RICHMOND, VA –
In 1985, Ronald Reagan was sworn in for a second term as president of the United States, Windows 1.0 was released and the likes of Tears for Fears, Wham! and Chaka Khan ruled the airwaves. “Back to the Future,” “The Color Purple” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” ruled the big screen. And the United States Air Force began flying the B-1B Lancer, a long-range, multi-role, heavy bomber.
The B-1B, nicknamed “the Bone,” was originally designed and built by now defunct Rockwell International in the mid-1970s as a replacement for the B-52 long-range bomber. Four prototypes were developed before the program was canceled, but was brought back to life under the Reagan administration in the early '80s. Aerospace company Boeing now owns the rights to the bomber.
According to the Department of the Air Force, there are 62 B-1Bs in its arsenal. These bombers are assigned to the 7th Operation Group based at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas and the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.
Tim Condon is the B-1 weapon system program manager for the Air Force Customer Facing Division, Defense Logistics Agency Aviation’s Customer Operations Directorate.
“It’s been a really good career to be involved with this weapon system. I’ve learned a lot about our customer base and how they want to be supported and building partnerships with not only our customers, but internal to DLA. It’s been very rewarding,” he said.
Condon said DLA Aviation manages roughly 64,000 national stock numbers for the B-1B airframe.
He said not all of them are active. At any given time, there are active and inactive groupings, depending on what’s going on with the aircraft, and then there’s a group that probably hasn’t been active in some time and may not be replaced throughout the lifecycle of the aircraft. “Then there’s a group that we haven’t replaced, but when we see modifications or maintenance projects where we haven’t touched that part of the aircraft and we’re going to do a replacement, then we start planning for that and they become active items again,” said Condon.
He said around 12 B-1B’s go through planned depot maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City each year, with four-to-six being out of service at any given time.
The bomber is concurrently going through a major modification called Integrated Battle Station, which is basically turning the B-1B into a new aircraft; adding full color displays, moving maps and a new diagnostics system. Air Force personnel are making the upgrades at a Boeing facility near Tinker.
DLA Aviation planned and procured 44 airframe parts to support IBS. They range from cannon plugs to clamps and backshells.
Condon said 11 B1-B’s are scheduled for IBS modification this year with seven currently in depot maintenance. IBS modification for all of the bombers will be completed by May 2018.
DLA Aviation is also in the planning and procuring phase for more than 500 parts to be used for a wing sweep modification beginning in October 2018.
“We’ve done something unique with this one. We split the items in terms of the way we are going to support them. We have a traditional grouping that we are supporting through our normal processes and then we have a group of more complex parts that have tooling, material and engineering issues and we have decided to use Captains of Industry long-term contracts to support them,” said Condon.
The B-1B has been used as both a conventional and nuclear strike option, flying more than 12,000 sorties since 2001 in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force is planning to fly it until at least the year 2040.
Condon said this long-range goal for the B-1B is evidence of how important “the Bone” is to the Air Force arsenal.
“I think it’s extremely important because no one bomber can stand on its own, the B-1, B-2, or the B-52,” said Condon. “It takes a combination of support from all the weapon systems to address and meet the major contingency operations the United States is involved in now and possibly in the future.”