B-1A August 24, 1984

3257 Aerial image of the crash site. CLUI photo

The B-1A was a prototype for what would become the B-1B Lancer, the swing-wing bomber with wings that moved forward for slow flight and back for high-speed flight. In August,1984, a B-1A stalled and crashed during controllability tests at low altitude. Swinging the wings forward while over Harper Dry Lake, the pilot neglected to properly transfer fuel in the wing tanks to adjust for the change in the center of gravity. With this imbalance, the nose pitched upward, and the plane went into a spin at an altitude of 4,200 feet, too low for recovery. The crew separated the escape capsule at 1,500 feet, but it’s parachutes deployed improperly resulting in a hard landing. Test pilot Doug Benefield perished, and two other crew members were injured. The plane crashed and burned northwest of Harper Dry Lake.

3258 U.S. Air Force photoThis plane was the second of four prototypes for a new supersonic strategic bomber. Originally 240 B-1A’s were to be built, but the program was cancelled by the Carter administration, though testing of the plane continued. President Reagan reinstated the program, with modifications resulting in the B-1B. One hundred B-1Bs were ordered for the Air Force, with the last one rolling out of the Rockwell Plant in Palmdale in 1988. Around 65 of them are still in service, one of three large bombers in the American arsenal, along with the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The first B-1A prototype is displayed at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.