Tag Archives: Edwards Air Force Base

What’s this mysterious aircraft spotted at Edwards AFB? The secretive B-21 Raider, the RQ-180 drone or “just” a B-2?

The U.S. Air Force says it’s a “standard” B-2, but a pretty detailed analysis and some subtle details seem to suggest it might be something else.

The photographs you can find in this post were taken by three of our readers (Sammamishman, Zaphod58 and Fred) who have recently returned from a trip to monitor activities at Palmdale and Edwards Air Force Base, California.

These guys are not the average avgeeks. All the three either worked or are currently working around aircraft (one has worked on an Air Force Base ramp for many years and is well-respected as an aircraft guru, another works as an air medic and one is in the aerospace industry involved in advanced space and defense-related components) and they are extremely familiar with aircraft they observe and photograph with some high-end equipment. Sammamishman is the reader who sent us the video and photographs of the F-117s flying over Tonopah Test Range in 2016.

Among the things the trio photographed, there is also an unknown large flying wing type aircraft, hooked to a ground power unit, sitting on an apron located at Edwards South base between the hours of 10PM and 1AM on July 24-25, 2018.

The three spotters sent the images to the Air Force to determine if it is a classified article and subject to DoD censorship. After reviewing the images for a few days, the Air Force responded it was a B-2 Spirit.

“I however disagree with this story for several reasons that I will go into,” says “Sammamisham” in an email.

“Upon initial examination of the photos that night when we took them, it looked like a B-2 but under closer examination the proportions and fuselage configuration didn’t look right for a Spirit”.

The group has indeed produced an analytical analysis done on the shots that, provided it is correct, seems to indicate that the aircraft they observed that night at Edwards is not a B-2 Spirit.

The analysis is based on a stack of 40 separate images, assembled to reduce glare, taken from a distance of over 10 miles.

Here are the reasons why they believe it’s not a B-2.

– The spacing and size of what is assumed could be engine nacelles on either side of the center fuselage.
– Other bumps on the fuselage back that are odd or don’t seem to match the B-2.
– The larger pair of bay doors visible. The B-2 has multiple smaller bay doors for the bomb bay and engine access.
– The seemingly odd landing gear configuration.
– The slender wing section that curves oddly. The B-2’s wing should appear relatively thinker and straight at that view angle.

“Using the ground power unit, sitting next to it, as a measuring metric, (the AF uses Essex B809B-1 units with a 103″ length), we are able to estimate the height of the aircraft at 12.4′ and a wing span of around 130ish’. The B-2 is 17′ and 172′ respectively,” Sammamisham explains. “I also did a view angle comparison to the B-2 which also showed a difference in the wing tip flaps between this aircraft and the B-2. This aircraft was only out during the night hours. We returned the next morning to verify it was or wasn’t a B-2. The aircraft was no longer there (I have pics taken showing it gone). This, in my opinion, also lends credence to it not being a B-2 since it would be odd to pull a B-2 out to do ground tests during the night and early morning hours only.”

Using an Essex BD series power unit as a measuring tool it is possible to roughly determine the dimensions of the aircraft.

Let’s speculate. In fact, what at first glance seems to be a B-2 might really be something else considered we are basing our analysis on a cropped, blurry image taken at night from extreme distance (10 miles). Dimensions aside, there are some details that appear to be quite different from a standard Spirit stealth bomber: obviously we can’t rule out it’s a matter of perspective, objects in the line-of-sight, etc., but the differences in the spacing and dimensions of the engine nacelles (provided they are nacelles) are somehow evident.

The mysterious aicraft appears to be similar to a B-2. But our readers highlighted several alleged differences.

So, assuming the wing span is really 130ish and the aircraft is NOT a B-2 (as mentioned we are just speculating here), what is it?

We have a couple of options here but the one that seems more reasonable given its estimated dimensions, location and operating hours, is that the one depicted in the grainy shots is a secretive B-21 Raider bomber. The next generation long-range stealth bomber is known to be heading to Edwards AFB (so much so a B-21 Combined Test Force patch was already available on eBay months ago) for testing and the concept model of the B-21, has a lot of things in common with the B-2, including the position of the engine nacelles. Based on the B-21 Raider artwork released so far, the aircraft should be much similar to the B-2: the main difference is the “W” shaped trailing edge of the Raider that is an evolution from the Spirit’s sawtooth trailing edge.

Artist rendering of the B-21 Raider. (Wiki/NG)

The B-2’s wingspan is 172 feet, the B-21 has a payload requirement said to be between two thirds and half that of the B-2. That’s why the Raider will probably be lighter featuring a wing span smaller than that of the Spirit.

If you combine all these things and assume the measurements are correct we might be looking at an early Northrop Grumman B-21 article.

The location of the aircraft was: 34.903609, -117.873366
Our reader’s view spot was here: 34.761176, -117.800955

Less likely, it may also be a Northrop Grumman RQ-180.

In the Dec. 9, 2013 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Senior Pentagon Editor Amy Butler and Senior International Defense Editor Bill Sweetman revealed the existence of the RQ-180, a secret unmanned aerial system (UAS), designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, and scheduled to be operational with the U.S. Air Force by 2015.

Developed by Northrop Grumman since 2008-2009, the stealthy RQ-180 is designed to operate in “contested” or “denied” airspace, as opposed to the non-stealthy RQ-4 Global Hawk that are intended for “permissive” scenarios.

In their analysis back then, Sweetman and Butler said: “It is similar in size and endurance to the Global Hawk, which weighs 32,250 lb. and can stay on station for 24 hr. 1,200 nm from its base. The much smaller RQ-170 is limited to 5-6 hr. of operation. […] The aircraft uses a version of Northrop’s stealthy “cranked-kite” design, as does the X-47B, with a highly swept centerbody and long, slender outer wings. Northrop Grumman engineers publicly claimed (before the launch of the classified program) that the cranked-kite is scalable and adaptable, in contrast to the B-2’s shape, which has an unbroken leading edge. The RQ-180’s centerbody length and volume can be greater relative to the vehicle’s size.”

Aviation Week worked with artist Ronnie Olsthoorn to construct concept images of the RQ-180 based on its attributes, including its “cranked kite” design, but these artworks seem to have little in common with what our readers spotted at Edwards.

Nevertheless, considered the quality of the photographs we can’t completely rule out the aircraft is the new stealthy drone that was given a couple of fuselage humps/nacelles similar to the B-2’s.

A pretty famous Northrop Grumman artwork shows an airframe adaptable for bomber and transport roles that was patented in 2012: it bears resemblance to both the B-2 and the X-47B’s shape. If that is the real shape of the RQ-180, then the one at Edwards may well be the new stealthy drone, 4 or 5 of those are believed to be operational somewhere in the U.S.

Northrop Grumman was awarded a patent in 2012 for an airframe adaptable for bomber and transport roles. (Credit: U.S. Patent Office via AW&ST)

That said, let me say that the first time I saw the images I thought it was “just” a B-2 but further observations and Sammamisham’s account have made me a bit dubious. What do you think? It’s a B-2 or something else? Let us know using the comments section below or our Twitter, Instagram or Facebook pages.

Update Aug. 24, 15.30 GMT

Thanks to a Twitter follower (@Kiendl28) we have got a satellite image showing the aircraft on the apron at 18:05Z on Jul. 25. The resolution does not allow a clear identification but the fact the aircraft is parked in daylight seems to suggest there is nothing to hide and points towards the “standard” B-2.

The aircraft on the apron at Edwards at 18.04GMT on Jul. 25. The aircraft can be seen in the same position also on Aug. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. (Image credit: PlanetScope).

Image credit: Sammamishman, Zaphod58 and Fred for The Aviationist

Watch A Dutch F-35A In CAS “Beast Mode” Configuration Fly At Low Level In the Sierra Nevada

The Dutch F-35 based at Edwards Air Force Base has carried out tests with the Lightning II in “Bomb Truck”/”Beast Mode” configuration lately.

323 TES (Test & Evaluation Squadron), the Dutch unit based at Edwards Air Force Base and responsible for the F-35 Operational Test and Evaluation Phase (OT&E) as part of the Joint Operational Test Team, has carried out a series of tests with external weapons last month.

Some of the missions flown by the RNlAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force) F-35A Lightning II involved the use of GBUs and AIM-9X AAM (Air-to-Air Missile).

World-renowned photographer Frank Crebas went to California to catch some cool images of the Dutch F-35s at work with the heavy load-outs.

Here it is:

As you can see, the aircraft was flying with 4x GBU-12 500-lb Laser Guided Bombs and 2x AIM-9X Sidewinders on the external pylons.

“I shot the video and photos on Thursday Jul. 26 at the Needles Lookout in California”, Crebas told us in a message. “This location is a navigation point on the famous Sidewinder low flying route of which the JEDI transition a.k.a. the Starwars Canyon is also part of. It was the very first time that the Dutch OT&E unit flew with a full external load out after they previous few with just the AIM-9X and ‘just’ two GBUs. The jets where flown by Colonel Albert ‘Vidal’ de Smit, the commander of the Edwards detachement and Lt Col Ian ‘Gladys’ Knight who is the commander of 323 TES. 323 is participating with just two aircraft and only 52 personnel in the F-35 OT&E at Edwards AFB alongside the US and UK.”

The external weapons configuration tested by the Dutch F-35 is also known as CAS (Close Air Support) “Beast Mode” (or “Bomb Truck”) configuration. Others call any configuration involving external loads a “Third Day of War” configuration as opposed to a “First Day of War” one in which the F-35 would carry weapons internally to maintain low radar cross-section and observability from sensors. However, as a conflict evolves and enemy air defense assets including sensors, air defense missile and gun systems and enemy aircraft are degraded by airstrikes (conducted also by F-35s in “Stealth Mode”) the environment becomes more permissive: in such a scenario the F-35 no longer relies on low-observable capabilities for survivability so it can shift to carrying large external loads.

In “Beast Mode“, exploiting the internal weapon bays, the F-35 can carry 2x AIM-9X (pylons), 2x AIM-120 AMRAAM (internal bomb bay) and 4x GBU-31 2,000-lb (pylons) and 2x GBU-31  PGMs (internal bay).

Lt Col Ian “Gladys” Knight preflying his jet ahead of a “Beast Mode” test mission. (Image credit: F. Crebas).

In January 2019 the first new Dutch F-35’s will be delivered to Luke AFB for training. These aircraft will be build by Lockheed Martin in Ft Worth. In November the first F-35As will be delivered for the first operational squadron based in the Netherlands, 322 (RF) Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base. These aircraft will be build at Cameri FACO, in Italy.

That Time the Luftwaffe Experimented with a Rocket-Launched F-104G Starfighter

“Zero Length Launch” Was Tested in Germany on an F-104G. Here’s the Video.

Almost every aviation enthusiast has probably seen the famous June 1957 test videos of a North American F-100 Super Saber being launched from a portable trailer using a large rocket booster.

The origin of “Zero Length Launch”, often called “ZeLL”, was the perceived necessity that aircraft would need to be boosted into flight after available airfields and runways in Europe were destroyed in a nuclear attack. Using motor vehicle highways as improvised runways, often practiced by NATO and former Warsaw Pact air forces, may not have worked as well since the aircraft would be more vulnerable to air attack. With the Zero Length Launch concept, aircraft could actually be boosted into flight using a disposable rocket booster from inside a hardened aircraft shelter, presuming no one else like hapless ground crew were inside the shelter at the time of launch.

“ZeLL” was an interesting, if ultimately impractical, concept. It could be argued that the “ZeLL” concept somehow validated the need for V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing) aircraft such as the Harrier and, decades later, even the F-35B Lightning II.

What many aviation history buffs don’t know is that the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, experimented with a Zero Launch System on their F-104 Starfighters. The concept made more sense with the F-104 Starfighter, an aircraft conceived almost purely as an interceptor.

Rocketing the F-104 into flight as a sort of “manned missile”, the interceptor would rapidly climb to altitude and engage an approaching bomber formation. The Starfighter was a suitable candidate for ZeLL launch operations since it began setting altitude records as early as May, 1958, when USAF test pilot Major Howard C. “Scrappy” Johnson zoom-climbed to an astonishing altitude Record of 27,811m (91,243 feet, or 17.2 miles high) from a conventional take-off.

Interestingly, Germany had tested a rocket-powered, vertical launch interceptor during WWII called the “Bachem Ba-349 Natter”. The aircraft would be fired from a launch tower, fly to the allied bomber formations using rocket boosters and engage them with unguided high velocity aircraft rockets (HVARs) mounted in the nose. If all went according to design, the aircraft and pilot would then recover to earth using separate parachutes. The concept did not do well for the Germans in WWII, with the only manned test flight ending in disaster and the death of Luftwaffe test pilot Lothar Sieber.

Apparently undaunted by their WWII experiences with the Ba-349, the modern Luftwaffe working in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force, used a single F-104G Starfighter to test the ZeLL concept in 1963. Oddly enough, the German F-104G version of the Starfighter was a multi-role aircraft evolved from the original pure interceptor design mandate of the F-104.

Unlike its early, distant predecessor the Ba-349, the Luftwaffe F-104G Starfighter ZeLL launch tests went well. Lockheed company test pilot Eldon “Ed” W. Brown Jr. remarked after the first of eight ZeLL take-offs at Edwards AFB in California during 1963 that, “All I did was push the rocket booster button and sit back. The plane was on its own for the first few seconds and then I took over. I was surprised at the smoothness, even smoother than a steam catapult launch from an aircraft carrier.”

Lockheed company test pilot Eldon “Ed” W. Brown Jr. flew the initial Luftwaffe F-104G ZeLL tests at Edwards AFB. (Photo: Lockheed)

The first Luftwaffe F-104G used in the ZeLL test program wore a distinctive and sensational looking test paint scheme, one of many beautiful and unusual liveries the F-104 Starfighter wore in its career. The first launch aircraft was coded “DA-102” and was natural aluminum metal on the bottom of the aircraft with a brilliant high visibility orange horizontal and vertical stripe and a bright white upper surface except for the nose, which had a flat-black anti-glare panel. It also wore the modern Luftwaffe insignia crosses, making it appear all the more remarkable.

The ZeLL F-104G was moved to Germany for a total of seven ZeLL test launches at Lechfeld AB between May 4, until Jul. 12, 1966, when the program was abandoned. The German ZeLL flights were flown after the test aircraft was repainted in a more operational German camouflage scheme. The aircraft would end its career as a static display.

The Soviets tinkered with their own version of ZeLL on a MiG-19 beginning as early as 1955, but the idea died in the test phase for most of the same reasons the NATO interest in ZeLL waned.

If nothing else, ZeLL was a sensational and adventurous idea. The results were remarkable to see, confirmed by the tens of thousands of video views of the ZeLL tests using the U.S. F-100 Super Sabre today on YouTube. But the German F-104G ZeLL tests have, somewhat oddly, received far less attention. Until today.

The Luftwaffe F-104G ZeLL test aircraft was eventually turned into a static display with its unique German camouflage livery. (Photo: German Air Force)

Check Out These Stunning Aerial Photos Of The B-2 Doing The Rose Parade And Rose Bowl Flyovers

This year, the B-2 was escorted by two F-35s from Edwards AFB during the Rose Parade flyover.

On January 1, 2018, a B-2 Spirit belonging to the 509th Bomb Wing from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, performed the traditional Rose Parade flyover. Noteworthy, two F-35 Lightning IIs from the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron on Edwards Air Force Base joined this year the B-2 during the flyover at the beginning of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and once again, Mark Holtzman, a California native with over 25 years of experience as both a photographer and pilot, founder of West Coast Aerial Photography, a company specialising in aerial photography based in Los Angeles, was airborne to take some jaw-dropping air-to-air images showing the Stealth Bomber and the F-35s from above.

The B-2 and two F-35s perform the Rose Parade flyover (Photo: Mark Holtzman)

Then, the B-2 opened the 104th Rose Bowl Game at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena.

The 104th Rose Bowl Game is a semifinal for the College Football Playoff (CFP), matching two of the top four teams to compete for a spot at the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship game. The 2018 Rose Bowl Game pit The University of Georgia Bulldogs against The University of Oklahoma Sooners.

[By the way, you can buy prints of the photos here].

Take time to visit Mark’s galleries at www.markholtzman.com to find other fantastic images of the past flyovers: indeed, Mark has been able to take some fantastic shots of the Rose Bowl flyovers from a plane: here are 2011 Rose Bowl flyover performed by U.S. Navy F/A-18s out of Lemoore; here’s 2009 Rose Bowl flyover by another B-2; here you can see the 2016 flyover and here’s the one from last year.

Image credit: Mark Holtzman

This Image Shows The Complexity Of The XB-70 Valkyrie mid-1960s Research Aircraft Cockpit Compared To That Of An Upgraded B-1 Bomber

The composite photo gives a pretty good idea of how the cockpit of supersonic heavy bombers has evolved in about 50 years.

With a planned cruise speed of Mach 3 and operating altitude of 70,000 feet, the B-70 Valyrie was to be the ultimate high-altitude, high-speed, deep-penetration manned strategic bomber designed in the 1950s. The 6-engine aircraft was expected to be immune to Soviet interceptor aircraft thanks to its stunning performance.

According to NASA:

“To achieve Mach 3 performance, the B-70 was designed to “ride” its own shock wave, much as a surfer rides an ocean wave. The resulting shape used a delta wing on a slab-sided fuselage that contained the six jet engines that powered the aircraft. The outer wing panels were hinged. During take off, landing, and subsonic flight, they remained in the horizontal position. This feature increased the amount of lift produced, improving the lift-to-drag ratio. Once the aircraft was supersonic, the wing panels would be hinged downward. Changing the position of the wing panels reduced the drag caused by the wingtips interacted with the inlet shock wave. The repositioned wingtips also reduced the area behind the airplane’s center of gravity, which reduced trim drag. The downturned outer panels also provided more vertical surface to improve directional stability at high Mach numbers. Attached to the delta was a long, thin forward fuselage. Behind the cockpit were two large canards, which acted as control surfaces.”

The aircraft was still under development awhen the future of the manned bomber became uncertain. Indeed, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, many believed that manned bombers had become obsolete, and the future wars would be fought by missiles. As a result, the Kennedy Administration ended plans to deploy the B-70 and the two XB-70 prototypes were under construction when the program was cancelled.

However, two experimental XB-70A prototypes were eventually built at North American Aviation and used by NASA test beds for an American supersonic transport (SST). NASA records show that XB-70A number 1 (62-001) made its first flight from Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base, CA, on Sept. 21, 1964. Tests of the XB-70’s airworthiness occurred throughout 1964 and 1965 by North American and Air Force test pilots. The Flight Research Center prepared its instrument package.

“Although intended to cruise at Mach 3, the first XB-70 was found to have poor directional stability above Mach 2.5, and only made a single flight above Mach 3. Despite the problems, the early flights provided data on a number of issues facing SST designers. These included aircraft noise, operational problems, control system design, comparison of wind tunnel predictions with actual flight data, and high-altitude, clear-air turbulence.”

The second XB-70A (62-207) was built with an added 5 degrees of dihedral on the wings as suggested by the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, wind-tunnel studies. This aircraft made its first flight on Jul. 17, 1965. “The changes resulted in much better handling, and the second XB-70 achieved Mach 3 for the first time on Jan. 3, 1966. The aircraft made a total of nine Mach 3 flights by June.

This photo shows the XB-70A parked on a ramp at Edwards Air Force Base in 1967. Originally designed as a Mach 3 bomber, the XB-70A never went into production and instead was used for flight research involving the Air Force and NASA’s Flight Research Center (FRC), which was a predecessor of today’s NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. The aircraft’s shadow indicates its unusual planform. This featured two canards behind the cockpit, followed by a large, triangular delta wing. The outboard portions of the wing were hinged so they could be folded down for improved high-speed stability. The XB-70 was the world’s largest experimental aircraft. It was capable of flight at speeds of three times the speed of sound (roughly 2,000 miles per hour) at altitudes of 70,000 feet. It was used to collect in-flight information for use in the design of future supersonic aircraft, military and civilian. Designed by North American Aviation (later North American Rockwell and still later, a division of Boeing) the XB-70 had a long fuselage with a canard or horizontal stabilizer mounted just behind the crew compartment. It had a sharply swept 65.6-percent delta wing. The outer portion of the wing could be folded down in flight to provide greater lateral-directional stability. The airplane had two windshields. A moveable outer windshield was raised for high-speed flight to reduce drag and lowered for greater visibility during takeoff and landing. The forward fuselage was constructed of riveted titanium frames and skin. The remainder of the airplane was constructed almost entirely of stainless steel. The skin was a brazed stainless-steel honeycomb material. Six General Electric YJ93-3 turbojet engines, each in the 30,000-pound-thrust class, powered the XB-70. Internal geometry of the inlets was controllable to maintain the most efficient airflow to the engines.

A joint agreement signed between NASA and the Air Force planned to use the second XB-70A prototype for high-speed research flights in support of the SST program. However, the plans went awry on June 8, 1966, when the second XB-70 collided with a civilian registered F-104N while flying in formation as part of a General Electric company publicity photo shoot outside the Edwards Air Force Base test range in the Mojave Desert, California, that involved an XB-70, a T-38 Talon, an F-4B Phantom II, an F-104N Starfighter and a YF-5A Freedom Fighter.

Toward the end of the photo shooting NASA registered F-104N Starfighter, piloted by famous test pilot Joe Walker, got too close to the right wing of the XB-70, collided, sheared off the twin vertical stabilizers of the big XB-70 and exploded as it cartwheeled behind the Valkyrie.

North American test pilot Al White ejected from the XB-70 in his escape capsule, but received serious injuries in the process. Co-pilot Maj. Carl Cross, who was making his first flight in the XB-70, was unable to eject and died in the crash.

Research activities continued with the first XB-70.

The first NASA XB-70 flight occurred on April 25, 1967, the last one was on Feb. 4, 1969 when the aircraft made a subsonic structural dynamics test and ferry flight from Edwards AFB to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, where the aircraft was put on display at the Air Force Museum after 83 test flights and 160 hours and 16 minutes, flight time. Indeed, despite research activity helped measuring its “structural response to turbulence; determine the aircraft’s handling qualities during landings; and investigate boundary layer noise, inlet performance, and structural dynamics, including fuselage bending and canard flight loads”, time had run out for the research program. NASA had reached an agreement with the Air Force to fly research missions with a pair of YF-12As and a “YF-12C,” which was actually an SR-71, that represented a far more advanced technology than that of the XB-70. Indeed, in all, the two XB-70Bs logged 1 hour and 48 minutes of Mach 3 flight time during their career, whilst a YF-12 could log this much Mach 3 time in a single flight.

Although the XB-70 program was cancelled, data collected during the Valkyrie test flights were used in other programs, including the B-1 bomber and the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 SST program (via espionage).

This is a close-up photo of an XB-70A taken from a chase plane. The XB-70 had a movable windshield and ramp. These were raised during supersonic flight to reduce drag. When the pilot was ready to land, he lowered the assembly to give both him and his copilot a clear view of the runway. The XB-70 was the world’s largest experimental aircraft. It was capable of flight at speeds of three times the speed of sound (roughly 2,000 miles per hour) at altitudes of 70,000 feet. It was used to collect in-flight information for use in the design of future supersonic aircraft, military and civilian.

We have recently found an interesting photo of the XB-70 #1 cockpit. The photo (courtesy of NASA) shows the complexity of the mid-1960s research aircraft especially if compared to a modern B-1 Lancer with the Integrated Battle Station upgrade.

ED97-44244-1 Photo of the XB-70 #1 cockpit, which shows the complexity of this mid-1960s research aircraft. 1965 NASA

Here’s the official description of the cockpit:

On the left and right sides of the picture are the pilot’s and co-pilot’s control yokes. Forward of these, on the cockpit floor, are the rudder pedals with the NAA North American Aviation trademark. Between them is the center console. Visible are the six throttles for the XB-70’s jet engines. Above this is the center instrument panel. The bottom panel has the wing tip fold, landing gear, and flap controls, as well as the hydraulic pressure gages. In the center are three rows of engine gages. The top row are tachometers, the second are exhaust temperature gages, and the bottom row are exhaust nozzle position indicators. Above these are the engine fire and engine brake switches.

The instrument panels for the pilot left and co-pilot right differ somewhat. Both crewmen have an airspeed/Mach indicator, and altitude/vertical velocity indicator, an artificial horizon, and a heading indicator/compass directly in front of them.

The pilot’s flight instruments, from top to bottom, are total heat gage and crew warning lights; stand-by flight instruments side-slip, artificial horizon, and altitude; the engine vibration indicators; cabin altitude, ammonia, and water quantity gages, the electronic compartment air temperature gage, and the liquid oxygen quantity gage. At the bottom are the switches for the flight displays and environmental controls.

On the co-pilot’s panel, the top three rows are for the engine inlet controls. Below this is the fuel tank sequence indicator, which shows the amount of fuel in each tank. The bottom row consists of the fuel pump switches, which were used to shift fuel to maintain the proper center of gravity. Just to the right are the indicators for the total fuel top and the individual tanks bottom. Visible on the right edge of the photo are the refueling valves, while above these are switches for the flight data recording instruments.

Here below you can find a photo of the B-1 cockpit with the Integrated Battle Station upgrade which, beginning in 2014, gave the “Bone” new screens and updated avionics in both the cockpit and battle stations.

The IBS upgrade increased the situational awareness of the pilots by means of a Fully Integrated Data Link (FIDL), a Vertical Situation Display Upgrade (VSDU), and a Central Integrated System  (CITS) upgrade.

Within the VSDU two unsupportable, monochrome pilot and co-pilot displays were replaced by four multifunctional color displays, that provide the pilots more situational awareness data, in a user-friendly format. The FIDL is a modern data link that allows the B-1 to interconnect and communicate in real-time, with other planes, ground stations, allied units. The CITS is an upgrade of the old LED display computers used by ground maintainers to identify and troubleshoot system failures.

If you click on the image you will find a cockpit with two control sticks, dominated by a mix of displays and moving maps (typical of glass cockpits) as well as analogue instruments: a hybrid cockpit, with common instruments such altimeter, ADI (Attitude Indicator) and Airspeed Indicator/Machmeter on the left hand side; flaps, slats and spoiler controls as well as TFR (Terrain Following Radar), fuel and engine instruments in the central part of the flight deck; and two large VSDUs that can be arranged at will to display the required information/digitized instrument, such as a moving map or a HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator), on both sides.

Old-style monochrome displays that didn’t provide much processing nor display capabilities, were replaced by much larger color displays that can show significantly more information thus improving the situational awareness. With the IBS upgrade, data can be shown on any display of the aircraft with collaboration tools that enable the aircraft’s crew “to look at each other’s displays with a ghost cursor, so if one weapons system officer wants to see what someone else is looking at, he can see a ghost cursor over on his own display – this allows the crew to collaborate and ensures they’re all looking at the same thing,” said Dan Ruder, B-1 strategic development and advanced programs manager for Boeing, in a story published on Military Embedded Systems.

The cockpit of the B-1 with IBS upgrade. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

So, the instrument panel layout has remained more or less the same. The way information is displayed has significantly changed.