Squadron Service 1985 - 2001

The first B-1B (actually the second production aircraft), 83-0065, was delivered to the 96th Bomb Wing at Dyess AFB, Texas on June 17th 1985. The first units equipped were the 4018th Combat Crew Training Squadron (later re-designated the 338th Strategic Bombardment Training Squadron, then the 338th CCTS) and the 337th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), and the latter achieved IOC on October 1st 1986. On the same day the B-1B stood its first nuclear alert at Dyess, even though the aircraft had not completed its test program at Edwards, and a number of systems either didn't work properly, or didn't work at all.

On March 10th 1986 83-0065 was forced to land at Edwards AFB with its wings locked at 55 degrees. The problem was traced to a broken interconnect cable.

On January 16th 1987 the first AGM-69A SRAM was successfully launched by a B-1B flying at Mach 0.9 at an altitude of 500ft. The first SRAM launch by an operational crew occured on June 3rd 1987.

The next unit to equip was the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. Its first aircraft, 85-0073, arrived on January 21st 1987. The Wing's 37th and 77th Bomb Squadrons were equipped by July 1987.

On April 14th 1987 85-0072 flew the "70 Degrees North" mission to test the navigation system in northern latitudes and around the North Pole.

On July 4th 1987 86-0098 broke four existing world records and set 14 new ones during Freedom Flight I. The aircraft flew 2000 km with a payload of 30000 kg , breaking records for 1000 km and 2000 km at a variety of payload weights. The crew consisted of pilots Lt Col Robert Chamberlain and Capt Michael Walters, OSO Maj Richard Fisher and DSO Capt Nathan Gray. The records were all set in Class C-1q for aircraft with a takeoff weight of 150000 kg to 200000 kg.

Distance 5000kg 10000kg 15000kg 20000kg 25000kg 30000kg
1000km 1089.36 km/h 1089.36 km/h 1089.36 km/h 1089.36 km/h 1089.36 km/h 1089.36 km/h
2000km 1078.20 km/h 1078.20 km/h 1078.20 km/h 1078.20 km/h 1078.20 km/h 1078.20 km/h

On September 17th 1987 86-0110 broke nine existing world records and set nine new ones during Freedom Flight II. The aircraft flew 5000 km with a payload of 30000 kg. Nine of the records were set in Class C-1q for aircraft with a takeoff weight of 150000kg to 200000kg, and the others in Class C-1 for unlimited takeoff weight. The crew consisted of pilots Lt Col Robert Chamberlain and Maj Brent Hedgpeth, OSO Capt Alexander Ivanchishin and DSO Capt Daniel Novick.

0kg 1000kg 2000kg 5000kg 10000kg 15000kg 20000kg 25000kg 30000kg
1054.2 km/h 1054.2 km/h 1054.2 km/h 1054.2 km/h 1054.2 km/h 1054.2 km/h 1054.2 km/h 1054.2 km/h 1054.2 km/h

B-1B 84-0052, assigned to the 96th Bomb Wing, crashed on September 28th 1987 at La Junta, near Pueblo, Colorado. Two of those killed were instructors: the Instructor Pilot in the front right seat which malfunctioned and did not eject, and the Avionics Instructor who was not in an ejection seat. The third fatality was one of two student pilots in the aircraft. He also was not in an ejection seat. As the aircraft was practicing low level bombing techniques, the crewmembers not in ejection seats did not have time to bale out manually. The three surviving crew members ejected successfully.

The crew was flying a low level training mission out of Dyess AFB about 600 feet above the ground at a speed of 560 knots when the plane struck a 15-to-20-pound North America white pelican. The bird tore through a wing, ripping apart critical hydraulic, electrical and fuel lines. This started a fire which made it impossible for the pilot to control the aircraft. As a result of this accident the vulnerable area on the remaining B-1Bs were hardened. Individual B-1Bs were restricted from high-speed, low-altitude flight below 5,000 ft. above ground level until bird strike protection kits were installed, with all modifications completed by December 1988. The modifications were designed to withstand the impact of a 10-lb. bird at 590 kt. The B-1B was originally designed to withstand strikes by birds weighing up to six pounds.

On November 24th 1987 a B-1B successfully launched an AGM-86B cruise missile for the first time.

The 319th Bomb Wing at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota equipped its single squadron, the 46th BS, by January 1988. The final unit was the 384th Bomb Wing at McConnell AFB, Kansas. Its single squadron, the 28th BS, was equipped by the end of April 1988, at which point B-1B deliveries were complete.

On May 10-22nd 1988, 85-0072 flew a series of missions called "Distant Mariner 88" to test the navigation system while crossing the equator and the international date line.

On August 25th 1988, B-1B 86-0124 from the 384th Wing appeared in the static park at the RAF Lakenheath airshow. The 28th Bomb Wing provided 86-0099 for Ramstein's 1988 air show on the saame day, where it appeared in the static park.

The second B-1B to crash was 85-0063. This incident occured on November 8th 1988 at Dyess AFB. The plane had been practicing "touch-and-go" landings for almost two hours when a fire in the left wing knocked out two of the plane's four engines and burned out critical control equipment. All four crewmen ejected successfully. Air Force investigators were unable to determine with certainty what caused the fire. An engine fuel feed line design deficiency allowed the fuel in the overwing fairing to migrate into the compartment containing the environmental system precooler, which reaches temperatures sufficient to provide ignition. The failure occurred in the same area that was reinforced to reduce the aircraft's vulnerability to bird strikes, a fix mandated after the B-1B crash on September 28th 1987.

B-1B 85-0076 crashed on 18th November 1988 while attempting to land on runway 31 at Ellsworth AFB in bad weather. The aircraft struck three wooden poles, a high-voltage power line and an approach light stanchion about 2,900 feet from the approach end of the runway. The crew escaped but the Offensive Systems Operator sustained a fractured back during the ejection. This occured because he had leaned forward to see what had caused the bang (the collision with the pole), and at the same moment the ejection sequence was initiated. The OSO's seat was in auto mode, so he was the first to eject, unfortunately in an improper body position. The Air Force concluded that the pilot and co-pilot had lost track of altitude as they tried to line up their landing approach in heavy overcast.

The B-1B made its flying debut in a UK airshow in May 1989, when two aircraft (86-0114 and 86-0119) from the 46th Bomb Squadron at Grand Forks AFB appeared at the Mildenhall air show on May 25th/26th. 86-0114 took part in the flying programme, while 86-0119 was in the static park.

From June 23rd to 26th 1989, B-1B 86-0126 from the 384th BW deployed to Chièvres, Belgium for static display during the SHAPE air show.

Two B-1Bs from the 46th BS, 86-0111 and 86-0123, arrived at RAF Fairford on July 20th 1989 to appear in the International Air Tattoo. 86-0123 took part in the flying display. Both aircraft departed on July 25th.

B-1B 86-0095 from the 28th BW appeared at the RAF Leuchars "Battle of Britain" air show, which was held on September 23rd 1989.

On October 4th 1989, B-1B 85-0070 was forced to make an emergency landing at Edwards AFB after suffering an in-flight failure of the No 2 hydraulic system, requiring use of the No 3 system deploy the landing gear. After the nose gear failed to deploy, a nose-gear-up landing was made on the dry lake bed at Edwards. The lower portion of the forward bulkhead used to mount the radar antenna was the only part of the aircraft to suffer damage.

The B-1B was officially named Lancer in May 1990.

The Mildenhall Air Fete in 1990 attracted two B-1Bs from the 319th BW, 86-0114 and 86-0118, which arrived on May 24th and departed on May 29th. The former took part in the flying display.

Two more B-1Bs from the 319th BW, 86-0111 and 86-0122, deployed to A&AEE Boscombe Down on June 7th 1990 to take part in the "Battle of Britain Salute Air Show" over the weekend of June 9th/10th. 86-0111 took part in the flying display, and also carried out a flyby of RNLAF Leeuwarden on June 9th. Both aircraft departed on June 12th.

B-1B 85-0064 from the 28th BW deployed to Koksijde AB in Belgium for an air show, arriving on July 5th 1990 and departing on July 10th.

B-1B 85-0072 from the 96th BW appeared at the RAF Leuchars "Battle of Britain" air show, which was held on September 22nd 1990. It departed on September 24th.

On October 14th 1990 B-1B 86-0128 suffered an uncontained blade failure in the No 1 engine, and the aicraft made an emergency night landing at Pueblo, Colorado. The engine had completely broken away from the aircraft, fortunately without hitting anything. The aircraft was ferried on three engines to OCALC for repairs.

On December 19th 1990 a 96th BW B-1B (83-0071) experienced an in-flight engine fire. The aircraft recovered to Dyess and it was found that an uncontained blade failure had occured in the No 3 engine. GE began to completely redesign the first-stage fan blades, resulting in the F-101-GE-102 engine. The whole B-1B fleet was grounded from December 20th 1990 to February 6th 1991, when about half the aircraft had received temporary modifications to alleviate the problem.

The B-1B didn't play any part in the 1991 Gulf War. This was for at least three reasons: (1) the aircraft was still standing nuclear alerts; (2) the engine problems as mentioned above; (3) an insufficient number of crews combat-qualified in the delivery of conventional weapons.

On May 23rd 1991 85-0079 and 86-0102 from the 28th BW arrived at RAF Mildenhall for "Air Fete 91". 85-0079 took part in the flying display. 86-0102 departed on May 28th, but 85-0079 went unservicable and didn't leave until May 31st.

B-1B 85-0079 from the 28th BW deployed to Koksijde AB in Belgium for an air show, arriving on July 3rd 1991 and departing on July 9th.

86-0140 from the 384th BW arrived at RAF Fairford on July 19th for static display at the "International Air Tattoo". It departed on July 22nd.

B-1B 86-0096 from the 28th BW deployed to Chièvres in Belgium for an air show, arriving on August 30th 1991 and departing on September 3rd.

B-1B 84-0051 from the 96th BW appeared at the RAF Leuchars "Battle of Britain" air show, which was held on September 21st 1991. It departed on September 23rd.

As a result of the end of the Cold War, Strategic Air Command B-1Bs ceased holding ground alerts on September 27th 1991.

On February 28th and 29th 1992 three crews from the 319th BMW at Grand Forks AFB shattered eight time-to-height world records and set three more that had never previously been attempted. A fourth new record was set on March 18th 1992. The new records were set in Class C-1.Q. The records set were:

Class C-1.O (80000kg - 91000kg) Class C-1.P (100000kg - 150000kg) Class C-1.Q (150000kg - 200000kg)
3000m1 min 13 secs 3000m1 min 19 secs 3000m2 mins 0 secs
6000m1 min 42 secs 6000m1 min 55 secs 6000m2 mins 39 secs
9000m2 mins 11 secs 9000m2 mins 23 secs 9000m3 mins 48 secs
12000m5 mins 2 secs 12000m6 mins 9 secs 12000m9 mins 42 secs

On March 24th 1992 B-1B 86-0106 collided with a KC-135 over Nebraska. It was repaired and returned to service.

As a result of the Gulf War, the USAF embarked on a re-organisation of its command structure. On May 31st 1992 Strategic Air Command was disbanded, and passed its assets to the new Air Combat Command.

In June 1992 the B-1B fleet was grounded as a result of an engine failure on an aircraft taking off from Dyess, and this was not lifted until mid-July.

B-1B 86-0106, assigned to the 96th Wing at Dyess AFB, crashed on November 30th 1992, killing all four crewmembers. The aircraft crashed 300 feet below a 6,500-foot ridge line approximately 36 miles south-southwest of Van Horn, Texas. The bomber was on a routine low-level night sortie, flying parallel to and several hundred feet below the rim of an extended ridge. The B-1 started a left turn in the direction of the ridge twenty-eight seconds before impact. At 13 seconds before impact, the automatic terrain following system aboard the aircraft generated a "flyup" command, but just prior to the crash crew members manually interrupted this command. The Air Force attributed the crash to pilot error.

In April 1993 B-1Bs flew the first Global Power mission, when two 384th Wing aircraft flew a 21-hour mission to a range on Corsica.

On June 16th 1993 a pair of 28th Bomb Wing aircraft arrived at RAF Fairford for an exercise.

On October 1st 1993 the 96th Bomb Wing changed its numberplate to the 7th Wing. On the same date the 337th BS became the 9th BS, and the 338th BS became the 337th BS.

On April 7th 1994 a pair of 46th Bomb Squadron aircraft captured two world records which had been held by a B-52D since 1958. These concerned speed over a 10000km closed circuit, one for an aircraft in the 150000 to 200000kg weight category (10 hr 27 min 34 sec), and the other for an unlimited weight (10 hr 22 min 20 sec). Nine other speed records were established by the pair of aircraft. Shortly thereafter the 46th BS disposed of the last of its B-1Bs and was de-activated.

Four B-1s from the 9th BS deployed to RAF Fairford on June 1st 1994 to participate in the NATO exercise Central Enterprise. The B-1 deployment was called Coronet Pluto '94 and involved more than 250 people from Dyess AFB.

During the exercise work-up phase, the Lancer crews spent time familiarising themselves with ATC procedures in European airspace. Dummy 227 kg bombs were released over the Vlievors range in Holland, and fighter intercepts were experienced over the North Sea. They also took time to work up with their co-penetrators in Central Enterprise, 48th FW F-15Es and 27th FW F-111Fs.

Two of the aircraft, 84-0057 Hellion and 86-0103 The Reluctant Dragon took part in ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of D-Day on June 6th 1994. Hellion was scheduled to take part in a 50-aircraft flypast of Omaha Beach, but this was prevented by bad weather. The flypast of the US services' cemetery at Colville-sur-Mer by The Reluctant Dragon went as planned.

Central Enterprise ran from 13th to 17th June, with the B-1s active every day. During the exercise Hellion was forced to divert to Rhein-Main AB in Germany with a wingsweep malfunction.

Also on June 1st 1994 the 28th Bomb Wing began a 6-month Operational Readiness Assessment, which was intended to see whether a single B-1B wing could maintain a 75% mission-capable rate if all the necessary spare parts, maintenance equipment and personnel were available. At the end of the period the 28th BW had achieved an 84.3% rate, but it could not be sustained. MCRs between 1994 and 1999 averaged between 50 and 65%, well below the 75% target.

On July 1st 1994 the Air National Guard formed the 184th Bomb Group at McConnell AFB, and the 127th Bomb Squadron was equipped with B-1Bs from the deactivated 46th Bomb Squadron at Grand Forks. This change was made in an attempt to save money.

In October 1994 the 384th Bomb Wing was disbanded, and the 28th Bomb Squadron's numberplate was reassigned to the 7th Wing at Dyess as the training squadron, replacing the 337th BS.

On March 31st 1995 the 77th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth was inactivated, again as a cost-saving measure.

In May 1995 the first B-1B, 82-0001, was dismantled to comply with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

In June 1995, two B-1Bs from the Dyess wing (85-0082 Global Power, and 84-0057 Hellion), with KC-10 and KC-135 support, flew non-stop around the world in a mission called Coronet Bat. The aircraft flew 36797.65 km in 36 hours 13 minutes to set two records.

In 1996 a second ANG unit equipped with the B-1B. This was the 116th Bomb Group/128th Bomb Squadron at Robins AFB, Georgia.

The 77th Bomb Squadron re-activated on April 1st 1997 at Ellsworth AFB with one B-1B, after being inactivated on March 31st 1995.

On August 22nd 1996 the first two B-1Bs to be transfered from Ellsworth AFB to the 366th Wing at Mountain Home AFB flew into their new base. The 34th Bomb Squadron was equipped with eight Lancers by March 1977.

Between September 1996 and September 1997, B-1Bs were upgraded under the Conventional Mission Upgrade Program to carry cluster bomb units.

In a joint exercise with the US Navy which started on April 21st 1997 and lasted for several days, B-1B crews from Ellsworth practiced dropping Mk62 Quick Strike mines. This role used to be carried out by the B-52.

In May 1997, a B-1B from Dyess (86-0132 Oh Hard Luck) became the first to reach 4000 hours. The aircraft was displayed at the USAF Golden Air Tattoo at Nellis AFB.

On May 28th 1997 a B-1B crew from Ellsworth dropped a single CBU-97 Sensor Fuzed Weapon against an array of tanks and other vehicles at Eglin AFB, Florida. This was the first time that a B-1B had dropped a CBU-97.

A record number of B-1Bs from the 7th and 28th Bomb Wings were deployed to RAF Fairford between May 26th and July 3rd 1997 to take part in three NATO exercises.

On April 1st 1997 the 7th Wing was re-named the 7th Bomb Wing, when the C-130s it was operating were transfered to Air Mobility Command.

On September 19th 1997 at about 22:20 GMT B-1B 85-0078 from the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth AFB crashed 25 miles north of Alzada, Montana while flying over the Powder River Military Operating Area. All four on board were killed. They were Lt Col Anthony Beat (pilot and vice-commander of the 29th BW), Maj Clay Culver (assistant operations officer), Maj Kirk Cakerice (co-pilot) and Capt Garry Everett (WSO). The board of inquiry determined that the crash was caused by an excessive sink rate that developed while the crew was performing a defensive maneuver which involved slowing down and turning sharply to avoid a threat.

The 9th Bomb Squadron deployed to Alaska in October 1997 to participate in exercises to evaluate the air defence system. The 28th Bomb Wing deployed to Guam in late October/ early November. They gained experience of operating in the Pacific theatre as well as training with JSTARS and theatre missile defence operations.

The B-1B supported two Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) deployments to Bahrain during 1997. The 366th Wing sent two aircraft to join the 366th AEF in September/October, where they participated in live bombing missions. Two aircraft from the 28th Bomb Wing joined the 347th AEF from November 18th as tensions with Iraq rose once again. In February 1998 a third B-1 was sent to Bahrain, as military action against Iraq looked likely.

A B-1B from Edwards AFB (86-0129) dropped a GPS-guided JDAM for the first time on February 11th 1998. The aircraft released the JDAM at an altitude of 7200m and a speed of Mach 0.85, and it hit within 7m of the centre of the target. In a previous test on January 22nd, the B-1B released an inertially-guided JDAM.

On February 18th 1998 at about 19:45 GMT, B-1B 84-0057 Hellion from the 9th Bomb Squadron based at Dyess AFB crashed near Mattoon, western Kentucky. The plane hit the ground and exploded about 2 minutes after the crew successfully ejected. The crew ejected after the cabin filled with smoke while the aircraft was returning to Dyess AFB at an altitude of about 6700m. Hellion was one of a pair of B-1s which took part in the Coronet Bat non-stop round-the-world deployment in 1995.

The first seven sets of the B-1B GPS/JDAM and communication upgrade kits arrived at Oklahoma City ALC in early April 1998.

In early June 1998 B-1B crews from Ellsworth AFB simulated Russian Tu-22M Backfires during the 20th Fighter Wing Operational Readiness Exercise. Four sorties were flown, simulating attacks against the North Carolina coast and Shaw AFB.

On June 9th 1998 six B-1Bs from the 9th BS at Dyess AFB arrived at RAF Fairford to take part in NATO exercise Central Enterprise. They were 83-0065, 84-0058, 86-0108, 86-0123, 86-0135 and 86-0140.

On June 12th 1998 Air Combat Command released the report into the crash of 84-0057 Hellion on February 18th 1998. According to the report the crew tried to shut down engine number 3 because of a warning of low oil pressure or high temperature in that engine's accessory gearbox. When the No. 3 engine fire push button on the Fire Warning Extinguisher Panel was pressed, a short circuit in the panel closed the firewall fuel shutoff valves of engines 1, 2 and 4, lit up the fire warning lights on engines 2, 3 and 4, and produced grey smoke in the cockpit.

The loss of all four engines resulted in the loss of all hydraulic and electrical power. In theory the crew could have restarted the Number 1 and 2 engines, but it was impossible for them to do so because the fuel shutoff valves for those engines were closed, and without a working FWEP there was no way of re-opening them; the crew therefore had no option but to eject. They were Lt Col Daniel Carchian (pilot), Capt Jeffrey Sabella (pilot), Capt Kevin Schields (navigator) and 1st Lt Bert Winslow (navigator).

Ironically, the need for a more reliable FWEP had been identified in 1996, but this was not approved until July 14th 1998.

On June 30th 1998 a B-1B Lancer from the 9th BS at Dyess AFB took off at 15:53 local en route for Israel. Routing via Newfoundland, Canada, across the Atlantic, the Strait of Gibraltar, and across the Mediterranean, the aircraft landed at Tel Aviv at 23:05 local on July 1st. Four aerial refuelings were required during the flight. The 22200-km, 31-hour flight enabled the B-1 to be the sole U.S. representative in an airshow flyby celebrating Israel's 50th anniversary.

Two B-1Bs from the Kansas Air National Guard (85-0064 and 86-0136) and one from the 28th BW at Ellsworth AFB (86-0128) arrived at RAF Fairford on July 23rd 1998 to take part in the 1998 Royal International Air Tattoo. They departed on July 27th.

A B-1B from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess AFB made an emergency landing at Colorado Springs on October 22nd 1998 after suffering a partial electrical malfunction. The aircraft blew five tyres on landing at higher than normal speed. It was repaired and returned to Dyess the following day.

The first Block D B-1B (85-0091) arrived at Ellsworth AFB on October 29th 1998. The 77th BS received all the "Fast 7" Block D aircraft. The other six are: 85-0075, 85-0083, 85-0073, 86-0097, 85-0074 and 86-0104. The upgrade also included the Towed Decoy System.

B-1Bs were alerted for possible military action against Iraq in mid-November 1998. Two aircraft from Ellsworth AFB and two from Dyess AFB reached their forward operating base in Oman, but two 7th Wing aircraft were diverted into Pease AFB, New Hampshire, after air strikes were called off at the last minute.

The 77th BS's Block D B-1B flew its first test sortie on November 24th 1998. The crew, Majs Troutman and Rodriguez, and Capts Brunner and Humphries, of the 53rd Training Evaluation Group, Det 2, flew to the Utah Test and Training Range from Ellsworth AFB and dropped four inert BDU-56 900kg bombs with live JDAM tail kits.

The B-1B made its combat debut on December 17th 1998, when 86-0096 Wolf Pack from the 37th BS/28th BW and 86-0135 Watchdog from the 9th BS/7th BW attacked Iraqi targets with Mk82 iron bombs during Operation Desert Fox. Flying in 86-0096 (callsign Slam 1) were aircraft commander Lt Col Wolborsky, pilot Capt Wright and WSOs Capts Bivetto and Bailey. The crew of 86-0135 (Slam 2) comprised aircraft commander Capt Hoyt, pilot Lt Mankus and WSOs Capts Xiques and Greaney.

The two aircraft departed from Sheikh Isa air base in Bahrain at 23:30 local time to attack a Republican Guard barracks at Al Kut near Baghdad. Real-time targetting information was supplied to the Lancers by an E-8C JSTARS from the 12th ACS, which was operating out of Prince Sultan AB in Saudi Arabia. The Lancers were also supported by two F-14 Tomcats, an EA-6B Prowler, six strike-configured F/A-18s and two more 'Wild Weasel' F/A-18s. The bombers returned to Skeikh Isa AB at around 07:00 local time the following day.

On the following night 86-0135 flew a second mission as Slam 4, this time with Lt Col Harencak (commander), Maj Dodson (pilot) and Capts Todaro and Newby (WSOs) on board. The second aircraft in the package was 86-0102 Black Hills Sentinel from the 37th BS/28th BW, crewed by Capt Taliaferro (commander), Capt Kaufman (pilot) and Capts Reidy and Martin (WSOs). This aircraft had the callsign Slam 5. The target on this occasion was an oil refinery at Basra.

According to Lt Col Harencak, who was the on-site commander, the AAA fire on both nights was "heavy", and it was not all "low level" (the B-1s flew at an altitude of around 6500m).

Two more B-1Bs, one each from the 28th (85-0084) and 7th (86-0109) Bomb Wings, were despatched from the US on December 20th, but arrived too late to see any action.

Following the end of Desert Fox, all six B-1Bs in theatre had returned to the US by the end of 1998.

Force structure changes to support the Expeditionary Air Force concept were announced on March 5th 1999. The B-1B force was affected thus:

Each aerospace expeditionary force (AEF) has a designated "lead wing" that provides contingency leadership at the tactical level. The lead wings provide pre-designated commanders should the AEF have to provide group- or wing-level leadership to a deployed location. A pair of AEFs share 90-day on-call cycles, and are responsible for providing rapid response within 48 hours to meet contingencies. The first 90-day cycle started on January 1st 2000.

Five B-1Bs from the 28th BW at Ellsworth arrived at RAF Fairford in April 1st 1999 in support of Operation Allied Force. They were 85-0073, 85-0075, 85-0083 and 85-0091 from the 77th Bomb Squadron, and 86-0102 from the 37th BS. The 77th BS aircraft were all Block D conversions. Before the B-1Bs could be deployed a "block cycle" software update was required, so that the bomber's defensive avionics system could accurately identify and counter enemy radars (presumably the IS91 "Straight Flush" and RSN-125 "Low Blow" air defence radars which were being used by the Serbian air defence forces). This was done in less than 100 hours with the assistance of the 53rd Wing at Eglin AFB.

Two aircraft launched before midnight local time on April 1st to attack the Novi Sud petroleum production facility at Pancevo, northeast of Belgrade. The weapon used was the Mk82 500lb iron bomb; these could be delivered accurately on target, despite the poor weather in the region, thanks to the GPS receivers in the Block D Lancers. The aircraft used the ALE-50 Towed Decoy System during the first (and presumably subsequent) missions, which was said "to be very effective at countering SAMs". In fact the ALE-50s performed as advertised, being engaged and destoyed by Serbian SA-6s, allowing the B-1Bs to complete their mission.

On the first night of operations, Captain (later Major) Gerald Goodfellow, an instructor WSO assigned to the 77th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, was involved in an incident which for which he was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism. During the first attack run, Goodfellow released thirty-two Mk82 bombs, but he was then unable to close the bomb bay doors and a malfunction in the weapon system prevented further bomb releases.

Although Goodfellow was able to fix the malfunction, the bomb bay doors remained open. The aircraft commander decided to continue to the second target, and dropped forty Mk82s on it, before a SAM was fired at the aircraft. The crew used chaff, ECM and maneuvering to defeat it. During the maneuveres to avoid the SAM, the aircraft was forced into the engagement zone of a second SAM, which was also defeated.

The aggressive maneuvering, and the increased drag caused by the open bomb bay doors, caused the B-1B to use more fuel than expected, requiring a rendezvous with a tanker. While returning to Fairford the aircraft was struck by lightning, which blew off a portion of the horizontal stabiliser. Visibility on landing was poor, but the crew successfully put the aircraft on the ground after a mission which had lasted over 14 hours.

B-1B 84-0074 arrived at Fairford on April 8th. It replaced 85-0075, which returned to Ellsworth for periodic maintenance on April 11th. Similarly 86-0097 arrived on April 24th, and 85-0073 returned to Ellsworth on April 26th.

B-1B 86-0129 of the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth arrived at Fairford on May 15th 1999. 86-0102, which had been at Fairford since April 1st, returned to Ellsworth on May 18th.

85-0075 returned to Fairford on May 27th 1999. It replaced 85-0083, which returned to Ellsworth for maintenance on the 29th. On June 3rd 1999 86-0104 from the 77th BS arrived at Fairford. It replaced 85-0074 which departed on June 6th.

Up to June 7th the B-1s at Fairford had dropped more than 1100 tonnes of ordnance (approx 5000 Mk 82 bombs) on targets in Serbia. 81 strike missions had been flown, of which 74 released weapons. All strike missions had taken off on time.

As a result of all that ordnance the following were either seriously damaged or destroyed:

On June 7th 1999 86-0097 took off on a combat mission from Fairford, but its undercarriage failed to retract properly. The crew was forced to dump their bombs into area D112N in the Bristol Channel, and then orbit for nearly an hour to burn off fuel before returning to land at Fairford.

Following the end of Operation Allied Force on June 20th 1999, all the B-1s at Fairford (85-0075, 85-0091, 86-0097, 86-0104 and 86-0129) returned to Ellsworth on June 24th. Final combat sorties were:

The B-1B created an unparalleled record in Kosovo that may be unsurpassed in history, in which it completed 99 of 100 combat missions and took off on time 100% of the time. The seven B-1Bs involved dropped 20 percent of the bombs (1100 tonnes+) during that conflict.

B-1B 86-0115 from the Kansas ANG was flying a Global Power mission on July 21st 1999 when it was forced to divert into Mildenhall with engine problems, where it remained until July 27th.

B-1Bs 85-0083 and 85-0091 of the 77th BS returned to Fairford on July 22nd 1999, this time to take part in the Royal International Air Tattoo. They departed on the 26th.

In July 1999 the USAF Weapons School B-1 Division at Ellsworth AFB added JDAM training to its syllabus. As a result the Weapons School will be able to expose students to a new weapon prior to its operational debut with all B-1 units. In early October 1999, as a part of the training syllabus, seven live GBU-31 JDAMs were released against simulated munitions bunkers on the Nellis AFB range complex. After the live drop, students reloaded simulated munitions and exercised an improved self-targetting mode of the B-1B's radar to derive targetting information which they then used to dynamically re-target GBU-31s against previously non-surveyed targets.

Four B-1Bs from the 37th Bomb Squadron, 28th Bomb Wing took part in exercise Bright Star '99 in Egypt during October 1999. During this exercise a JDAM-equivalent weapon was released from a B-1, the first time this had happened outside the US.

The 28th Bomb Squadron at Dyess AFB received its first Block D aircraft, 86-0105, in late November 1999.

Aircrew from the 37th Bomb Squadron flew ten non-stop 21.5-hour missions between February 14th and 18th 2000 as part of a series of Global Power missions called Coronet Spider 28. The missions consisted of daily two-ship sorties that flew a circuit from Ellsworth to the Alaskan Yukon Range, south to Hawaii, and east over the southwestern US back to Ellsworth.

During Coronet Spider 28 37th BW B-1Bs flew more than 87000 nm (158000 km) and took on more than 1100 tonnes of fuel in-flight.

Aircrews from the 77th Bomb Squadron participated in an All Services Combat Identification Evaluation Team (ASCIET) exercise from February 29th thru March 9th 2000. During the evalution, B-1Bs simulated tactics of Russian Tu-22M Backfire bombers attacking US and British ships off the Florida coast, and US Army Patriot missile batteries at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Two two-ship missions a day were flown from Ellsworth during the evaluation.

An unidentified 7th Bomb Wing B-1B made an emergency landing at Dyess AFB on March 8th 2000 after an engine failed on takeoff.

B-1B 86-0132 from the 28th Bomb Squadron, named Oh, Hard Luck, set a milestone on May 9th 2000 as it became the first Lancer to reach 5000 flight hours. Brig Gen Joseph Stein, 7th Bomb Wing commander, and Lt Col Garret Harencak, 28th Bomb Squadron commander, were among the crew for the aircraft's 1150th flight when the 5000th hour was notched up. 86-0132 was delivered to the Air Force on February 29th 1988.

As the oldest aircraft (in terms of flight hours), 86-0132 underwent a special inspection at the OCALC at Tinker AFB. The results of this will provide the Air Force and Boeing with insights for any future development of the B-1.

The B-1 fleet had accumulated more than 339000 hours by May 9th 2000. The aircraft with the second highest number of hours (4600+) was 85-0072, also a 7th Bomb Wing aircraft.

Two B-1Bs from the Kansas ANG, 85-0060 and 85-0069, arrived at RAF Mildenhall on May 25th 2000 to take part in the base's Air Fete. 85-0060 departed on May 30th, but 85-0069's departure was delayed due to mechanical problems.

The Air Force re-activated the 13th Bomb Squadron as a B-1B Lancer unit at Dyess AFB on June 14th 2000. This squadron was first formed on the same date in 1917, and it received 49 awards and battle ribbons in both world wars, Korea and Vietnam. It was last operational with the B-57 Canberra bomber during the Vietnam War, when it operated from Thailand.

The 13th BS's mission was to support the 7th Bomb Wing in providing combat-ready aircrews, aircraft and maintenance personnel for AEF taskings.

Two B-1Bs from the 9th Bomb Squadron flew a 22.5-hour non-stop Global Power mission on July 11 - 12th 2000. During the course of this mission the B-1s tested the air defence capabilities of the Hawaii Air National Guard, and each aircraft dropped a 500lb BDU-50 inert weapon on fixed targets on an Alaskan bombing range.

According to information obtained at the Royal International Air Tattoo 2000 (at which 86-0097 was present), between April 1st and June 7th 1999 the 77th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron at Fairford flew 100 combat missions and dropped 5033 bombs (2.6 million lb).

On July 28th 2000 B-1B 86-0133 was named "Memphis Belle" in a ceremony at Robins AFB, Georgia. The aircraft, operated by the 116th Bomb Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard, bears the name of the famous B-17 which carried out over 25 missions over Europe in WW2.

Two B-1Bs from the 77th Bomb Squadron (86-0095 and 86-0111) made the type's first appearance in sub-Saharan Africa when they attended the South African International Airshow at Waterkloof AFB on September 8th/9th 2000.

B-1B 86-0094 of the 37th Bomb Squadron suffered a mishap at Ellsworth AFB on October 22nd 2000, when a faulty fuel pump caused fuel to migrate from the forward section to the aft section of the aircraft, thus exceeding c.g. limits and causing the aircraft to tip on its tail. Damage was reported to be minor.

On February 2nd 2001 B-1B 85-0086 had a ground emergency at Ellworth AFB when its number 4 engine caught fire. Due to an in-flight emergency caused by live Mk82 bombs failing to release, the crew had shut down all the aircraft's engines shortly after landing. The fire started when the crew re-started the engines to taxi to the parking ramp. All the damage was contained in the engine casing, but the damage was valued at over $1 million. Two ground crew were slightly injured in the incident. The cause of the fire was not established (see AIB report).

Four B-1Bs staged through Mildenhall in early May 2001 en route to Oman. They were 86-0103 and 86-0135 from the 7th BW at Dyess AFB, and 86-0121 and 86-0139 from the 366th Wing at Mountain Home AFB.

Two 9th BS/7th BW aircraft appeared at the Mildenhall Air Fete 2001 from May 25th to the 28th. They were 86-0103 and 86-0110.

Two B-1Bs from the 77th Bomb Squadron (86-0096 and 86-0113) deployed to RAF Waddington on June 22nd 2001 to take part in exercise Clean Hunter. They also appeared in the base's air show on June 30th/July 1st.

On June 28th 2001 the Pentagon's amended 2002 defense budget proposed a one-third reduction in the USAF's fleet of B-1Bs. Under this plan, thirty-three aircraft would be placed in storage and the remainder consolidated at just two bases - Dyess AFB in Texas and Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota. The change would end the B-1B mission for the Georgia ANG's 116th Bomb Wing at Robins AFB, the Kansas ANG's 184th Bomb Wing at McConnell AFB, and the 366th Wing at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho.

After Congress blocked use of FY 2001 funds to make the cuts, the Air Force agreed to delay them until 2002. A provision in the FY 2001 Supplemental Appropriations Act Conference Report prohibited the use of funds from the current fiscal year from being used to downsize the current B-1 bomber fleet.

The last B-1B to receive the Block D upgrade left Tinker AFB in June 2001.

B-1B 86-0104 from the 34th BS/366th Wing arrived at RAF Fairford on July 12th 2001 to take part in a ceremony to mark the reopening of the base after a 13-month rebuild of the runway and north taxiway. It departed the following day.

Two B-1Bs from the 34th BS, 86-0104 and 86-0138, arrived at RAF Cottesmore on July 26th 2001 to take part in the Royal International Air Tattoo on July 28th/29th. The crew of 86-0138 put on a spirited flying display on the 29th, during which the aircraft was rolled through 360 degrees.

Two 9th Bomb Squadron crews conducted the first drop of JDAM weapons from Dyess-based B-1 bombers on August 14th 2001. Four JDAMs were dropped from an altitude of 31,000 feet over test ranges in Utah. JDAM has an advertised CEP of 13 meters, about 42.5 feet. The two Dyess crews were within that range, with the farthest strike being 27 feet from its target and the closest at 13 feet. Another crew that flew a JDAM mission on August 21st made a direct hit on the target.

As a result of the detection of cracks in tailplane substructures over most of the B-1 fleet, a program to install new strengthened horizontal stalilizers was initiated. The stabilizers, which measure 25 feet long, 8 feet wide and 1 foot deep, are made of aluminium skins with 25 titanium spars running lengthwise and a number of aluminium ribs crossing the spars. During the repair, the spars and ribs are replaced with new, sturdier parts. The first of two prototypes, which entered PDM in November 2000, rejoined the fleet on August 16th 2001, with the second following closely behind.

During August 2001 the 7th Bomb Wing's monthly mission capable rate (MICAP) exceeded the published Air Combat Command standard of 67% for B-1 aircraft. The FY01 interim goal set by the ACC commander for the B-1 community was 63%. The MICAP rate measures the percentage of aircraft that are available and ready to perform the mission.

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© David Hastings