The U.S. Air Force temporarily grounded its fleet of B-1B Lancer heavy strategic bombers yesterday over an issue with its ejection seats. The grounding takes place more than a month after a B-1B made an emergency landing at a civilian airport after a fire was detected onboard the aircraft. The B-1Bs were returned to service within hours of the grounding announcement.
In a statement issued on June 7, the Air Force Global Strike Command said, “During the safety investigation process following an emergency landing of a in Midland, Texas, an issue with ejection seat components was discovered that necessitated the stand-down. As these issues are resolved, aircraft will return to flight.”
The incident Global Strike Command is referring to took place on May and involved a B-1B bomber flying from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. On May 21, the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook group posted that the aircraft, named “Spectre” (86-0109/DY) encountered an “over wing fairing” (OWF) fire indication while climbing out of low level flight. The crew followed procedures in an attempt to extinguish the fire but the fire warning light did not go out.
At that point according to the report the aircraft commander called for the four person crew to manually eject. The offensive system officer (OSO), one of the two crew sitting in the rear of the aircraft, pulled first. The hatch allowing his ejection seat to escape the aircraft blew, but his ACES II ejection seat failed to launch. Had the rest of the aircrew ejected the OSO, unable to escape or control the aircraft, would have almost certainly been handed a death sentence. Instead the aircrew decided to stick with the aircraft–and the OSO–and attempt a landing at the nearest airfield.
The account given by the Air Force amn/nco/snco page has not been officially corroborated but much of it coincides with what is publicly known about the incident–that the aircraft landed at the Midland International Air & Space Port, was observed with a charred over wing fairing, and that an ejection hatch was missing from the landed aircraft. Additionally, despite the blown hatch all four crew members were later seen near the aircraft.
The Air Force kept the B-1B flying after the May 1 incident. In late May, a B-1B off the coast of California, striking it with both missiles. Around the same time, a B-1B based at Al Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar . A B-1B using the callsign is currently operating out of RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom in support of .
The B-1B Lancer is one of the U.S. Air Force’s three heavy strategic bombers. The B-1B dates the mid-1980s–this particular aircraft 86-0109/DY was manufactured by Rockwell International in 1986. Air Force plans to eventually phase out the B-1B in the 2030s, replacing it with the B-21 Raider bomber currently under development.