Twilight of the Bone — revisited

So is the B-1 the Air Force's least -- or most -- expensive bomber to operate? It depends.

Last week, we told you about opposition to the Air Force’s plan to slowly begin paring back its fleet of B-1B Lancers. One lawmaker, Texas Rep. Randy Neugebauer, argued that because the Bone is so much cheaper per hour to fly than its bomber counterparts, it represents a good deal for the Air Force. Not so fast, many of you said — in fact, so many people fired back about this that it’s worth its own follow-up.

First, a quick caveat: As Homer Simpson once observed, you can get statistics to prove anything — “Forfty percent of all people know that.” So it’s possible to slice up the same set of numbers to support different conclusions, or to get one’s own set of numbers, etc. With that said, take a look at this: According to fiscal year 2009 budget numbers from defense analyst Winslow Wheeler, the Air Force paid $32,490.81 per hour to fly its B-1s; it paid $21,490.02 per hour to fly its B-2s; and  $18,555.62 per hour to fly its B-52. Those costs include depot maintenance, fuel and all other expenses. When you slice the numbers this way, the BUFF is the cheapest bomber in the fleet, not the B-1.

However, Wheeler’s numbers also can help you draw a different conclusion. In FY09, the total overall price tag to operate a bomber, called the primary aircraft authorization costs, broke down like this: The B-1 was $2.19 million; the B-2 was $9.67 million; and the B-52 was $2.75 million. So if you want to look at that number, the B-1 is the cheapest of the big birds.

On Friday we asked Neugebauer’s office for more details on the information he cited when he appeared before the House Armed Services Committee, and we’ll update as we hear more.

UPDATE 4-18: A spokesman for Neugebauer’s office says the numbers in his testimony came from research prepared by the military affairs committee of the Abilene, Texas, chamber of commerce, which had help from Boeing. So that answers that question.

Fun facts: The bombers are by far the Air Force’s most expensive aircraft to fly per hour, according to this data set. Its most expensive fighter per hour is the F-15A at $17,189; and its most expensive cargo aircraft per hour is the C-5B at $19,773 per hour. And the Air Force’s VC-25As, aka Air Force One, cost $10,165 per hour, although its PAA expense evidently doesn’t come out of the blue Air Force budget. That field is $0.00.