B-1B is bad to the bone

The B-1 is the backbone of America's bomber fleet.
Interesting Engineering

With 61 world records for speed, payload, and distance, the B-1”Lancer” bomber is no surprise that this aircraft has made its place in history. Let’s see what makes this aircraft so incredible.

The Rockwell B-1, nicknamed the “Lancer,” is a supersonic variable-sweep wing, heavy bomber used by the United States Air Force (USAF). Also called the "Bone" for its "B-One“ variant, it was first introduced in 1986 and is still in active service today.

It is famous for its ability to evade radar detection and long-range, allowing it to fly deep into enemy territory with a large payload of bombs and missiles. Additionally, it has been used in various military operations, including “Operation Desert Storm” in 1991 and the War in Afghanistan.

As of 2022, it is one of three strategic bombers, the other two being the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-2 Spirit (aka stealth bomber), which is part of the United States Air Force fleet.

The B-1, initially intended to replace the aging and venerable B-52 and B-58 “Hustler,” was first envisioned as a platform in the 1960s that would combine the Mach 2 speed of the B-58 Hustler with the range and payload of the B-52. The design competition for the B-1A was won by Rockwell International, now a part of Boeing, after a protracted period of research.

This model could travel long distances at Mach 0.85 at very low altitudes and reach a top speed of Mach 2.2 at high altitudes. The AGM-86 cruise missile, which flew at a similar basic speed and distance, as well as the cost of the aircraft, and the early development of the B-2 stealth bomber combined to lessen the necessity for the B-1.

To this end, after the B-1A prototypes had been constructed, the program was abandoned in 1977.

In 1981, the program was revived, mostly as a stopgap measure, because the B-2 stealth bomber program was experiencing problems. The B-1A design was modified, lowering the top speed at high altitude to Mach 1.25 and raising the speed at low altitude to Mach 0.96.

The electrical components improved, and the airframe was upgraded to carry additional fuel and weaponry. Deliveries of the upgraded model, known as the B-1B, started in 1986, the same year it was formally accepted into service by Strategic Air Command (SAC) as a nuclear bomber. All 100 aircraft had been delivered by 1988.

The B-1B was modified for a conventional bombing role when SAC was disestablished and transferred to Air Combat Command in 1992. During Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and the NATO operation in Kosovo the following year, it was used in battle for the first time. The B-1B has provided military assistance to American and NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force possesses 45 B-1Bs as of 2021.

After 2025, the new Northrop Grumman B-21 “Raider” will start to replace the B-1B, and all B-1s will be phased out by 2036. While it may be replaced, it will likely never be forgotten.

Until then, there is no doubt the “Lancer” will continue to provide unparalleled service for the USAF.