Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bone Tired

The last in the triumvirate of current U.S. operational strategic bombers is the Rockwell B-1B Lancer. This sleek, powerful swing-wing aircraft began life as a series of studies dating all the way back to 1961. The long gestation produced a number of program acronyms, but no hardware, for many years after, the most notorious of which was AMSA (Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft). This was soon perverted by North American (later bought by Rockwell) engineers as "America's Most Studied Aircraft."

Even after four prototypes of the supersonic B-1A were ordered, the program troubles were not over. First flown in 1974, it was canceled under President Carter then restarted as the B-1B under President Reagan. A hundred aircraft were built.

The B-1 gave up its nuclear strike role several years back under treaty obligations and has become a very effective conventional weapons carrier. However, its days appear to be dwindling down. Several have been retired already due to budget shortfalls and the remaining 60 or so aircraft in service are hampered by spare parts shortages. It is rumored the rest of the fleet will be retired by 2012, leaving only the B-52 and the twenty B-2s as America's long-range manned strike force.

I shot this rather tired looking B-1 as it took off at the recent Edwards AFB open house. Incidentally, while "Lancer" is the rather dull official nickname of the B-1; Bone is the unofficial nickname. That, according to an apocryphal story, occurred when a news reporter wrote B-one instead of B-1 and referred to the airplane as "the Bone." Thus a name was born.

Or so they say.

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