You think fighter pilots have long days? Well, think again. Air Force B-1 crews and maintainers are the ultimate midnight-oil burners.

In April of 2020, a B-1B “Lancer” bomber from Ellsworth Air Force Base, SD, flew a 30-hour, round-trip mission to Japan and back. In the first days of Enduring Freedom, B-2 “Spirit” bomber crews flew missions over 30 hours long, with one of the first lasting more than 44 hours. And this doesn’t include mission planning, pre-brief, maintenance debriefs, and mission debrief.

And I complain when my wife wants to drive six hours to visit family. (Holiday visits sometimes end like bombing runs, but that’s another story.)

What about those maintainers who are working on those jets right now? Literally right now, because the flight line never sleeps. Somewhere in the world, at this moment, a maintainer is cursing an engineer, pilot, or expeditor.

USAF Strategic, Long-Range Bombers

Refueling B-52s
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker with the 927th Air Refueling Wing, Florida refuels a B-52 Stratofortress with the Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, on February 26, 2021. On this mission, there were two Stratotankers that refueled three Stratofortresses. (Photo by Tiffany A. Emery/U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force operates three bomber platforms: the B-52 “Stratofortress,” or “BUFF,” the B-2 “Spirit,” and the B-1B “Lancer,” aka the “Bone.” In family terms, the BUFF is the grandfather who drinks Old Crow whiskey and tells you terrifying stories about “hunting trips” he took back in Vietnam. The Spirit is that weird uncle who shows up unannounced at the family reunion, and leaves the place in chaos with revelations about Aunt Rhonda, a biker gang, and some guy named Slobodan. The Bone is that uncle’s Rhonda-replacement, supermodel girlfriend who is super-hot but requires so much maintenance Unc spends a lot of time still sleeping with Rhonda.

All three bombers have their own conventions. The BUFF flies high and slow with a huge payload. The Spirit flies slow and stealthy with a huge payload. The Bone flies high, low, fast, and slow with a huge payload. Do you see a pattern emerging?

No matter the name, all three put warheads on foreheads. The overall mission is the same and all missions require time. B-1 missions require a lot of it.


As the name implies, this stage is when the mission is planned. Planners must take the task at hand — bombing run or close air support (CAS), dynamic or static munitions, single or multiple targets, etc. — and determine the most efficient way to get those warheads on foreheads.