As the pilots of the B-1 perform interior checks, Senior Airman Jacob
Widtmannheiser, a crew chief assigned to the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, displays his squadron patch on his
Written on the patch: “Hard to be Humble.”
For the Airmen of the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth AFB, this motto is one
that’s hard to shy away from.
Since its inaugural flight on Oct. 1, 1986, the B-1B has been a work horse for
the Air Force. The airframe holds records for speed, payload, range and time of
climb in its class, and it brings all those talents to integrate with
fifth-generation fighters during Red Flag 17-1 on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
January 27, 2017 - A B-1B Lancer assigned to the 34th Bomb
Squadron, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota takes off during
Red Flag 17-1 on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Red Flag is an
exercise at Nellis AFB that provides aircrews an opportunity to
experience realistic, stressful combat situations in a controlled
environment to increase mission capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by
Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum)
“For Red Flag 17-1, the B-1 was the only bomber so our primary responsibility
was strike, but we also fulfilled other roles as well,” said Jeffrey Spinney,
34th BS assistant flight commander for weapons and tactics. “Through the use of
our sensors, we were able to provide a back fill to ISR (intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance), RESCORT (rescue/escort), and targeting as
well. Since the fighters have a limited number of bombs, we’re able to carry a
larger payload and our primary role was attacking targets.”
During the three-week exercise, the aircrew from Ellsworth AFB were faced with
many challenges, including a new avionics system and also integrating with a new
fifth-generation platform for the first time in Red Flag.
“This Red Flag was unique. The B-1 is going through a significant upgrade to our
avionics so the biggest thing that we took away from this Red Flag is Link 16,”
said Spinney. “It allows our jet to be interconnected with all of the other
package players. If you look at when our program started in the 1980s, and it
has gone through many upgrades, but this has been the most significant shift.
When integrating with fifth-generation assets, the capability to be on that Link
16 and have those avionics brings us forward into the 20th century. There were
many lessons learned and it was valuable to be able to work with them on that
Getting to the top tier has been a lengthy process, and with months of work
taking place before Red Flag, the 37th BS is ready to test and show off their
“For our squadron, we’ve been training for seven months on the new aircraft,”
said Spinney. “We’ve used this Red Flag as a capstone of sorts to validate the
37th BS capability with the airframe and new Link 16 system.”
The system isn’t the only new thing for the B-1 during Red Flag. In addition to
this system upgrade, the first ever Air Force F-35 squadron also participated in
Red Flag 17-1.
“We’re integrating with the F-35. It’s the new kid on the block, but our tactics
remain the same,” said Spinney. “The ability for the F-35 and rest of the fifth
generation to go a little bit further than everyone else gives us a little more.
In terms of our overall tactics, other than an increased capability, we don’t
shift them. Which is good, because we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and we
just get that increased capability with the F-35.”
While both of these factors — the system upgrade and new fifth-generation
airframe — served as tests for the 37th BS, the squadron took them in stride and
Red Flag successfully.
“Our squadron is chalking this up as an outstanding victory. This is the first
time that the 37th BS used the new airframe with the avionics upgrade,” said
Spinney. “Our intelligence won the ‘Outstanding Unit Intelligence Award’ so they
received a lot of great training out of the exercise. The maintenance unit also
won the ‘Outstanding Maintenance Unit’ of Red Flag as well. It’s been a big win
for us to all come together and integrate with fourth- and fifth-generation
Overall, the entire crew from Ellsworth AFB took their motto to heart during Red
Flag 17-1, and will have even more trouble being humble.
“I know what the B-1 is here to accomplish, and it makes me proud to be a part
of getting that jet in the air knowing what it’s capable of,” said
By U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum
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