Ellsworth Brings the Birds Back

B-1 Lancer pilots, maintainers, and support personnel returned to Ellsworth AFB, S.D., ending nearly 14 years of continuous bomber rotations to US Central Command. More than 350 airmen returned from the six-month rotation to Al Udeid AB, Qatar, on Jan. 25, following the bomber’s return earlier this month, according to a release. Crews and aircraft from Ellsworth and Dyess AFB, Texas, have alternatingly formed the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, supplying heavy-hitting, long endurance close air support to forces in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. The B-1s returned stateside to undergo integrated battle station modifications, which are the most comprehensive in its history. The three-part upgrade includes the Vertical Situation Display (VSD), which adds a digital cockpit, Fully Integrated Data Link (FIDL) to enhance targeting, command and control, and Central Integrated Test System (CITS), which gives aircrew real-time aircraft diagnostics and simplifies maintenance and troubleshooting. Combined with ongoing sustainment efforts, the modification package will extend the bomber’s viability beyond 2040. Prime contractor Boeing redelivered the first upgraded airframe to Dyess in January 2014.