B-1B ‘Lancelot’ Is Being Resurrected For Active Service

After being flown out of long-term storage at the boneyard, the bomber is now being regenerated and upgraded to replace a B-1 lost to fire.

byThomas Newdick|
B-1B Lancer aircraft nicknamed “Lancelot,” touches down at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, Feb. 8, 2024. “Lancelot” is being regenerated to the active bomber fleet after previously being retired to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Photo was redacted for security purposes.
U.S. Air Force photo by Clayton Cummins


The B-1B Lancer's U.S. Air Force career may be heading toward its conclusion, but the service is in the process of returning to service one of the aircraft it previously decommissioned. The swing-wing jet, nicknamed Lancelot, will replace another aircraft that was written off after a catastrophic engine fire during routine maintenance at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, in 2022, an incident you can read all about here.

The Air Force recently confirmed that B-1B Lancelot, which has the serial number 85-0081, has arrived at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, where it will undergo the regeneration process before rejoining the Air Force fleet.

B-1B Lancer 85-0081 pictured while serving with the 184th Bomb Wing, Kansas Air National Guard, in around 2000. U.S. Air Force

Originally built as the 41st production Lancer, part of the Lot 4 production batch, 85-0081 was previously nicknamed Equalizer and Aftershock, and was involved in a nose gear collapse at Diego Garcia in December 2004. This caused the B-1 fleet to be grounded pending inspection of the nose landing gear.

After returning to service and spending years flying around the globe, the aircraft was delivered to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, for long-term storage in March 2021. Lancelot had been decommissioned as part of the divestiture of 17 B-1s, in line with a February 2020 Air Force decision to cut down the then 62-strong Lancer fleet. Congressional approval for that move then came under the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021.

B-1B serial number 85-0074 ahead of its final flight from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona on September 23, 2021. This was the last of the 17 Lancers to be divested. U.S. Air Force

Of the 17 retired aircraft, 13 went to AMARG, of which four — including 85-0081 — were retained in Type 2000 (reclaimable) storage. 

As we have explained in the past, Type 2000 involves the aircraft being maintained in a way that makes it easier to return them to service should that be necessary, especially due to any potential future combat losses or accidents. 

B-1B Lancelot touches down at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, February 8, 2024. U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk

The other nine B-1s at AMARG were permanently retired in Type 4000 storage. The other four were assigned for ground training/testing or for preservation in museums.

The decision to remove Lancelot from AMARG was made by the Air Force’s Strategic Plans and Programs office, as a replacement for the B-1 that caught fire at Dyess in the flight-line incident on April 20, 2022, when it was aircraft receiving routine engine maintenance.

Consideration had been given to repairing the fire-damaged aircraft but ultimately it was deemed cheaper to return Lancelot to service, to ensure the B-1 fleet meets its congressionally mandated size and maintains its operational readiness. When the incident occurred at Dyess, the B-1 fleet numbered 45 aircraft, but since then another example has been written off. This was the aircraft that crashed at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, on January 4 this year, as we reported on at the time.

It is not clear if there are plans for another B-1 to be taken out of storage to make up that loss.

The remains of the B-1B after the aircraft came to rest adjacent to the runway at Ellsworth, in satellite imagery dated January 6, 2024. PHOTO © 2024 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

“The team from the B-1 System Program Office (SPO) worked with their engineers and logistics colleagues to build a statement of work that provided the requirements to prepare the aircraft which spent two years and eleven months at the 309th AMARG,” the Air Force explained in a statement. “This ensured that the program office provided the right requirements to ensure a safe and reliable flight.”

The aircraft was restored to flying condition by a team comprised of members from the 309th AMARG; Dyess’ 7th Bomb Wing; Tinker’s 76th Expeditionary Depot Maintenance Flight and 569th Egress Flight; along with the SPO.

Lancelot was then flown from AMARG to Tinker on February 8, by a crew from the 10th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS). At Tinker, it will be the job of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex to complete programmed depot maintenance on the aircraft. This will include the various upgrades that have been applied to active members of the B-1 fleet since Lancelot was sent to the boneyard. Chiefly, these enhancements have focused on avionics upgrades, giving the crew a partial glass cockpit, better connectivity, and a host of other improvements.

Members of the 10th Flight Test Squadron and the B-1 System Program Office pose in front of B-1B Lancelot, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, February 8, 2024. Members of the 10th FLTS flew “Lancelot” to Tinker from Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, where the aircraft had previously been retired at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group for almost three years. U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk

Once that work is complete, the 10th FLTS will conduct a functional check flight and Lancelot will be delivered back to Dyess. We have reached out to the Air Force to see when that might happen. Clearly, the requirement to upgrade the bomber before it re-enters service will involve extensive work and considerable cost; it is not insignificant that the 17 aircraft removed from service were selected as they were deemed to be in an inferior condition than the remaining aircraft.

However, removing a bomber from the boneyard and regenerating it for continued operational service is not unheard of.

The Air Force’s veteran B-52H Stratofortress fleet has been bolstered in recent years by two aircraft pulled from AMARG. 

The second such B-52, Wise Guy, serial number 60-0034, touched down at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana in May 2019, bringing the Stratofortress fleet back up to 76 aircraft, after another one of the bombers crashed and burned at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam almost three years previously.

Before that, another B-52, Ghost Rider, serial 61-0007, returned to service at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, in February 2015. It was regenerated in the remarkably quick time of 70 days, replacing another B-52 that was written off after an electrical fire broke out during routine maintenance the year before.

B-52H Ghost Rider gets much-needed TLC in the depot at Tinker Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force

While the B-1 force has been downsized from 62 to 45 airframes in recent years, helping to distribute funds to other priorities and use retired B-1s as parts bins, the Air Force still prizes the Lancer, especially for its load-carrying capabilities, including the potential carriage of larger weapons, possibly including hypersonic cruise missiles.

As the B-1 inches toward retirement in favor of the new B-21 Raider stealth bomber, other efforts are being made to ensure the remaining jets are in the best possible flying order. Notably, this has included flight envelope restrictions being placed on the fleet, to extend the lives of the aircraft for the rest of their Air Force tenure.

A B-1B during a Bomber Task Force mission over the Pacific Ocean, June 25, 2022. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Nicholas Priest U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Nicholas Priest

Nevertheless, the B-1 fleet has seen its fair share of incidents and accidents over recent years. As well as the two aforementioned mishaps, both resulting in airframes being written off, there have been other examples of engine fires, in particular.

Other problems faced by the Lancer fleet in recent years include an issue with the augmenter fuel pump filter housing that led to a fleet-wide grounding in 2021. Another significant grounding came about as the result of a failed ejection and subsequent emergency landing in Midland, Texas, in 2018, which we wrote about here and here

B-1Bs rest in pieces at the AMARG boneyard in Tucson, Arizona. The fleet already went through one major reduction in the early 2000s, being reduced from 93 to 60 airframes. The aircraft pulled from service worked as parts donors for the remaining aircraft. Google Earth

With 12 relatively recently retired still B-1s at AMARG, three of which are maintained in Type 2000 storage, it’s possible that one or more additional aircraft could be returned to operational status should the need arise.

Meanwhile, the latest developments at Tinker attest to the fact that the Air Force wants to get the most it can out of its Lancers — both in terms of capabilities and operational availability — until the last examples are retired for good, which is slated to happen by 2037.

Contact the author: thomas@thewarzone.com