TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --- A B-1 Lancer will reach the 10,000-hour flying mark by early June. Initially envisioned with a 20-year service life in 1985, the aircraft wasn't expected to reach such a milestone, Tinker officials said.
Through the dedication and hard work of the members of the 76th Maintenance Wing's programmed depot maintenance, the 427th Aircraft Sustainment Group and the 848th Supply Chain Management Group's structural pieces and avionics section here, the B-1 remains airborne and able to perform its combat mission.
"The B-1 is one of the most precise, lethal and in-demand conventional weapons systems in the world, fully engaged in the war against terror," said Brig. Gen. Bruce A. Litchfield, the 76th MXW commander. "The fact the B-1 has come so far and continues to improve is a true testament to the dedicated, hardworking folks we have here at Tinker. We must always keep in mind when an aircraft leaves here it could very well be in combat the next day."
The B-1 airframe, which is now scheduled to remain in operation until 2040, has an expansive history stretching back to the 1960s. It was initially envisioned as a replacement for the B-52 Stratofortress, but its development was delayed and restarted several times.
The B-1 took its first flight in December 1974.
Through the years, the aircraft has been upgraded to make it a more viable weapons system, and it remains the workhorse for combatant commanders.
Tinker is the home of the B-1 System Program Office where modernization and new capability engineering is accomplished.
"We turn our Air Force leadership's visions into realities at the SPO," said Col. Charles Sherwin, the 427th ACSG commander. "The future of the B-1 is bright, and it is going to get brighter."
Colonel Sherwin said the B-1 is slated to integrate directed energy, which transfers energy to its target for an intended outcome, in an Air Force Research Laboratory demonstration using a high power laser.
"In effect, uniting this capability with the sniper advanced targeting pod makes the B-1B a 'first generation' long-range, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance/strike aircraft," Colonel Sherwin said. "That is what is envisioned for the future arsenal of the Air Force: an aircraft that includes ISR, directed energy and network attack, all of which are being integrated or demonstrated on the B-1B in the immediate future."
While the SPO officials enable the future, much of the maintenance and sustainment work is also performed and supported at Tinker AFB.
Members of the 76th MXW perform roughly 13 depot refurbishments of the airframe annually, said Rick Cantwell, the 553rd Aircraft Sustainment Squadron B-1 System Program Management Logistics lead.
"Team Tinker processes are effective, and they are getting more effective, or we wouldn't have been able to make this possible," Mr. Cantwell said. "The B-1 is here to stay. It's not going anywhere anytime soon, as far as retirement. This, along with improving aircraft availability is why the B-1 was chosen as one of Air Force Materiel Command's prototype platforms for Repair Network Integration and High Velocity Maintenance, or HVM. We plan on sustaining and modernizing it for combatant commanders today and in the future."
RNI is part of the Expeditionary Logistics for the 21st Century campaign, and the purpose is to increase the number of spare engines, or war-ready engines, so B-1s in the area of responsibility are not grounded due to engine issues. HVM is a part of a campaign within air logistics centers to reduce the amount of time that aircraft spend at depots undergoing overhaul and repairs.
"The B-1 fleet is the backbone of today's deployed bomber operations," said Bill Barnes, the deputy director of the 427th ACSG B-1 Systems Program Office. "The fleet provides much-needed close air support to ground operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The milestone of the first B-1 airframe to pass 10,000 flying hours is a testament to the continuous service this fleet provides to U.S. and coalition ground forces."