Spiny B-one

This epic Cold War photo has a lot going on, from the experimental desert camo livery of the Rockwell B-1 bomber to the dark Northwest Europe three-color scheme on the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark chase plane.

Official caption: “A left side view of a B-1 bomber aircraft, being followed by an FB-111 aircraft, over the base range during testing and evaluation, Edwards Air Force Base, 3/27/1981.”

USAF Photo -DF-ST-82-08096 by SSGT Bill Thompson via NARA

A closer look at the B-1 shows it to have a distinctive raised spine across the top of the airframe. This easily identifies it as Prototype Number 4 (SN 76-0174) whose spine housed test electronics. The last B-1A built as the Carter administration (“The B-1 bomber is an example of a proposed system which should not be funded and would be wasteful of taxpayers’ dollars”) canceled the high-performance strategic bomber, 76-0174 had its first flight in February 1979 then went on to spend most of its career as an avionics testbed for rebooted B-1B program.

Here’s another view taken seven months later, as the B-1A program had run out of money by April 1981 then was brought back out of storage by the Reagan administration. 

Official caption: “Left side view of a B-1 bomber (front) and an F-111 aircraft in flight. The B-1 is more than twice the length of the F-111, 8/1/1982”

USAF Photo DF-ST-83-11276 by SSGT Bill Thompson via NARA

A right underside view of a B-1 bomber aircraft on its first flight since April 1981. The same series shows her anti-flash white underside. DF-ST-8310359

By 1986, 76-0174 had been delivered to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Field and soon picked up an operational green/gray camo scheme worn by B-1Bs, then an all-white full-color test program livery, before going back to camo. She is currently on display at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum near Ashland, Nebraska, where it has been since 2003.

She’d look better in desert camo with a white belly, but that’s just me.


  • Nah, it is not just you. Desert camouflage looks best.

  • I was at Edwards when the paint was done. It had pealed off the white paint during low level very high speed testing (supersonic). Word was the B-1A could out run and out maneuver the F-111 chase plane at will. The Iranian hostage crisis had unfolded shortly before the change in paint and started more than a few rumors.
    Unfortunately none were true.

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