The supersonic, high-flying bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City have been grounded until ejection seat problems are solved.
The commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, Gen. Robin Rand, on June 7 ordered a “safety stand-down” of the Air Force’s fleet of 62 B1-B Lancer bombers, including the 27 Lancers assigned to Ellsworth Air Base 10 miles southeast of Rapid City.
The investigation of an emergency landing May 2 of a B1-B in Midland, Texas, from Dyess Air Force Base, found “an issue” with ejection seat components that led to grounding all “Bones,” — their nickname from “B-one” — until the problem is solved.
The emergency landing was attributed at the time to engine failure, according to The Air Force Times and other news reports. No one was injured.
In another incident June 1 in Hawaii, a B1-B Lancer from Dyess had an in-flight emergency shortly after take off and had to quickly land, Air Force officials confirmed to the Air Force Times.
The Air Force-wide stand down of the bombers was set to begin June 7.
Ellsworth and Dyess in Texas are the only B1-B Lancer bases in the world, according to the public affairs office at Ellsworth.
Air Force officials said they could not release many details, including whether any bombers at Ellsworth had been having problems with ejection seat systems.
“The aircraft affected by this malfunction are still being determined by specific lot numbers,” Maj. Anastasia Schmidt, public affairs chief of the Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, told the Capital Journal on Tuesday via email. “Not all B1s are affected by these ejection seat system components. It is too soon to determine a definitive timeline. As these issues are resolved, aircraft will return to flight. Returning B1s to flight is a top priority within the command. The investigation process typically lasts approximately 30 days, but if more time is needed, the (safety) board can request more time.”
In the May 1 incident in Midland, Texas, the “crew was experiencing a potentially catastrophic engine fire, but when the first crew member tried to eject, the hatch above blew to allow escape, but the seat did not fire,” reported the Air Force Times.
Photos of the B1-B at Midland the day of the incident show an ejection hatch blown out on the top of the aircraft, but the seat was not ejected, according to the Air Force Times, an independent publication that covers the Air Force.
The four-engine, supersonic, variable swept-wing bomber has been in use since about 1974 and flies missions over Afghanistan and the Middle East.
The 28th Bomb Wing has 27 B1-Bs assigned to it at Ellsworth, 2nd Lt. Daniel Rosenfield, public affairs officer, told the Capital Journal.
The B1-B is 34 feet tall, 146 feet long with a 137-foot wingspan and can hit 900 mph.
Each bomber has a crew of four airmen; each has an ejection seat with a hatch that blows off on the top of the bomber.
In general, for years, the B1-Bs have been undergoing upgrades geared to keep them in service for another 20 years or so, Air Force sources say.
Ellsworth is slated to be assigned the next generation of bombers, the B-21, which will begin rolling out about 2025.
Just recently, the Air Force reportedly has been looking more closely at aircraft accidents and incidents. Taking in aircraft across all military services, there haven’t been this many accidents and other, less-serious incidents, in about seven years.
The Air Force recently called for a one-day stand-down across the service to get everyone attuned and attentive to improving things, commanders said.
“The 28th Bomb Wing is working closely and regularly with experts across the Air Force on this issue,” said Col. John Edwards, 28th Bomb Wing commander at Ellsworth, in a news release last week. “The safety of our aircrew is paramount as we resolve this issue.”
The Safety Investigation Board’s investigation purpose is to prevent future mishaps or losses and comprises experts who investigate the incident and recommend corrective actions, according to Edwards news release. “The safety of Airmen is the command’s top priority. The Air Force takes safety incidents seriously and works diligently to identify and correct potential causes.”