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The US Air Force has officially started dismantling its B-1B bomber fleet. The first of 17 bombers scheduled for decommissioning took off from his home in South Dakota last week for a sunny retreat in the Arizona desert.
The Air Force is trimming the B-1B fleet to accommodate the remaining bombers Keep going. In the early 2030s, the new B-21 Raider bomber will completely replace the B-1B.
The bomber is on its way to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, a.k.a. « The Boneyard », home of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. The hot, dry weather conditions in Davis-Monthan allow the U.S. military to store retired aircraft there without fear of corrosion or other forms of deterioration.
Airplanes sent to the boneyard often wait years to be finally disposed of, and many are cannibalized to aid other airplanes that are still flying. A few happy people are « regenerated » or brought back into active service through a careful renovation process. For example, in 2019 the Air Force regenerated the B-52H Stratofortress bomber « Wise Guy ».
After the Air Force retired the 17 lancers, 45 bombers will remain in active service. The Air Force originally started with 100 B-1Bs in 1998, assigned them to the nuclear strike mission, then lost six to breakdowns and 33 to retirement in 2003. At least 17 lancers are still on the boneyard (according to Google Maps), but not all are yet in one piece.
The Air Force decides to retire some of the aircraft to keep the last ones running through the late 2020s, when the new B-21 Raider bomber should properly replace them. If some of the B-1B’s are retired, the Air Force can cannibalize them for replacement parts, many of which are no longer available.
The Air Force will also be able to keep their persistent B-1B maintainers focused on the remaining jets and let them fly until retirement.