The B-1 continues to be one of the most capable and lethal bombers in the world today. It has been deployed constantly from October 2001 through to the present day in all of the major campaigns in the war on terror. Up until January 2016 there was a B-1 overhead in the Middle East 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I visited Dyess AFB to report on the 28th BS Formal Training Unit.
Home to the mighty Rockwell B-1B Lancer, Dyess AFB is located in the southwest corner of Abilene, Texas approximately 200 miles (320 kms) west of Dallas. Dyess is home to the 7th Bomb Wing (BW) which is assigned to the Global Strike Command Eighth Air Force. One of only two B-1B strategic bomb wings within the United States Air Force (USAF), the 7th BW comprises two squadrons; the 9th and the 28th Bomb Squadrons. The 28th Bomb Squadron (BS) is the largest bomb squadron in the USAF and the largest flying squadron within Global Strike Command. It plays a pivotal role within both as its primary mission is to provide all B-1B initial aircrew qualification, re-qualification and instructor upgrade training for Global Strike Command. The squadron determines, evaluates and implements all formal training requirements within the Formal Training Unit (FTU) to qualify both pilots and Weapons Systems Officers (WSO’s) in long-range day and night, all weather and air-to-ground attack. Each year the 28th BS trains more than 200 B-1B crew members from all the active duty B-1B units.
FORMAL TRAINING UNIT
Established in 1985, the Formal Training Unit (FTU) at Dyess awaits new B-1B USAF aviators as Captain Sean “Slice” Bruce-Rennick, an Instructor Pilot currently assigned to the 28th Bomb Squadron explained. After joining the USAF in 2009, Captain Bruce-Rennick returned to Dyess in September 2016 to teach. “I have been in the 28th BS before as a student, however this is my first tour here as a permanent member of the team. I arrived recently in September 2016. Unlike other aviators, my flying history is actually rather unusual in that I hadn’t flown before joining the Air Force. After passing my month long Initial Flight Screening (IFS) in 2009 flying the Diamond DA-20, I commenced Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Laughlin AFB, Texas which comprises three phases; one classroom phase lasting one month followed by two flying phases each lasting approximately six months. Students are then selected to train on either the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II followed by either the Northrop T-38 Talon II, Raytheon T-1 Jayhawk or the Bell UH-1 Iroquois. I was selected for the T-38 and having completed my pilot training, I was selected to fly the B-1B Lancer completing my initial qualification and mission qualifying training in December 2011 and summer 2012 respectively. At this point I went to the 28th BS to learn to fly the ‘Bone’. Having qualified, I moved firstly to the 34th BS at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota where I spent five years completing two combat deployments before returning back at the 28th to teach.” The forward B-1B fleet comprises 63 aircraft with aircraft assigned to the 28th BS and FTU as operational and training requirements dictate. At the present time, the FTU are running four training courses per year which covers both pilot and Weapons System Officer (WSO) training. After completing undergraduate Combat System Officer (CSO) training at NAS Pensacola, Florida and then graduating from the B-course, students are assigned to squadrons at either Dyess or Ellsworth. An Operational Lancer crew complement generally comprises generally four aircrew (two pilots and two WSO’s) for both training or for live operations.
Capt Sean 'Slice' Bruce-Rennick
The B-1B Initial Qualification Course (IQC) lasts approximately six months for all crew members irrespective of their previous flight experience and skill set. This provides an introduction to the B-1B with the IQC divided into two distinct phases. These are a classroom/simulator phase (approximately 85 hours) and a flying phase (between 40-60 hours), each lasting approximately three months. “Upon the completion of IQC, aviators are fully qualified for the B-1B but it is considered only a basic qualification. Successful IQC graduates are then selected for one of three B-1B combat squadron’s to complete their operational conversion training. These are with the 9th BS at Dyess and the 34th and 37th BS at Ellsworth AFB. Having arrived at their combat squadron, new B-1B aviators complete their Mission Qualification Training (MQT) in preparation for combat readiness. This lasts approximately three months and comprises in depth training on different B-1B missions such as Close Air Support (CAS). Combat ready, aircrew must build their flying experience in the B-1 (300+ flying hours is the standard) before they can be entered into Single-ship Mission Lead training (SML) and additionally Aircraft Commander upgrade training for the pilots. For example, I became an Aircraft Commander and Single-ship Mission Lead in the summer of 2014 some two years after completing IQC. After successfully completing this phase, there is the Flight-Lead Upgrade (FLUG) for pilots or Multi-ship Mission Lead (MML) training for WSO’s. I became FLUG qualified in the fall of 2015. Aircrew can then train as an instructor as I did. I completed my B-1B Flight Instructor Course (FIC) immediately after my FLUG upgrade. In summary then, it takes six months to be initially qualified and around six months and around four years to become completely qualified”, Captain Bruce-Rennick explained in detail.
FLYING THE ‘BONE’
The 28th BS primary focus is on training. Most sorties flown are teaching new students to fly the formidable B-1B for the first time. The crew for these missions usually consists of one IP with a student pilot and an IP and student WSO. Other missions may include re-qualification B-1B aircrew training for returning B-1B aircrew who have spent time away from the aircraft for an extended period of time; for example returning from a staff tour or at a school. The length of their training will vary but for a returning former B-1B pilot their re-qualification could last two months and involve approximately 45 hours of ground and flight training. Having completed their training, new B-1 aircrew move into the ‘operational’ phase as Captain Bruce-Rennick explained. “We use lots of different weapons ranges for this training and usually schedule this based on what kind of weapons we have and their availability. We also fly low levels almost every flight. It’s a B-1B specialty. The jet likes to fly down low and we train a lot for it. It’s also the most dangerous and challenging element of our flying.” As mentioned, a typical operational B-1B flight crew comprises two pilots and two WSO’s. One pilot will be the Aircraft Commander concentrating primarily on flying the aircraft, looking for threats and collision avoidance. The co-pilot will meanwhile focus on situational awareness, dealing with the Air Traffic Control, radios and various laptops. One WSO will be the Offensive Systems Operator (OSO) situated behind the cockpit operating the sniper pod as well as talking on the radios with the co-pilot as backup. The other WSO will be the Defensive System Officer (DSO) who assists the OSO, entering flight co-ordinates and monitoring weapons and their potential delivery. Each WSO is trained to sit in either seat (DSO or OSO) and as can pilots who can sit in either the left or right seat also. This is different to other twin seat aircraft where the Aircraft Commander will only sit in the left seat.
28th BS Graduate Pilot
I spoke to a recent graduate B-1B pilot from the 28th BS who told us what the aircraft is like to fly (I have omitted his name for security reasons). “The B-1B is like having a vastly powerful machine strapped to your back. When you slam the throttles forward you feel the afterburners kick into flame which then presses you hard against the ejection seat. Because of the different wing sweep settings, it feels like two or three different aircraft. With the wings fully forward it flies like the massive aircraft that it is; with slow roll rates, limited G, still with a relatively impressive power advantage which requires a lot more careful attention and skill because of the margin for error is less. However, down low, she’s an absolute monster. With the wings pinned aft she’s surprisingly agile and the engines are unbelievably powerful. As a pilot, you pride yourself in listening to the feedback the aircraft gives you and from my experience the Bone is most joyful fast and low.” Captain Bruce-Rennick continued. “The B-1B is a big bird but it is actually quite manoeuvrable. The weapon bays are all internal so we don’t have any additional drag even when fully loaded. The jet enjoys flying fast and fly low contrary to the picture some people may have of the flight profile of a large bomber flying high and slow like the B-52 or B-2. People within the B-1B community have described it as a very fast T-38, we have control sticks like the T-38 and F-15.”
In 2008 the USAF began upgrading the B-1B fleet with the Sniper pod. This has proved a major success with aircrew confirming it an operational ‘game changer’. First used by the B-1B in combat in 2008, the Sniper pod has significantly enhanced the effectiveness of B-1B operations especially during close air support (CAS) missions. Its enviable reputation in this respect is based around its unrivalled ability to carry a variety of weapons in large numbers, its extremely long loiter time and the sheer variety of methods by which it can deploy those weapons. Since then the fleet has been using upgraded Sniper SE pods that have further improved optics and accuracy. This pod allows the ‘Bone’ to either confirm coordinates on the ground using a laser and then import those coordinates directly into the aircrafts Global Positioning Satellite guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) or they can use that same laser system to guide their GBU-54 laser guided bombs on to their target. The pod also has Infrared sensors to enable both day and night operations. “In terms of what we could and couldn’t do before these upgrades, our WSO`s can now generate very accurate coordinates in real time , use the latest guided munitions available and simultaneously slew other situational enhancing features that assist the aircrew and ground units during combat operations,” Capt Bruce-Rennick confirmed. Presently, the 28th Bomb Squadron are currently flying “old” B-1Bs with Service Block 15 (SB-15) which is an evolution of the Conventional Munitions Upgrade Program (CMUP) as opposed to the combat squadrons that are starting to fly aircraft with a new glass cockpit. The 9th Bomb Squadron is currently running a fleet of fully upgraded B-1Bs on the latest SB-16 version; a version which saw almost every cockpit panel upgraded to new full colour glass Multi Functional Displays (MFDs) with colour moving maps plus additions to the new Integrated Battle Station (IBS) and Fully-Integrated Data Link (FIDL). The remaining two squadrons are receiving this upgrade now while the 28th BS will be the last squadron to get the new upgraded SB-16 aircraft.
MAINTAINING THE LANCER
The ‘Bone’ is a very labour intensive aircraft to maintain. With so many complex systems this increases the number of things that could go wrong. More than 1,800 members of the 7th Maintenance Group (7th MXG) provide organisational and intermediate levels of maintenance for B-1s assigned to the 7th Bomb Wing. The group's major role is to provide mission-capable B-1B aircraft, properly configured and on time to meet any of the wing's missions. The group trains, equips and sustains forces ready to deploy in support of combat, training and test requirements from Dyess AFB. The 7th MXG is made up of four different maintenance squadrons. The 7th Munitions Squadron (7th MUNS) is responsible for storing, maintaining and delivery of quality munitions, and maintain munitions release systems assuring mission readiness for B-1 to meet Secretary of Defense taskings. The 7th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (7th AMS) provides combat-ready B-1 aircraft and trained aircraft maintenance and weapons load personnel to support JCS taskings for show of force missions and to destroy America's enemies--anytime, anywhere. It performs organizational-level maintenance of aircraft and armament subsystems as well as providing support for B-1B Flight Training Unit, Operational Test and Evaluation program and Weapons Instructor Course. The 7th Component Maintenance Squadron (7th CMS) provides qualified work force to support the wing's global power and the AMC tenant's global reach airlift missions. The unit performs on-/off-equipment maintenance on avionics, fuels, egress, electro-environmental and propulsion systems on the B-1 aircraft and they also manage a F101 Engine Regional Repair Center. The 7th Equipment Maintenance Squadron (7th EMS) provides on and off-equipment aircraft maintenance assuring mission readiness for the B-1 to meet higher headquarter taskings. It additionally maintains and delivers aerospace ground equipment, fabricates and installs components, performs time phased aircraft inspections in a timely manner as well as provides for crashed, damaged or disabled aircraft recovery whenever and wherever called upon.
The B-1 can carry just about any combination of the listed weapons, but up to 24x 2000lb class weapons, 30x 1000lb class, 84x 500lb class (unguided) or 21x 500lb class (guided) using our 21-carry, 10-carry, or 8-carry weapons racks.
Mk-84 2000lb class, general purpose (GP), unguided
Mk-82 500lb class, GP, unguided
Mk-62 500lb class, naval mine, unguided
Mk-65 2000lb class, naval mine, unguided
GBU-38 500lb class, GP, GPS guided
GBU-31 2000lb class, either GP or penetrator, GPS guided
GBU-54 500lb class, GP, LASER or GPS guided
AGM-158 2000lb class, air to surface standoff missile, GPS guided
CBU-103 1000lb class, cluster bomb, unguided but wind correctable
CBU-104 1000lb class, cluster bomb land mine variant, unguided but wind correctable
CBU-105 1000lb class, sensor fused cluster bomb variant, unguided but wind correctable
Starting 2016, B-1B`s deployed to Guam AFB to support the pacific theatre in a Continuous Bomber Presence role. With three combat squadron`s, each deploy on a rotational basis every six months. Each squadron will therefore have a year at home followed by six months deployed. Captain Sean Bruce-Rennick provided details of his deployments; “On my two B-1B deployments to the middle east, we flew at a 99% effective rate, only canceling a handful of flights out of over many hundreds scheduled over two six month periods. These flights definitely took a toll on the crews. They are on average around 13-14 hours in duration and when you add, breakfast, mission brief and debrief, customs processing etcetera, aircrew are awake for approximately 24 hours at a time for one single flight.” Aircrew we spoke with spoke incredibly highly of the B-1B, confirming its admirable performance in combat. In their opinion, no other jet comes close to carrying the same payload and having the same range or loiter time with the high speed performance provided by the B-1B.
Capt Sean 'Slice' Bruce -Rennick