It Was a Moment We’ll Talk About for Years, And We Met the Pilot Who Flew It.
Aviation fans around the world were thrilled two weeks ago when video from a flight demonstration – that included a complete roll – of the B-1B Lancer at Edwards AFB went viral across social media. But who was the pilot who actually rolled that giant 238-ton bomber completely inverted? TheAviationist caught up with him at Nellis AFB after his impressive display flight at Edwards AFB.
“It’s pretty cool! It’s a 200,000-pound aircraft empty. We can hold up to, about, 180,000-pounds of gas. It’s pretty weird to take an… almost 400,000-pound aircraft upside down. But, it does it really well with its twisting tail, so that helps it roll- pretty responsive, and it does a good job,” Bryan Balkenbush of the 419th Flight Test Squadron told us at Nellis AFB on Friday, November 4, 2022 during the Aviation Nation airshow outside Las Vegas.
The highlight of Balkenbush’s demo flight at Edwards AFB two weeks before on October 15 and 16 was when the enormous B-1B bomber (also known as the “BONE” from B-One, within the pilots community) executed a spectacular, complete aileron roll at the end of its pass. Photographers in the media pit fired off rapid fire shots while video cameras panned along with the huge bomber. Within minutes, photos and video of the spectacular maneuver were getting traffic across social media.
The B-1B Lancer is an enormous aircraft to be able to fly nimble aerobatics like a complete roll. For comparison, an Airbus A321 airliner is the same length as a B-1B bomber at 146-feet long. But the A321 packs up to 220 passengers for trips of 3,600 miles. Imagine an aircraft the size of an airliner rolling completely inverted.
This wasn’t the first time a B-1B has flown similar maneuvers at airshows (we reported about an “BONE” doing a double aileron roll in the past), but Balkenbush’s qualifications and mission as a test pilot means he is tasked with maintaining the full flight envelope of the aircraft. As a result, few B-1B pilots are likely to repeat Balkenbush’s spirited aerobatics at an airshow anytime soon.
“Operationally, B-1s are not allowed to fly low anymore, so, they consider that below 5,000-feet above ground level. But us, in test, we are still allowed to do that because we test the aircraft for future capabilities and future wars. So, we keep that capability alive with the B-1 so the warfighter can use it at a moment’s notice,” Balkenbush said.
It’s also worth knowing that Bryan Balkenbush is not a typical B-1B Lancer pilot. Balkenbush, who graduated from the Air Force’s elite Test Pilot School in December, 2021 and holds a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering, is tasked with exploring new capabilities, missions and tactics for the B-1B Lancer.
“The future of it [the B-1B], so right now, we’re looking to do hypersonic test bed. So, we’re looking to put a 5,000-pound hypersonic missile on the side and do lofting releases of that.”
As for the future of seeing the B-1B fly any more aerobatic flight demos, rumors about an airshow returning to Edwards AFB as soon as 2023 were already circulating at the end of this year’s show. So, if you want to see a B-1B buzz the tower at low level and get inverted, you might consider keeping your eye on the airshow calendar for the next show at Edwards AFB.