Coming of age: B-1 proves itself during Operation Allied Force

  • Published
  • By Airman Hrair H. Palyan
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
"From now on, I'm going to go in before the B-1s or way the hell afterwards. After the B-1s went through, everything on the airfield was blown up, on fire and just a bloody mess."

Those eloquent words were relayed from a Canadian F-18 pilot to the B-1B mission planning cell at RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom after the B-1s struck targets in Kosovo, as remembered by Col. Gregory Payne, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, Belgium deputy national military representative for operations.

It was April 1, 1999, when five B-1 bombers from the 28th Bomb Wing took off from Ellsworth to join North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces as part of Operation Allied Force, and began striking military targets in Kosovo.

"On that Friday we were scheduled to fly a two-ship of B-1s as part of a Joint Direct Attack Munition qualification sortie," said Payne, a captain and 77th Bomb Squadron flight commander. "We were called up to the (28th BW headquarters) wing building and told that there was a request from in theater asking about the possibility of using B-1s in Kosovo. "

Two days later, the word came down that an advance team and night one crews were to leave the next day to preposition at RAF Fairford. Aircrews flew their first mission three days later.

"All of us had trained for that day for a long time," Payne said. "When the call came in, we all wanted to go."

Payne added that a week prior to the deployment, an F-117 Nighthawk went down in Kosovo, and stress was running high among the aircrews as the reality set in - things were getting serious.

"We were at the top of our game flying wise, but I was the knucklehead who was not current on my 9mm qualification, and ended up spending several hours that Sunday getting recurrent on the 9mm instead of spending time with my family," said Payne. "My daughter was four weeks old and I was mad at myself for the longest time for putting myself and my family in a situation where I had to spend a large part of that last day doing something I should have had already done."

On the first night of OAF, B-1s did two bomb runs each, one after another with about a minute between weapons release. The targets they were up against were mobile and had moved from the original coordinates that aircrews had planned on striking, which added additional stress.

Col. Gerald Goodfellow, 7th Bomb Wing vice commander, said he was flying in the second B-1 in formation, which was following Payne and the aircrew flying lead in formation. He said after releasing 32 Mk-82 bombs, he wasn't able to close the bomb bay doors, and a malfunction in the weapon system prevented further bomb releases.

"I was able to fix the malfunction, but the bomb bay doors stayed open," said Goodfellow a captain and 77th Bomb Squadron flight commander. "We continued to the second target, and we dropped 40 Mk-82s on it before a surface-to-air missile was fired at us."

The crew used Chaff, Electronic Countermeasures and maneuvering to defeat the SAM, but while maneuvering, the B-1 was forced into the engagement zone of a second SAM, which was also defeated.

Goodfellow added that upon returning to Fairford, their aircraft was struck by lightning, which blew off a portion of the horizontal stabilizer. Visibility on landing was poor, but the crew successfully put the aircraft on the ground after a mission which had lasted over 14 hours. Goodfellow was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism.

During the 16 missions Payne flew during OAF, he said B-1s were targeted by SAMs during nearly every sortie they flew. With the added stress of learning several pieces of new equipment on the B-1, including Combat track II radios, ALE-50 towed decoys and ARC-210 radios, aircrews had their hands full completing their tasks, while familiarizing themselves with the equipment essential to their safety and mission success.

"It was usually the second aircraft that was engaged, and it was a miserable feeling those first couple of weeks when you were the second B-1 in a formation," said Payne. "We had confidence in our systems and training, but I think it's safe to say we all hated it every time there was any sort of launch indication. I never slept well the night before I was going to be in the second aircraft."

Payne reflects back to the second bomb run he participated in and recalls a close call he and his fellow aircrew encountered.

"Shortly after our second bomb run, I remember the aircraft commander saying, "Is that a missile?' said Payne. "It was and it missed, but that period of time - even with countermeasures and maneuvers - seemed like it took forever while we waited to see if the missile missed. None of us had ever been shot at before."

By the end of the conflict in June 1999, B-1s from Ellsworth flew over 100 planned combat missions and dropped more than 1,260 tons of Mk-82 general purpose bombs. B-1s delivered more than 20 percent of the total ordnance, while flying less than 2 percent of the combat sorties during OAF. Once again the B-1 and team Ellsworth proved themselves invaluable to the security of our national interests.

Payne added that the biggest lesson he learned was that in a military community, Airmen have to be ready for combat every day - a lesson that applies to every Airman.

"Airmen have to have all of their affairs in order when talking about being ready for combat today," said Payne. "That extends beyond the Airman - families have to be ready to take care of things on their own when their loved one walks out the door with little to no notice."

Editor's note: Information in this story was contributed with great appreciation by: Col. Gerald Goodfellow, Col. Gregory Payne and Lt. Col. Thomas Olsen.