Last B-1B Rolls Off Assembly Line
PALMDALE, Calif. (AP) _ Production of the B-1B bomber, hailed by supporters as the best aircraft of its kind and panned by critics as unnecessary and too expensive, has ended.
The last of 100 B-1B bombers built by Rockwell International for the Air Force was presented Wednesday before thousands of aircraft workers and guests.
″A lot of people said it couldn’t be done,″ Robert Anderson, Rockwell chairman and chief executive officer, told the crowd, who watched the rollout and a flyby by B-1B bomber No. 85.
″Despite the detractors and the naysayers, it will remain the finest bomber in the world for years to come,″ Lt. Gen. William E. Thurman said.
The plane, designed to elude radar by flying at tree-top level while it delivers nuclear warheads into enemy territory, has been a source of controversy since 1970 when Rockwell first proposed it to then-President Richard Nixon.
It wasn’t until 1982 that Rockwell landed a production contract for the warplane. For more than a decade critics questioned whether the bomber was really needed, whether it was capable of performing as well as Rockwell and Air Force officials claimed and whether the $28 billion cost for the program was justified.
The controversy continued Wednesday when the Air Force released a report blaming last September’s crash of a B-1B in Colorado on a lone pelican that military officials said smashed through a wing, setting off a fire. Three of the six people aboard were killed; two didn’t have time to bail out and the ejection seat of the third failed.
The Air Force said Wednesday it would spend $62.5 million this year strengthening certain sections of the plane to better withstand bird strikes. Another $1.6 million is to be spent on ejection system modifications.
The last plane is scheduled to be handed over to the military in April, two months ahead of schedule, Rockwell officials said.
Its offensive and defensive electronics, electrical and hydraulic systems, and flight controls must be checked out, a coat of paint added, and test flights made.
With the end of production, approximately 2,000 people will lose their jobs. At its peak, the project required more than 7,000 workers.