The Air Force Has Begun Sending the B-1 to the Boneyard

Kyle Mizokami
·2 min read

From Popular Mechanics

The U.S. Air Force has officially begun the process of slimming down its B-1B bomber fleet. The first of 17 bombers the service plans to decommission took off from its home in South Dakota last week, bound for a sunny retirement in the Arizona desert.

The Air Force is trimming the B-1B fleet to keep the remaining bombers flying. By the early 2030s, the new B-21 Raider bomber will replace the B-1B entirely.

The bomber is bound for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, a.k.a. “The Boneyard,” the home of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. The hot, dry weather conditions at Davis-Monthan allow the U.S. military to store retired aircraft there without fear of corrosion or other forms of deterioration.

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Planes sent to the Boneyard often wait years until their eventual disposal, and many are cannibalized to support other aircraft that are still flying. A lucky few are “regenerated,” or brought back to active duty through a meticulous process of refurbishment. In 2019, for example, the Air Force regenerated the B-52H Stratofortress bomber “Wise Guy.”

After the Air Force retires the 17 Lancers, the service will still have 45 bombers on active duty. The Air Force originally started out with 100 B-1Bs in 1998, assigning them to the nuclear strike mission, then lost six to mishaps and 33 to retirement in 2003. At least 17 Lancers are still at the Boneyard (per Google Maps), though not all of them are still in one piece.

The Air Force is choosing to retire some of the planes to keep the last ones going until the late 2020s, when the new B-21 Raider bomber should properly replace them. Retiring some of the B-1Bs will allow the Air Force to cannibalize them for spare parts, many of which are no longer available.

The Air Force will also be able to concentrate its hard-pressed B-1B maintainers on the remaining jets, keeping them flying until retirement.

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