RAF Fairford, U.K. --
A pair of lethal, supersonic birds of prey roar past the Air Traffic Control Tower as spectators turn their attention to the two-ship performing a flyby before making their descent to the dark pavement below.
With their charcoal-gray, metallic skin and retractable wings, the B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., take turns landing and taxiing to their nest on the flightline where crews from the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron stand-ready to receive them at Royal Air Force Fairford, U.K., June 7.
Aircrew from the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and Airmen from the 28th AMXS are participating in strategic bomber missions in the European theatre including annual, joint-multinational exercises BALTOPS and Saber Strike.
“We’re here to participate in these exercises and represent Ellsworth and the B-1 community,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class John Parker, 28th AMXS assistant crew chief, “We’re playing a small role in the big picture while working with other bases and entities in a new environment.”
B-1s are the second set of bombers to arrive to RAF Fairford in support of bomber assurance and deterrence missions, tailing three B-52H Stratofortresses from Barksdale AFB, La.
Carrying the largest payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the U.S. Air Force inventory, the multi-mission B-1 can rapidly deliver massive quantities of precision and non-precision munitions against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any time.
Weapons crews from the 28th AMXS play a crucial role ensuring their bombers remain capable of this capability.
“As part of the load crew, our job is to safely and effectively load and unload munitions onto the aircraft,” said Tech. Sgt. Bobby McMillian, 28th AMXS expediter. “We make sure that the launchers that this weapon system is able to carry are functioning properly so that there aren’t any issues when they’re in the air. This ensures that our flight crews are able to participate and get the training and real-life experiences that they need.”
Crew chiefs work right next to the weapons team, receiving jets and preparing them for their next sortie.
“Day-to-day, we take care of the Air Force’s fleet,” Parker said. “I’m just an assistant crew chief on one jet, but that one jet is a part of a bigger picture that assures our allies and deters our enemies.”
Maintainers like Parker work around the clock to complete the mission no matter the conditions.
“There is a lot of preventative maintenance and hard work,” he said. “Through any weather, 24/7, we have people working on [B-1s] to keep them ready.”
The 2017 iteration of BALTOPS and Saber Strike provide unique opportunities for personnel from several nations to engage in realistic training to build experience, teamwork, and strengthen interoperability.
“What our Airmen do every day has a national and global impact,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Jared Tomlin, 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron director of operations. “The 28th AMXS Airmen help us make sure we stay on time and are able to get airborne to accomplish our mission. If they weren’t here, we wouldn’t be flying. They make the mission possible.”
For the roughly 800 Air Force Global Strike Airmen deployed to RAF Fairford, the combined training opportunities give them a chance to prepare for real-world contingencies.
“I’m pretty excited,” Parker said. “It’s just getting started, but we have a lot to do right now and I’m looking forward to gaining from the experience and representing Ellsworth.”