Allied Force B-1Bs

Five B-1Bs from the 28th BW at Ellsworth arrived at RAF Fairford on April 1st 1999 in support of Operation Allied Force. They were 85-0073, 85-0075, 85-0083 and 85-0091 from the 77th Bomb Squadron, and 86-0102 from the 37th BS. The 77th BS aircraft were all Block D conversions. Before the B-1Bs could be deployed a “block cycle” software update was required, so that the bomber’s defensive avionics system could accurately identify and counter enemy radars (presumably the IS91 “Straight Flush” and RSN-125 “Low Blow” air defence radars which were being used by the Serbian air defence forces). This was done in less than 100 hours with the assistance of the 53rd Wing at Eglin AFB.
Two aircraft launched before midnight local time on April 1st to attack the Novi Sud petroleum production facility at Pancevo, northeast of Belgrade. The weapon used was the Mk82 500lb iron bomb; these could be delivered accurately on target, despite the poor weather in the region, thanks to the GPS receivers in the Block D Lancers. The aircraft used the ALE-50 Towed Decoy System during the first (and presumably subsequent) missions, which was said “to be very effective at countering SAMs”. In fact the ALE-50s performed as advertised, being engaged and destoyed by Serbian SA-6s, allowing the B-1Bs to complete their mission.
On the first night of operations, Captain (later Major) Gerald Goodfellow, an instructor WSO assigned to the 77th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, was involved in an incident which for which he was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism. During the first attack run, Goodfellow released thirty-two Mk82 bombs, but he was then unable to close the bomb bay doors and a malfunction in the weapon system prevented further bomb releases.
Although Goodfellow was able to fix the malfunction, the bomb bay doors remained open. The aircraft commander decided to continue to the second target, and dropped forty Mk82s on it, before a SAM was fired at the aircraft. The crew used chaff, ECM and maneuvering to defeat it. During the maneuveres to avoid the SAM, the aircraft was forced into the engagement zone of a second SAM, which was also defeated.
The aggressive maneuvering, and the increased drag caused by the open bomb bay doors, caused the B-1B to use more fuel than expected, requiring a rendezvous with a tanker. While returning to Fairford the aircraft was struck by lightning, which blew off a portion of the horizontal stabiliser. Visibility on landing was poor, but the crew successfully put the aircraft on the ground after a mission which had lasted over 14 hours.
B-1B 84-0074 arrived at Fairford on April 8th. It replaced 85-0075, which returned to Ellsworth for periodic maintenance on April 11th. Similarly 86-0097 arrived on April 24th, and 85-0073 returned to Ellsworth on April 26th.
B-1B 86-0129 of the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth arrived at Fairford on May 15th 1999. 86-0102, which had been at Fairford since April 1st, returned to Ellsworth on May 18th.
85-0075 returned to Fairford on May 27th 1999. It replaced 85-0083, which returned to Ellsworth for maintenance on the 29th. On June 3rd 1999 86-0104 from the 77th BS arrived at Fairford. It replaced 85-0074 which departed on June 6th.
Up to June 7th the B-1s at Fairford had dropped more than 1100 tonnes of ordnance (approx 5000 Mk 82 bombs) on targets in Serbia. 81 strike missions had been flown, of which 74 released weapons. All strike missions had taken off on time.
As a result of all that ordnance the following were either seriously damaged or destroyed:
12 SAMs launchers
8 ammunition storage buildings
7+ helicopters
6 runways
3 artillery batteries
3 barracks
4 POL storage facilities
4 MiG-21 aircraft
3+ Galeb aircraft
2 aircraft staging areas
1 tank company
1 command and control staging area
1 communications relay station
1 vehicle convoy
1 troop staging area
On June 7th 1999 86-0097 took off on a combat mission from Fairford, but its undercarriage failed to retract properly. The crew was forced to dump their bombs into area D112N in the Bristol Channel, and then orbit for nearly an hour to burn off fuel before returning to land at Fairford.
Following the end of Operation Allied Force on June 20th 1999, all the B-1s at Fairford (85-0075, 85-0091, 86-0097, 86-0104 and 86-0129) returned to Ellsworth on June 24th. Final combat sorties were:
85-0073 : n/k
85-0074 : 18 missions (also 3 Galeb symbols)
85-0075 : 8 missions
85-0083 : 19 missions (16 dropped bombs; also 4 MiG-21 and 7 helo symbols)
85-0091 : 25 missions (23 dropped bombs)
86-0097 : 8 missions
86-0104 : 1 mission
The B-1B created an unparalleled record in Kosovo that may be unsurpassed in history, in which it completed 99 of 100 combat missions and took off on time 100% of the time. The seven B-1Bs involved dropped 20 percent of the bombs (1100 tonnes+) during that conflict.