A mothballed Boeing B-1B Lancer supersonic bomber is being refurbished for a return to active service with the US Air Force (USAF).

The four-engined heavy bomber had been among more than a dozen B-1Bs retired to the USAF’s “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan AFB in the Arizona desert in 2021.

However, the loss of multiple Lancers in non-combat mishaps in recent years prompted air force officials to begin “regenerating” the decommissioned aircraft.

“The fact that our air force can call up an aircraft that has sat dormant for several years and prepare it to support our long-range strike mission, all within a year, is incredible,” Colonel Seth Spanier, commander of the 7th Bomb Wing, said on 18 March.

Spanier’s Texas-based wing lost a B-1B in April 2022, the result of a “catastrophic engine failure” that occurred during a ground test. The subsequent fire damaged one of the Lancer’s engines, the left wing and multiple fuel lines, according to the air force.

B-1 regeneration from Boneyard c USAF

Source: US Air Force

The B-1B that sustained catastrophic damage from an engine fire at Dyess AFB was packaged for salvage and transport in January 2024

Technicians were able to salvage 49 parts from the damaged B-1B, which were valued at $2.7 million. The left wing and left nacelle were transported to a USAF crash lab to support aircraft mishap investigation training.

Dyess AFB, home of the 7th Bomb Wing, says a previously retired B-1B recently left the Davis-Monthan boneyard and landed at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma for “heavy restoration and maintenance”.

“After numerous inspections and upgrades, the aircraft will join the Dyess fleet later this year,” the 7th Bomb Wing says.

More B-1Bs may soon follow. The USAF’s other Lancer operator – the 28th Bomb Wing at South Dakota’s Ellsworth AFB – also lost an aircraft in January, when the bomber crashed during a night landing in bad weather. All four crew safely ejected in that incident.

Davis Monthan AFB Boneyard c USAF

Source: US Air Force

The US Air Force’s sprawling boneyard near Tuscon, Arizona is the largest aircraft storage and preservation facility in the world, home to some 4,400 out-of-service aircraft from all branches of the US military

According to Davis-Monthan AFB, there are more than 4,400 aircraft, 5,900 engines and 340,000 pieces of aircraft production tooling stored at the Davis-Monthan boneyard, including types operated by all US military services. Many of the aircraft have been cannibalised for parts.

However, a smaller percentage of the fighters, transports, bombers and helicopters kept at the boneyard are maintained in what is called Type 1000 condition – meaning they can be recalled to operational service.

In 2021, the USAF retired 17 ageing B-1Bs in preparation for receiving the next-generation Northrop Grumman B-21 stealth bomber. That flying-wing type is currently undergoing flight testing.

At the time of the B-1B retirements, the USAF said four of the 17 examples would be stored in “recallable” Type 2000 condition, a state similar to Type 1000.

Originally 100 of the variable-geometry, blended-wing Lancer bombers were built by Rockwell Aerospace. Of those, 33 were retired by the USAF in 2001 to pay for modernisation efforts at the time. Cirium data from the beginning of 2024 indicates the service currently operates 45 B-1Bs.