The Bone

Nicknamed “The Bone,” the B-1B Lancer is a long-range, multi-mission, supersonic conventional bomber, which has served the United States Air Force since 1985. The aircraft is on track to continue flying, at current demanding operations tempo, out to 2040 and beyond, and Boeing partners with the Air Force to keep the B-1 mission ready.

Originally designed for nuclear capabilities, the B-1 switched to an exclusively conventional combat role in the mid-1990s. In 1999, during Operation Allied Force, six B-1s flew 2 percent of the strike missions, yet dropped 20 percent of the ordnance, and during Operation Enduring Freedom the B-1 flew on 2 percent of the sorties while dropping over 40 percent of the precision weapons.

The B-1R Regional bomber

According to Scott Lowther’s book US Supersonic Bomber Projects, as operations were ramping up in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004, the Air Force realized that its bomber capabilities were stretched thin. In many ways the Northrop B-2 was the perfect bomber for many roles… nigh on invisible (and thus indestructible), able to haul vast amounts of ordnance, with the precision to drop surprise packages onto the heads of enemies with great precision. But there were only 21 B-2s and they were too expensive to risk.

The story of the B-1R Regional bomber, the Mach 2.2 Lancer powered by F-22 F119 engines that never was

So the Air Force and the American aerospace industry began looking at alternatives that could be produced in fairly short order… modifications of the F-22, cargo planes filled to overflowing with bombs or hypersonic missiles, clean-sheet bomber designs.

Boeing suggested modifying the existing B-1B into the so-called ‘B-1R’, with ‘R’ standing for ‘Regional.’ The B-1R would have updated electronics and radar systems; be capable of carrying air-to-air missiles (AIM-120 AMRAAMs) for self defence, have the external hardpoints made fully functional, and swap out the F101-GE-102 turbofans for Pratt & Whitney F119s, used on the Lockheed F-22.

The F119 is longer (203in vs 181in), narrower (46in diameter vs 55in) and lighter (3,900lb vs 4,400lb) than the F101, but produces more thrust in afterburner (35,000lb-ft vs 30,8001b-ft) and, importantly much more thrust ‘ dry’ (26,000lb-ft vs 17,4001b-ft).

Capable of reaching Mach 2.2

The story of the B-1R Regional bomber, the Mach 2.2 Lancer powered by F-22 F119 engines that never was

Importantly, the newer engine is more fuel efficient with a lower parts count, theoretically easier and cheaper to maintain. The claim was that the B-1R would be capable of reaching Mach 2.2. This would presumably involve removing the radar-defeating vanes within the inlet ducts and returning to a B-1A style inlet.

Range would be reduced 20% compared to the B-1B (again, presumably, because the B-1R would cruise supersonically rather than subsonically), and doubtless radar cross section would suffer from below and ahead…. but the ability to operate more quickly across the Middle East and central Asia from bases hundreds of miles away would benefit from the speed increase. This maximum speed would seem to apply to the B-1R in ‘clean’ configuration, without tons of ordnance hanging from under-fuselage pylons.

At the time, the B-1R was seen to have an initial operational capability of before 2015. But if any serious design work was carried out, it does not seem to have come to light; it’s known only from a few bare-bones descriptions. It also does not seem to have lasted very long; no serious effort to turn B-1Bs into something resembling the B-1R has been attempted.

US Supersonic Bomber Projects is published by Mortons Books and is available to order here.

Meet B-1B “Lancelot,” the Lancer pulled from the 309th AMARG to rejoin USAF Strategic Bomber Fleet
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-1B Lancer 28th FW, 34th BS Thunderbirds, EL/86-129 / 2005

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force