7/30/2004 - BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORY (AFPN) -- The sound is
instantly recognizable as the walls of the tents start fluttering.
Airmen slowly awaken to hear a light rumbling in their eardrums.
Five seconds later they begin to think their tent is sitting on the
tarmac of Cape Canaveral during a space shuttle launch.
It takes a lot more than just the 120,000 pounds of thrust to lift
the B-1 Lancer off the ground so it can deliver bombs on target.
A typical B-1 mission begins with the crew of four: two pilots and
two weapons systems officers. They begin their shift after 12 hours
of mandatory crew rest before mission show time. The crew's show
time, which may be at any hour of the day, is based on mission
"Hopefully after some good sleep, the chow hall is open for a meal
before we take the crew bus to the operations building," said Lt.
Col. Dave Garrett, assistant director of operations for the 37th
Expeditionary Bomb Squadron at this deployed location.
In the operations building the aircrew visits the life-support
section and checks out equipment for the mission: helmets, radios,
handguns, survival vests and ejection-seat harnesses.
"One of the important things is to check your survival radio," said
Colonel Garrett. Each radio is assigned to a specific crewmember and
includes a built-in Global Positioning System.
"With GPS, if you end up ejecting from the aircraft, satellites and
rescue aircraft can identify who you are and where you are without
even talking to you," he said.
After the trip to life support, the crew receives its mission
briefing. The briefing begins with the chaplain saying a few
inspirational words and a prayer.
"I generally either tell a story or read a scripture passage which
relates to God's protection, help or battle against evildoers; the
purpose of this is primarily to encourage and give confidence in
God's protection and guidance on the mission," said Chaplain (Capt.)
Joseph Watson, from the 40th Air Expeditionary Group. "I always
close with a prayer asking for safety and success on the mission."
"After the prayer, the crewmembers are given weather and intelligence
briefings. The intelligence briefer gives the aircrew information
about what is happening on the ground, who they are supporting that
day, and any potential threats they may face," said Colonel Garrett.
"They also brief our survival and recovery plan should we end up on
the ground in a survival situation," he said.
Mission details include air refueling, communication and equipment
procedures for entering the area of responsibility, and finally,
very specific rules on when the B-1 crew can drop weapons on
"Typically, we are carrying up to 24 2,000-pound GPS-aided Joint
Direct Attack Munition weapons in close-air support of the Army,
Marine Corps or special forces," said Colonel Garrett.
After the briefing, the crew heads to the step-desk were an aviation
resource manager reviews their flight currencies and any last-minute
changes. Finally, the aircrew puts on flight gear and proceeds to
their assigned aircraft. They have about 90 minutes before takeoff.
At the aircraft they are met by the aircraft's crew chief who gives
them a sharp salute and a quick briefing on the status of their
aircraft. Maintenance crews normally spend five or more hours
preparing the aircraft before the aircrew's arrival.
The inspections, maintenance, and of course paperwork, require a
coordinated effort by everyone on the flightline to get a jet ready
to fly,” said Staff Sgt. Craig Kossow, a crew chief for the 40th
Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron.
Once airborne, the aircrew will fly five hours before arriving over
the area of responsibility.
"During this time we'll check aircraft systems and the status of our
weapons," Colonel Garrett said. "As we enter our operating area
we'll communicate with numerous agencies, some of which are hundreds
of miles away. Most importantly, we'll configure our aircraft to
release weapons, including chaff and flares for self-defense."
"In the operating area we spend three to five hours on-call," he
said. “During the on-call period the crew establishes radio contact
with a tactical air controller."
"His job is to call in and control aircraft that can drop bombs on
"These guys are very impressive. When they call, they are typically
in a direct firefight with the enemy, most of the time on foot, in
mountainous terrain ranging from 5,000 and 10,000 feet (altitude)"
said the colonel.
"While in radio contact you hear machine-gun fire, guys yelling
and breathing hard as they chase the enemy it's amazing what they
do," he said. "Our job is to be immediately available for him and if
called, drop bombs on the enemy who often times are in very close
proximity to the friendly forces."
"The B-1 crew may also provide armed reconnaissance while shadowing a
friendly convoy as they travel through a suspected hostile area."
"Sometimes if the special forces on the ground do not actually need
bombs dropped, they may request a low-altitude high-speed pass."
"The low-altitude pass lets the enemy know we are directly overhead,
and is usually a morale boost for the troops on the ground," said
After the on-call period the crew leaves the area of responsibility
and begins the journey home.
Later, after the pilot parks the aircraft, the aircrew is met by the
crew chief and a team of about 10 maintenance specialists. The
aircrew briefs the crew chief and specialists on the performance of
the aircraft and any problems they may have encountered.
The aircrew finally heads back to the operations building and
completes a 60-minute debriefing with the intelligence officer.
Upon returning from a combat sortie, the B-1 crew immediately meets
with us to discuss, step-by-step, what occurred during their
assigned mission, from the time the jet left the tarmac to the
moment the wheels are down again, said Senior Airman Michelle
Utrecht, an intelligence journeyman for the 40th Expeditionary
Operations Support Squadron.Specifically, the aircrew informs us
about the tactical events that made up their flight, which includes
surface-to-air fires and bomb-dropping (specifications).
"By the time we get back to our rooms it will have been 24 hours or
more since we got up, and we do this about every four days," said
Colonel Garrett. "In between fly days we plan missions, preflight
aircraft and maintain flying operations."
It is all part of the job for the B-1 crews supporting the war on