Relative to B-21 delivery goals/timeline for B-1B retirement needs; https://www.airforcemag.com/b-1s-can-ma ... g-the-way/
The Air Force expects to have enough resources—money, spare parts, and maintainers—to keep the B-1B bomber flying safely at least until it can be replaced by the B-21, service officials said, now that Congress will let USAF retire 17 of the most problem-prone Lancers in the inventory. But the Air Force is well behind on a structural fatigue test meant to find life-limiting cracks and stress in B-1 airframes, meaning there could be some surprises ahead.
Congress overrode President Donald J. Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act on Jan. 1, clearing the way for the Air Force to reduce the B-1 fleet from 62 aircraft to 45. The B-21 is expected to be delivered in sufficient numbers by 2031 to permit the rest of the B-1s to retire.
Since September 2019, the Air Force has pushed to reduce the B-1 fleet in order to keep a smaller number of the bombers fully potent and ready for action. In recent years, lack of spare parts and a long list of structural and systematic gripes have driven the fleet’s mission capable numbers to as low as just six aircraft ready for combat.
Some scary details including having to land a B-1 after the ejection seats failed.
At the same time—around May 2018—a B-1’s ejection system failed during an inflight emergency. While the crew made a harrowing landing, the incident prompted yet another new wave of fleetwide B-1 inspections, Barnes said, further pressuring the maintainer force.
“Since that time, we got the ejection system all fixed, and got that work off the field maintainers. We brought a lot of the repair work into the depot, …and then in 2019 … [we] stood up the dedicated repair line at Tinker …where we bring in aircraft for nothing but structural repairs. To my knowledge, it’s the only dedicated structural repair line in the Air Force,” Barnes said. Doing it that way allowed the Air Force to hire extra workers to do the surge repairs “and let the maintainers get back to their day-to-day job of launching aircraft and meeting mission needs.”
Doing all that “significatly improved the availability of the fleet,” Barnes said. “It’s put the fleet in a very healthy position as we bring aircraft through depot, perform the structural repairs, and get a healthier aircraft back out to the field.” The fact that the aircraft are “healthier” also reduces the load of necessary inspections, allowing maintainers to focus on daily readiness.
But some big repairs remain undone. A longeron replacement in the forward intermediate fuselage that will require substantial disassembly of the airplane will be an intensive process.
“We are going to bring an aircraft into Boeing’s Palmdale, [Calif.], facility in April to perform a prototype of that repair,” Barnes said, “Where we will replace the forward intermediate fuselage, and we will repair the ‘shoulder’ longeron,” and this will be the prototype for a fleet-wide fix. The repair apparatus will be brought to the depot to be performed, “but that’s not going to happen until the ’23-’24 timeframe,” he said. “So, we’re still a few years away from where we have to be.”
Getting the B-1’s retired/replaced by 2031 has to be a top priority.