Saturday, April 5, 2008

Let's talk about the B-1B (the second 'B' stands for 'Boondoggle')

B-1B, taking off at dawn, afterburners glowing

One sunny afternoon in, I believe it was 1991 - anyway, it was a few months after we returned to the Air Capitol - a co-worker and I were walking toward the east entrance of St. Francis to clock in and start our shift and out of nowhere, a B1-B came tearing out of the north - low, loud and fast. Baffles wide open. The kind of hot-dogging over a hospital that certainly resulted in a Letter of Reprimand in his records if he was in the Air Force; the 384th never had much of a reputation for brooking foolishness.*

My co-worker threw his hands over his ears and said "Damn, dude!" then looked at me, the plane now a speck and the sound receding, and said "What the hell did he go and do that for?"

I looked back at him and said "Wouldn't you if you had one?"


I've always had a soft spot in my heart for variable-sweep wing airplanes. I know. I was a weird little girl and some things never change. Until I was ten, I heard "great planes" and my first thought was of F-14's, irritating all hell out of the teacher during Geography lessons.

At this point the news that there has been an incident with a B-1B always breaks my heart, but it doesn't surprise me. I'm a practical person. Part of the fleet is over twenty years old, and the part that isn't is damned close to it. The first incident happened in 1984 and the test pilot died. In the first four years of the mission, there were five significant incidents, two involving catastrophic engine failures. Those failures resulted in the entire fleet being grounded some time around the end of 1990, and modifications were made to the engines. As I said, I'm never surprised, but I'm always grateful when the crew walks away, like the one today. Seventeen people haven't, and it ain't always been pilot error.

Furor filled the air back then - there were a lot of watchdog-types that were pissed - 283 million bucks apiece, and the engines fall off? People in Wichita were especially pissed, Boeing being located there and all. But Cheney was the Secretary of Defense, and Poppy was marveling at scanners, and it seemed to me at the time that it just sorta played out, and pretty soon we didn't hear any more about it, until one of them crashed a couple of years later. But then several years elapsed before the next incident and the controversy died down. (It was a controversy, right? You didn't have to be in the Air Force to give a shit about this. Did you?)

Todays incident got me to thinking. There are more than 28.3 billion 1980's lessons to be learned from the B-1 Boondoggle. Maybe it's time to revisit some recent procurement history, what with Boeing being all snippy over losing the recent tanker contract and threatening to sue and all. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for keeping jobs at home, especially when that is a literal proposition, since a few thousand of 'em would be in a state that I can take a brisk walk and be standing in within ten minutes. But I also don't like to watch my government piss away billions of dollars on airplanes that drop engines in mid flight.

*Earlier in the post, I said "if" the pilot screaming over Wichita that day way back when was in the Air Force, because Boeing is in Wichita, too, and it's possible that the pilot was not a member of the 384th, but was instead a Boeing employee. Especially if it was mid-1991.

*Life is a blur tonight. I had another set of bilateral knee injections Friday afternoon and once the local wore off, I started taking my pain meds. I'm too "meh" to look this stuff up, and besides that I reserve the right to not recall the exact date of trivial events that occurred closer to two decades ago than one. In anecdote, it doesn't really matter all that much.

*I'll also take the opportunity to apologize for the missing newswrap. And cats. I'm really sorry - I apologize profusely - I will make it up to you tomorrow, I promise. Just don't bitch at me tonight. It's a narcotics thing.

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