Air Force Grounds Entire B-1 Bomber Fleet Over Ejection Seat Concerns

A Rockwell B-1 Lancer sits after making an emergency landing at Midland International Air and Space Port on May 1, 2018, in Midland, Texas. The aircraft is a supersonic variable-sweep wing, heavy bomber used by the United States Air Force. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)
A Rockwell B-1 Lancer sits after making an emergency landing at Midland International Air and Space Port on May 1, 2018, in Midland, Texas. The aircraft is a supersonic variable-sweep wing, heavy bomber used by the United States Air Force. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)

The U.S. Air Force has grounded its B-1B bomber fleet over safety concerns related to the Lancer's ejection seats.

The stand-down is a direct result of the emergency landing a B-1 made May 1 at Midland Airport in Texas, officials told Military.com.

"During the safety investigation process following an emergency landing of a B-1B in Midland, an issue with ejection seat components was discovered that necessitated the stand-down," Air Force Global Strike officials said Friday.

"As these issues are resolved, aircraft will return to flight," the command said in a statement, adding that a Safety Investigation Board is ongoing.

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This follows a separate Safety Investigation Board on the emergency landing at Midland.

The incident occurred around 1:30 p.m. local time May 1. Local media reported at the time the non-nuclear B-1B, from Dyess Air Force Base, was not carrying weapons when it requested to land because of "an engine flameout."

Midland is roughly 150 miles west of the base.

Weeks later, images surfaced on Facebook purporting to show a burnt-out engine from the incident. Photos from The Associated Press and Midland Reporter-Telegram also showed the B-1B, tail number 86-0109, was missing a ceiling hatch, leading to speculation an in-flight ejection was attempted.

The back ceiling hatch, which hovers over either the offensive or defensive weapons systems officer (WSO) depending on mission set, was open, although all four crew members were shown sitting on the Midland flightline in photos.

Unidentified individuals told the popular Facebook group Air Force Amn/Nco/Snco that the offensive weapons system officer attempted a manual ejection, but the ACES II seat did not blow, leading the crew to make an emergency landing instead. There has been no official corroboration of that information. Firefighters were on scene when the B-1 landed, local media photos showed. Dyess officials said the crew was unharmed.

The B-1B in April returned back to the Middle East for the first time in nearly two-and-a-half years to take over strike missions from B-52 Stratofortress bombers.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214

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