Five years ago, a phone rang in the 28th Bomb Wing vice commander’s office, and that exchange led to Ellsworth AFB making history–and on a grand scale. The end result became the first time the Rockwell (Boeing) B-1B Lancer launched from the continental United States to support overseas combat operations. It was how Operation Odyssey Dawn kicked off: in the middle of a blizzard!
On March 27, 2011, more than 1,100 maintenance personnel launched four B-1B Lancer bombers from the Ellsworth Air Force Base flightline in blizzard conditions to support Operation Odyssey Dawn. It was the first time the aircraft had ever launched from a continental U.S. location in support of combat operations.
Two B-1s and their eight-person crew would continue on and strike targets in Libya; however, the mission required communication and personnel working round-the-clock to be executed.
“I was about halfway through the planning process (of a training sortie), and rumors were making their way around about base leadership convening at the command post,” said Maj. Matthew, a weapons system officer for the operation’s lead B-1. “At about 1 p.m., I was called to the command post with a pilot in my squadron. We were both qualified mission commanders, which clued me in that whatever was going on was likely a real-world event.”
Matthew and many aviators within the 34th and 37th bomb squadrons, as well as maintenance and munitions personnel, were briefed that preparations were underway to organize a strike mission more than 6,000 miles away in Libya.
In less than 20 hours, the conventional munitions element built approximately 145 munitions, enough to load seven B-1s. On the aviation side of the base, aircrews were preparing for takeoff.
“We had the pre-brief, and flew a practice profile in the simulator as well to make sure everyone on the crew had the opportunity to practice the bomb runs,” said Maj. Christopher, co-pilot for the operation’s lead B-1. “The biggest thing going through my mind was trying to absorb every bit of information so that we didn’t mess it up.”