Flying The B-1B Flight Simulator

By Clyde Durham, Proud Former Member
of The 28th Bomb Squadron

I was a combat gunner on B-29s during the Korean War. Flew 26 combat missions over Korea as part of a crew assigned to the 28th Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group stationed at Kadena AFB, Okinawa. Our combat tour was from June, 1952 until December, 1952.

Forty-four years later I was attending the Commemorative Air Force AIRSHO held at Midland, Texas International Air Park. Several years prior I had joined the CAF's B-29/B-24 Squadron and had the privilege of making several flights on FIFI, the only B-29 Superfortress in the world still air worthy today.

A B-1B Lancer flies a test mission over southern California. The B-1B is a long-range strategic bomber, capable of flying intercontinental missions without refueling, then penentrating present and future sophisticated enemy defenses.
At the 1996 AIRSHO, I saw a group of enlisted Air Force men walking by wearing 28th Bomb Squadron caps. I stopped them and told them I was a former 28th member and explained briefly the circumstances of my tour of duty with the squadron. When I inquired about the squadron at that time, they told me they were part of the ground crew of two B-1Bs that would soon be arriving at the airport to participate in the AIRSHO. The crew chief, a Staff Sergeant, asked if I would like to walk to the ramp with them to welcome the aircraft when they arrived. What an invitation. Of course, I accepted.

Shortly after our arrival at the ramp the first B-1B approached. After a fly-by, it landed and taxied to the ramp where we were waiting. I asked the crew chief if it was okay to take photos and he replied in the affirmative. He also supplied me with a set of hearing protectors since the sounds of the huge jet engines was unbelievably loud.

The crew chief allowed me to take some photos and walk around the aircraft and assigned a member of his crew to take me inside the aircraft. This was my first experience at seeing a B-1B up close. To get to go into the cockpit was a great thrill. The thing most amazing to me was how incredibly large the aircraft was and how unbelievably cramped the cockpit area was for the four flight crew members.

I could not help but compare it with the B-29 of over four decades in the past. The Superfortress was designed for a maximum gross take off weight of 120,000 lbs. It was powered by four Wright-Cyclone engines putting out 2200 HP each. Although in combat we never took off at less than 140,000 lbs. Even in 1952 the B-29 was still considered a huge aircraft.

In contrast, the B-1B is powered by four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofans each rated at 14,600 lb static thrust dry and a whopping 30,780 lb static thrust with afterburning. Empty, the B-1B weighs 192,000 lb and has a maximum take-off weight of 477,000 lb. The B-1B's three internal weapons bays can accommodate up to 84 Mk-82 general purpose bombs or Mk-62 naval mines, 30 CBU-87/89 cluster munitions or CBU-97 Sensor Fused Weapons.

Over the next few days I spent several hours with the flight crew and got to be good friends with the Offensive Armaments Officer, Captain Mike Rodriguez. He told me a lot about the aircraft and before they departed a few days later we exchanged addresses and promised to keep in touch. Mike also put me in contact with the squadron historian, Captain Bob Damien. Mike and Bob both invited me to come visit the squadron for a few days and they would show me around.

A B-1B Lancer soars over mountains. The B-1B uses radar and inertial navigation equipment enabling crews to globally navigate, update mission profiles and target coordinates in-flight, and precision bomb without the need for ground-based navigation aids.

About a year after first meeting them at Midland, I took them up on their offer. When I arrived, Mike took me to squadron headquarters and introduced me to the current squadron commander, Lt. Colonel Jack Jones. I gave him a photo color copy of our patch from the 1952 era and he in turn took a current patch off his flight uniform and presented it to me. Had a good visit with the Commander and Mike but later came the bombshell.

Mike took me to meet his close friend, Major Tim Edwards, the chief Instructor Pilot for the squadron. The 28th was the FTU (Flying Training Unit) of the Air Force for B-1Bs.

Tim asked me if I had ever flown as a pilot and I explained that my piloting experience was limited to about 20 minutes at the controls of a B-29 fully loaded with 20,000 lbs. of bombs and a full load of fuel. We were headed to Korea on a combat mission and our Aircraft Commander wanted everyone in the crew to feel what it was like to fly the Superfortress as straight and level as possible. This, of course, was in the event the Commander and the pilot were both killed or unable to fly and someone from the rest of the crew could hopefully keep us from crashing or having to bail out over enemy territory. That was the extent of my "pilot training".

Tim said, "Well, we're gonna give you that chance now. Mike and I have scheduled the B-1B Flight Simulator for an hour and you and the Mike's wife's obstetrician (she was expecting their second child) are going to get a chance to fly the Bone."

We went to the building housing the Flight Simulator where we found the doctor waiting.

Tim and Mike were both in the sim with us. Tim directed the doctor to the right seat and put me in the left seat. He said he would handle the throttles and all we would have to do was fly. He asked who wanted to fly first and I deferred to the doctor. He was your typical self-assured medical professional. Tim sat on a jump seat in the middle and just behind us in the cockpit which was identical in every aspect to the real aircraft. Mike sat a little further back and was controlling the programs available. They said there were a total of almost 30 different scenarios available. Mike punched in one and we began on the ramp with all engines started and ready to taxi.

Tim directed the doctor which way to go to reach the active runway and everything was so real I could hardly believe it. The nose gear steering made things relatively easy to maneuver the huge plane and we were soon lined up on the end of the 12,000 foot runway. One thing that had really surprised me when I first saw the interior of the cockpit a year prior was the control stick. Not a wheel like in the B-29 but a stick as in a fighter aircraft. I soon found out the huge B-1B thought of itself as a fighter and wanted you to think that way also.

Tim hurriedly went thru the checklist and then applied full take off power. What a kick in the backside. Seems like we had ignited a huge rocket and it was hell-bent for outer space. Tim was directing the doctor in holding a straight line down the runway. The Doc had a tendency to let the plane drift to the right. Tim told him when to haul back on the stick and climb out. The gear came up with the usual loud thump and we were screaming upward.
We did a few more maneuvers and then it was time for the doctor to land and let me do the flying for awhile. He was having a little difficulty in maintaining a steady descent and in lining up with the runway but he finally got it close. As we were about 500 yards from the end of the runway Tim was telling the doctor to, "correct left. You're too close to the right edge of the runway. Left, left, left, LEFT!"

By then the doctor set it down hard and we immediately went into a ground loop as the right main gear dug into the soil off the runway. We bounced like crazy for a few seconds and then everything went black and quiet. Finally Tim said in a low, calm voice, "Congratulations, doctor, you have just cost the US Air Force a gazillion dollars and killed four of us to boot."

A B-1B Lancer drops cluster munitions


I'm sure the doctor was not used to comments like that and he was a little crestfallen. Everyone sat there looking at the doctor then Mike said, "Sit tight for about 30 seconds and I'll have us up and running again. That's the redeeming grace about these flightsims. If you screw up it just takes a little time and you're good as new."

When the new program came up we were sitting on the end of the runway, engines running and ready for take off. Tim hit the throttles and I had the stick. Feet on the rudder pedals making minor adjustments to keep us reasonably straight on the runway and the aircraft literally flew itself off the ground and started climbing. Tim kept the throttles at almost full power and said to me, "Pull back the stick until we are virtually climbing straight up and let's see how fast this baby will climb." He instructed me to pull the wings back to the swept position and it felt like we were in a rocket heading almost straight up. Nothing but clouds as we looked thru the windscreen. I glanced at the altimeter and it was moving at a rapid pace, almost like a TV tape in fast forward. Tim said for me to level off at about 25,000 and we'd try some maneuvers. I started trying to level off when we passed 22,000 but we were at something over 27,000 before I could level it out. This thing was like a rocket. I can only imagine what some of today's fighters must be like.

I wanted to try some rolls and he reminded me to keep the nose up a few degrees to prevent it falling off and going into a spin. I went thru several rolls to the right, then several rolls to the left and felt absolutely thrilled. No dizziness, nausea or uncomfortable feeling at all. It was the most incredible experience I have ever encountered.

A B-1B Lancer soars over Wyoming. It can perform a variety of missions, including that of a conventional weapons carrier for theater operations.

The only comparison was the night we almost got blown out of the sky over North Korea. We were locked in searchlights. Anti aircraft fire was hitting us and for some reason our bombs would not release. I just knew I was going to die any second. And each second seemed as though it was an hour long. We did manage to salvo our bombs and the instant release of 20,000 pounds caused us to jump almost 1500 feet up and took us out of the searchlights. We managed to make it back to an emergency base in Japan. That was really scary. Not at all like my experience in the Bone. The B-1B flight simulator was unbelievably fun.

I asked Tim if we could utilize the terrain-following equipment aboard and do some low-level flying. He said that unfortunately the terrain-following gear was controlled from the other flightsim capsule where the Offensive and Defensive Officers would normally be. But he said, "Let's take it down on the deck and you can fly it manually through some mountain passes and then I've got a treat for you."

lf it was any better than what I had already experienced, I didn't know how I could stand it. Tim asked Mike to kill the program we were currently in and punch in the Hill AFB, Utah, program. After a few seconds we were flying in some mountains, many with snow on them. We were slightly above the peaks but Tim directed me down thru some mountain passes at about 650 knots. He knew this country by heart. He had me fly about 100 feet above the terrain. He pointed to the windscreen and said, "See that mountain ridge about five miles ahead? You'll have to climb up a few hundred feet to clear that and when you top it I want you to drop down just above the big lake on the other side."

I looked at the air speed indicator and we were doing almost 700 knots. Things passed by pretty quickly at that speed when you're only a few hundred feet above the terrain.

We were on the ridge very quickly and I pulled up to clear it and then dropped down over this beautiful high mountain lake. "Ease it on down to about 50 feet above the surface," Tim instructed. I did so and asked him if we were kicking up rooster tails of water.

Tim said, "We're kicking up even more than that. Now take it down a little lower and do it fast before we run into the mountains on the other side of the lake."

I complained that if I went any lower, we'd crash. "Trust me," he said.

I obeyed and soon solid blue was beginning to rise up from the bottom of the windscreen and quickly covered the entire windscreen. We were still flying but underwater. I looked at the air speed indicator and we were indicating almost 700 knots under the surface of the water. I looked back at Tim and he had a huge grin from ear to ear. In a quiet, matter-of-fact voice he commented, "A slight glitch in this particular computer program. Pull it up and see what happens."

I eased back on the stick and soon the solid blue on the windscreen began sliding back down. I lifted up to 100 feet and then realized we were rapidly approaching a rather tall mountain on the other side of the lake. Needing no instructions from Tim, I pulled back hard on the stick and we cleared the mountain and screamed for the sky again. Tim still had full power applied. I leveled off at about 15,000 feet and asked if the same thing happened over the ground. "Nope," he said, "it would be just like when the doctor crashed at the edge of the runway. We'd all be dead."

Tim had Mike punch in another program and suddenly we were in a beautiful night sky. He asked if I wanted to try a night landing. By this time I was so pumped up I would have tried anything. I had no idea where the runway at Hill was in relation to our present position but he directed me to the proper heading and I began my descent.

The B-1B has a very unusual landing indicator. Inside the windshield but forward of the instrument panel is a steep slope on down to the pointed end of the nose. Still inside the windscreen is some sort of tube that is illuminated with a green light. Down at the end of this tube, which is about 2.5 ft long, is a red ball of light. To maintain the proper attitude for landing the pilot lines up the green tube to where the red ball appears to be on the end of the tube. If the red ball is above the green tube your aircraft is below the glide path.

Filling a room the size of a large aircraft hangar, the immense multi-million dollar B-1B simulator can create any conceivable flight situation with stunning realism. The massive gimble and lift system underneath accurately duplicates the movements of the aircraft. This simulator has it all.

The cockpit is classified and the Air Force does not show photos.

If the ball is below the green tube you are in a too-shallow descent. At least I think that is how it works. The ideal glide path is to have the red ball at the end of the green tube.

I managed to do that pretty well and with Tim handling the throttles and the wings extended to full out for maximum lift I was approaching the runway pretty much like I should be. I couldn't believe how smooth the touchdown was as the nose gear connected with the tarmac. The runway lights were whizzing by pretty fast and I asked if I should hit the brakes. "Yes", Tim said. "Hard?" I asked. "YES!", he replied instantly. I stood on them and after what seemed like a long time we were rolling slowly and I turned off at the next taxiway as he instructed.

Our flight time was about to run out so Tim had Mike punch in our home base program. In a few seconds, it was daylight and we were only a few miles out of home. I went thru another landing just minutes after the previous one and the Good Lord graced me with another smooth, uneventful touchdown and roll out.

Thus ended one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. It seemed to have lasted only seconds. I was very reluctant to leave that seat in the cockpit but knew I must. Tim and Mike both complimented me profusely and I guess the doctor must have felt a little left out. After the instructors finished praising my flying, the doctor said, "Well he has had experience flying and my only experience was as a passenger." Tim said, "No, sir, you are wrong there. Mr. Durham was a B-29 gunner and later a boom operator on KC-97s. He has never flown as a pilot before."

The doctor looked rather chastised but still said, "Well, he's older than I am. Maybe that explains it."

His ego had been bruised and, like most doctors, he was not used to that. I had a huge grin on my face for days afterwards. To this day, I can still recall that B-1B flight like it happened yesterday. But there was still a little more frosting for the cake. With both Tim and Mike being instructors they have to fill out an evaluation sheet on the students they take in the flight sim. They filled out one on me and both signed it.

They graded me a 4.0 Perfect on two landings and a 4.0 Perfect on one night landing and one day landing. I have the certificate framed and proudly displayed.

Clyde Durham