altitude is Mach 1.25 (about 950 mph or 1,330 km/h), but its low-level speed increased to Mach 0.95 (about 700 mph/1,118 km/h). Technically, the current version of the aircraft can exceed its speed restriction, but not without risking potential damage to its structure and air intakes. The B-1A's engine was modified slightly to produce the F101-102, with an emphasis on durability, and increased efficiency.[13] The core of this engine has since been re-used in several other engine designs, including the F110 which has seen use in the F-14 Tomcat, South Korean F-15 Eagles and most recent versions of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. It is also the basis for the non-afterburning F118 used in the B-2 Spirit bomber and the U-2S. However its greatest success was forming the core of the extremely popular CFM56 civil engine, which can be found on some versions of practically every small-to-medium sized airliner.

B-1B Cockpit at night.

The B-1's offensive avionics include the Westinghouse (now Northrop Grumman) AN/APQ-164 forward-looking offensive passive electronically scanned array radar set with electronic beam steering (and a fixed antenna pointed downward for reduced radar observability), synthetic aperture radar, ground moving target indicator (MTI), and terrain-following radar modes, Doppler navigation, radar altimeter, and an inertial navigation suite. From 1995 on, the B-1B Block D upgrade added a Global Positioning System receiver.

B-1B releasing bombs and ejecting a MJU 23 decoy flare.

The B-1's defensive electronics include the Eaton AN/ALQ-161 radar warning and defensive jamming equipment, linked to a total of eight AN/ALE-49 flare dispensers located on top behind the canopy, which are handled by the AN/ASQ-184 avionics management system. The AN-ALE 49 has a capacity of 12 MJU 23 A/B flares each. The MJU 23 A/B flare is one of the world's largest infrared countermeasure flares having a gross weight of ~1170 g.[14] The cylindrical pellet from Magnesium/Teflon/Viton has a net weight of ~1470 g. The Plans for a defensive systems upgrade program (DSUP) were cancelled for budgetary reasons. The B-1 has also been equipped to carry the ALE-50 Towed Decoy System. The Lancer has an additional Doppler tail-warning radar to detect aircraft or missiles approaching from the rear.

Also aiding the B-1's survivability is its relatively low radar cross-section (RCS). Although not technically a stealth aircraft in a comprehensive sense, thanks to the aircraft's structure, serpentine intake paths, and use of radar-absorbent material, its RCS is about 1/50th that of the B-52 (probably about 26 ft²), although the Lancer is not substantially smaller in mass than the Stratofortress.

A B-1B at the 2006 Miramar Airshow.

The B-1 has been upgraded since production through the Conventional Mission Upgrade Program. This multi-stage program added a new MIL-STD-1760 smart-weapons interface that enables the use of the Joint Direct Attack Munition and other precision-guided conventional weapons, such as the Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD), the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), and the AGM-158 JASSM (Joint Air to Surface Standoff Munition). Future precision munitions include the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.[2] These and other improvements are intended to ensure that the B-1 will be viable through approximately 2020. In addition, the Air Force has recently announced a program to keep the aircraft flying until at least 2040.

Operational service

The USAF Strategic Air Command had B-1 Lancers in service from 1986 through 1992, when SAC was re-organized out of existence. During that time the "Bone" was on limited alert, and the backbone of SAC's alert bombers remained B-52H models. In late 1990 engine fires in two Lancers caused the grounding of the fleet. The cause was traced back to problems in the first-stage fan. Aircraft were placed on "limited alert", meaning they were grounded unless a nuclear war broke out. They were returned to duty one-at-a-time starting in January 1991 as they were inspected and repaired. It was not until mid-April that the fleet was once again declared airworthy. This precluded their use in Operation Desert Storm.

Originally designed strictly for nuclear war, the B-1's development as an effective conventional bomber was delayed until the 1990s. By 1991, the B-1 had a fledgling conventional capability, forty of them able to drop the 500 lb Mk-82 General Purpose (GP) bomb, although mostly from low altitude. After the absorption of Strategic Air Command (SAC) into Air Combat Command in 1992, the B-1 began to truly develop conventionally. A key part of this development was the start-up of the B-1 Weapons School Division, also in 1992. By the mid-1990s, the B-1 could employ GP weapons as well as various CBUs. By the end of the 1990s, with the advent of the "Block D" upgrade, the B-1 boasted a full array of guided and unguided munitions. This development has continued through the present.

Operationally, the B-1 was first used in combat in support of operations against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, employing unguided GP weapons. B-1s have been subsequently used in Operation Allied Force (Kosovo) and most notably in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In both conflicts, the B-1 employed its full array of weapons, most notably the GBU-31, 2000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). During OEF, the B-1 improved its mission capable rate to 79%.[15] The B-1 continues to be used in combat to the present (2006). The most recent addition to its arsenal is the GBU-38, a 500 lb JDAM. The use of the GBU-38 reduces undesired collateral damage and is very useful in urban Close Air Support.

The B-1 was given new life as the new threats of the 21st century emerged, and now fills an important niche in the Air Force inventory. It is worth noting that the project finished on budget, and has higher survivability and speed when compared to the older B-52, which it was intended to replace. With the arrival of limited numbers of B-2s in the 1990s and the continuing use of B-52s, its value has been questioned. However, the capability of a high-speed strike with a large bomb payload for time-sensitive operations is useful, and no new strategic bomber is on the immediate horizon.

The B-1 holds several 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 1993.

Partial retirement

A B-1B flying over the Pacific.

A total of 100 front-line aircraft were produced at a cost of over $200 million each. After several accidents that resulted in the loss of aircraft (and in some cases the death of crew members), 93 bombers remained by the turn of the century.

In 2003 the USAF decided to retire 33 of the B-1Bs to concentrate its budget on maintaining availability of the remaining aircraft, although in 2004 a new appropriations bill called for some of the retired aircraft to return to service. In 2004, the USAF returned seven of the mothballed bombers to service, giving a total force of 67 aircraft, with the rest cannibalized for spares. Five of the seven that were brought back to service went to Dyess AFB in Texas, one to Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, and another to Edwards AFB in California. In 2005, The Pentagon announced the closing of Ellsworth AFB and the transfer of all operational B-1s to Dyess AFB. However, on August 26, 2005, it was announced that Ellsworth AFB would remain open; thus, no transfer of Ellsworth's B-1s would occur.



The B-1R is a proposed replacement for the B-1B fleet.[16] Boeing's director of global strike integration, Rich Parke, was first quoted about the "B-1R" bomber in Air Force Magazine.[17] Parke said the B-1R (R stands for "regional") would be a Lancer with advanced radars, air-to-air missiles, and Pratt & Whitney F119 engines (originally developed for the F-22 Raptor).[16] Its new top speed — Mach 2.2 — would be purchased at the price of a 20% reduction of the B-1B's combat range. This proposal would involve modifying existing aircraft. The FB-22 and YF-23-based design are alternative proposals.

The B-2 has proven itself in the "limited strike" role, able to penetrate any current air defense system and deliver conventional bombs with impunity. The role of "fleet in being" is ably served, and there appears to be no reason to maintain the B-52s for this purpose alone. This leaves the "bomb truck" duty as the B-52's primary role that is not currently filled by other aircraft.

Other changes in the nature of modern air warfare have also come into play. Missiles like the AIM-120 and AIM-9X so improve on older designs that the primary determinant of air combat success appears to be having the best radars and display systems – the aircraft that can detect, lock-on and shoot first will almost certainly win an engagement, even, to a limited degree, against aircraft behind it. The idea of a "missile truck" for air-to-air combat has long been a dream of fighter designers, notably in the U.S. Navy (in the form of the canceled F6D Missileer), but these designs were always found to be seriously flawed when the missiles turned out to have disappointing real-world performance compared to their paper predictions. This era appears to be at an end, and the concept of a long-range heavy missile-firing air-to-air platform appears to be a practical possibility, even for a large and unmaneuverable aircraft.

B-1R concept.

Boeing's proposal appears to modify the B-1B into a design able to serve these two purposes. For the bomb-truck role Boeing proposes the modification of existing external hardpoints to allow them to carry multiple conventional warheads, dramatically improving overall warload. For the air-to-air role, both defensive and offensive, they propose to add active electronically-scanned array radar and allow some of the hardpoints to carry AA missiles. Even with its somewhat reduced range as compared to the original B-1B, its fuel capacity remains quite large. This would allow it to escape from unfavorable air-to-air encounters by simply running away; there are few enough aircraft capable of Mach 2.2 performance in general, and those that are deployed can maintain these speeds for very short periods of time.

In general terms the B-1R most closely resembles the original F-111 concept, as opposed to a pure bomber role. However it would be able to carry out these missions at ranges even greater than the F-111.


Conventional Mission Upgrade Program

The Conventional Mission Upgrade Program (CMUP) will enhance the airplane's effectiveness as a conventional weapons carrier. Capability will be delivered in blocks attained by hardware modifications and software updates.

  • Block A: Standard design of the B-1B with the capability to deliver non-precision Mk-82 500 lb gravity bombs. Before CMUP all B-1Bs were designated as "Block A" models.
  • Block B: Improved Synthetic Aperture Radar, as well as some upgrades to the Defensive Countermeasures System. This upgrade reached the field in 1995.
  • Block C: "Enhanced Capability" provided for delivery of up to 30 Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs) per sortie. The upgrade consists of modification for B-1B bomb module from the original configuration of 28 500 lb bombs per unit to 10 1,000 lb cluster bombs per bomb rack. The modifications were made to 50 bomb racks. This capability was completed in August 1997.
  • Block D: "Near Precision Capability" gives B-1 aircrews increased abilities to accurately put bombs on target with improved weapons and targeting systems, as well as giving them advanced secure communications capabilities. The first part of the electronic countermeasures upgrade, addition of Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) and anti-jam radios are also included.[3]
  • Block E: This upgrade covers improvements to the avionics computers. This package also incorporates the Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD), the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) and the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), substantially improving the bomber's capability. Upgrades were completed in Sept. 2006.[4]
  • Block F: The Defensive Systems Upgrade Program (DSUP) improves the aircraft's electronic countermeasures and jamming capabilities. This includes the Towed Decoy System (TDS). Upgrades were canceled in December 2002 due to cost overruns and schedule slips.[5]
  • Block G: "Standoff Capability" upgrades JSOW & JASSM integration. Also provides computer and WCMD upgrades with a DSUP integration upgrade.

Crashes and major malfunctions

Since 1984, 17 people have been killed in B-1 crashes (as of 2001).[18]

  • On August 29, 1984, a B-1A stalled and crashed while performing minimum control speed tests at a low altitude. The crew used the escape capsule to leave the plane, but the parachute deployed improperly and the pilot, Doug Benefield, was killed on impact.[19][20]
  • In October 1990, Lancer 86-0128 lost an entire engine, although the cause was not known at the time.
  • On December 19 1990 Lancer 84-0071's #3 engine caught on fire, and could not be extinguished with both the main and reserve fire-extinguishers. This later event led to the grounding of the fleet, and was traced back to problems in the first-stage fan.
  • In September 1997, a B-1B from the 28th Bomb Wing, flying a training mission out of Ellsworth Air Force Base crashed in the Powder River Military Operating Area, Montana; all four members of the crew were killed. The cause was attributed to pilot error.
  • On February 18, 1998, a B-1B flying a training mission out of Dyess Air Force Base was lost over Kentucky when a fire in the cockpit instrument panel shut down the plane's power. All four crew members were able to eject and were rescued safely. In response to a warning light on the #3 engine, the crew took action to shut down the fuel pumps to that engine. However, a panel electrical short caused a fire, which shut down fuel to all engines, and prevented them from being restarted. "[T]he uncommanded shutdown of the three engines removed all hydraulic and electrical power from the aircraft, preventing a restart of the engines and controlling the aircraft," noted Col. David A. Shunk.
B-1B emergency landing in 2006.
  • A B-1B was lost in December 2001 over the Indian Ocean; its crew was rescued. The bomber (of the 28th Bomb Wing,[21] designated ICECUBE 44) was approximately 100 miles north of Diego Garcia, whence it had departed, flying en route to a long-range combat mission over Afghanistan, when the crew declared an in-flight emergency. Details remain classified. The pilot, Capt. William Steele, attributed the crash to "multiple malfunctions" causing the bomber to go "out of control".[18] Further information from maintenance specialists related the aircraft mishap to the aircrew experiencing electrical bus failures that contributed to an instrument blackout affecting both primary and backup instruments. It was also rumored that the aircraft at the time the aircrew ejected was not in level flight but inverted and quickly heading nose down towards the Indian Ocean. With no visual reference available to the aircrew of level flight, the four members ejected safely. Because of the depth of the water in which the aircraft crashed, the structural data collector (SDC) or "Black Box" was not recovered from the wreckage and the nature of the cause was not positively determined. The aircraft had recently returned from Ellsworth AFB from a routine Phase Inspection, and was on its first combat mission after returning to Diego Garcia. Hostile fire was ruled out as a cause for the crash. The crew spent two hours in the water before being rescued by a launch from the USS Russell. This was the first B-1B to be lost in combat operations since the model became operational in 1986.[18]
  • On May 8, 2006, the crew of B-1B flight "SLIP 57", flying S/N 86-0132,[22] completed an 11-hour ferry flight to Diego Garcia with a wheels-up landing. The Air Force investigation concluded that the pilots "forgot to lower the landing gear". A resulting fire was quickly extinguished and the crew escaped through the top hatch unharmed. Four days later the aircraft was raised and its landing gear deployed. The aircraft damage was estimated at nearly $8 million.[23][24]


A 28th Bomb Wing B-1B Lancer sits on the ramp in the early morning at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.

Specifications (B-1B)

B-1B orthographic projection.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4: aircraft commander, copilot, offensive systems officer and defensive systems officer
  • Length: 146 ft (44.5 m)
  • Wingspan:
    • Extended: 137 ft (41.8 m)
    • Swept: 79 ft (24.1 m)
  • Height: 34 ft (10.4 m)
  • Wing area: 1,950 ft² (181.2 m²)
  • Airfoil: NA69-190-2
  • Empty weight: 192,000 lb (87,100 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 326,000 lb (148,000 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 477,000 lb (216,400 kg)
  • Powerplant:General Electric F101-GE-102 augmented turbofans
    • Dry thrust: 14,600 lbf (64.9 kN) each
    • Thrust with afterburner: 30,780 lbf (136.92 kN) each




Popular culture

  • Footage shot from the tail of the fourth B-1A prototype flying over the desert appears in Godfrey Reggio's film Koyaanisqatsi, pictured here
  • The author Dale Brown frequently features B-1 and B-52 bombers in his books.
  • The unofficial 1983 James Bond film Never Say Never Again features a cruise missile launch from a B-1 bomber (although a sequence in which cruise missiles are loaded onto the B-1 was filmed with a Concorde SST substituting for the B-1's undercarriage). [6]
  • In the Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle science fiction novel Footfall, the President is taken to safety at NORAD aboard a B-1 bomber, during an alien invasion.
  • In the Tom Clancy book Debt of Honor, B-1s are used to test the Japanese air defenses, where one was shot down. They were also used in a demonstration against the Indian Navy, where five of them overflew an Indian fleet at low altitude, slightly damaging the fleet's electronics.
  • In the 1985 movie Real Genius, an aircraft that looks like the fourth prototype B-1A, with desert pattern camouflage and extended spine to the tail, is used as a platform for an airborne laser. The aircraft is noted to be flying at "flight level 650", or five thousand feet above its stated service ceiling.


  1. B-1A background,
  2. North American XB-70A Valkyrie
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Rockwell B-1A
  4. The Evolution of a Strategic Bomber
  5. 5.0 5.1 B-1A
  6. Rockwell International history 1970-1986
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 B-1B Background information from Boeing
  8. Northrop B-2A Spirit
  9. Long-Range Combat Aircraft and Rapid Deployment Forces
  10. Reagan's Radio Address to the Nation on Foreign Policy, October 20, 1984
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Bomber Options for Replacing B-52s
  12. B-1 Structural Mode Control System, AIAA-1972-772, 1972-08-09.
  13. Spick, Mike: The Great Book of Modern Warplanes (First Edition), page 498. Salamander Books, 1987. ISBN 0-517-63367-1
  14. J. A. Humphries and D. E. Miller, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: B-1B/MJU-23 flare strike test program, AIAA-1997-2963 AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit, 33rd, Seattle, WA, July 6-9, 1997.
  15. B-1B USAF fact sheet
  16. 16.0 16.1 Lewis, Paul; Simonsen, Erik (©2004). "Offering Unique Solutions for Global Strike Force". All Systems Go 2 (2). Retrieved on 2006-07-18. 
  17. Adam J. Hebert, Long-Range Strike in a Hurry, Air Force Magazine
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Burns, Robert. "Bomber Crew Rescued from Sea", Associated Press, 2001-12-12. Retrieved on 2006-07-18.
  19. B-1A acident in 1984
  20. B-1A Crash, Aug. 29, 1984
  21. "News in Brief", Flug Revue, HAI Internet Services, 2001-12-16. Retrieved on 2006-07-18.
  22. 1986 USAF Serial Numbers. Retrieved on 2006-12-01.
  23. Air Combat Command Public Affairs (2006-09-18). Report: pilot error caused B-1B crash. USAF. Retrieved on 2006-12-01.
  24. Recovery of B-1B "SLIP 57". Retrieved on 2006-12-01.
  25. As per B-1B Weapons Loading Checklist T.O. 1B-1B-33-2-1CL-8
  26. As per B-1B Weapons Loading Checklist T.O. 1B-1B-33-2-1CL-7
  27. As per B-1B Weapons Loading Checklist T.O. 1B-1B-33-2-1CL-13
  28. As per B-1B Weapons Loading Checklist T.O. 1B-1B-33-2-1CL-12 Section 3.4 (Only 6 ea in forward and intermediate bays and 5 ea in the aft bay)

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