The B-1B Lancer is a bomber aircraft that took its inaugural flight on October 18, 1984. This was a major achievement for both Rockwell International and North American Aircraft (now a part of Boeing) manufacturing companies. The Lancer was part of a major push by the Reagan administration to strengthen the American military. Two years after its first test flight, the B-1B was ready, and by November of 1986, four of the airplanes were coming off the production lines every month.
During the 1980’s, 100 of the B-1B Lancers were built for the U.S. Air Force. The aircraft’s design was based on the earlier B-1A bomber and initially carried the AGM-69A nuclear short-range attack missile (SRAM). The Lancer could achieve a maximum speed of Mach 1.25 at sea level with a gross takeoff weight of 477,000 pounds.
During the 1990’s, after the cold war had ended, nuclear weapons fell into disfavor. The potential for accidents made the American public wary of anything but conventional weapons. The military replaced many of their nuclear weapons with conventional armament, and this included those carried on the B-1B bomber. By 1997, the Lancer was equipped with only conventional weapons. These included Mk84 and Mk82 conventional gravity bombs. In 2001, 32 of the original B-1B Lancers were retired.
Boeing upgraded the remaining 68 aircraft with GPS navigation units, anti-jam radios, and joint direct attack munitions (JDAM). Onboard computers were also updated with better defensive and offensive weapons systems. Boeing has announced plans for additional upgrades that will include new weapons, better electronic defensive systems, cockpit displays, and improved communications systems.
More information about the B-1B Lancer:
Maximum speed: 900-plus mph (Mach 1.2 at sea level)
Ceiling: 30,000 feet plus
Length: 146 feet
Wingspan: 137 feet
Height: 34 feet
Maximum takeoff weight: 477,000 pounds
Empty weight: 190,000 pounds
Engines: Four General Electric F-101-GE-102 turbofan engines with afterburner
Thrust: 30,000-plus pounds with afterburner, per engine
Crew: Four (aircraft commander, pilot, offensive systems officer and defensive systems officer)
Armament: Up to 84 Mark 82 conventional 500-pound bombs, or 30 CBU-87/89/97, or 24 JDAMS
Contractor: North American Aircraft/Boeing
Unit Cost: $200-plus million per aircraft