B-1 Ejection Seat Not to Blame for Bomber Mishap, Manufacturer Says

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 is still investigating what went wrong after a B-1B Lancer experienced an engine fire followed by an ejection mishap earlier this year, forcing it to request an emergency landing.

But UTC Aerospace Systems, manufacturer of the bomber's ACES II ejection seat, wants to be clear: The seat itself is not the problem.

Whether you're talking about a fighter jet or a bomber, the ejection seat is a complicated system that propels a pilot out of the aircraft in an emergency, John Fyfe, director of Air Force programs for UTC, said in a recent interview with Military.com. "There's an electronic sequencing system, especially if you have multiple seats," as in the B-1 bomber.

After coordinating with the Air Force, UTC believes "there's an issue with the sequencing system," he said.

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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters in July, "What we've learned from the investigation is there are actually two pathways to fire the seat, and there was one particular part that had gotten crimped, so that -- when he pulled the handles -- the signal to the ejection seat didn't flow."

But Fyfe said the issue has been oversimplified in media reports. It's been implied "that the ejection seat didn't fire, when in fact the ejection seat was never given the command to fire," he said.

While UTC also makes entire ejection systems, on "this particular B-1, [the sequence system] was not ours," he said, adding that there are multiple vendors for the sequencing systems.

There's also a hatch removal system, which blows each hatch above the four seats in the bomber, Fyfe said. "That sequences the order that the seats go out of the cockpit and has an inherent delay so that whatever's above you, whether it's a canopy … or hatches … those blow and there's an opening. And then the seats fire."

The service in June grounded its B-1B bomber fleet over safety concerns related to the ejection seat problem. The stand-down was a direct result of the emergency landing the Lancer made May 1 at Midland Airport in Texas. It was reported at the time that the B-1B, from Dyess Air Force Base, was not carrying weapons when it requested to land because of an engine fire.

Photos from The Associated Press and Midland Reporter-Telegram also showed that the bomber, tail number 86-0109, was missing a ceiling hatch, leading to speculation an in-flight ejection was attempted.

Weeks later, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson confirmed that a rear ejection seat didn't blow.

One of the two back ceiling hatches, which hover 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 flight line in photos after landing the aircraft.

Air Force leaders have said the issue has not affected overseas operations and that maintenance crews have prioritized fixes on the faulty systems for bombers carrying out missions across the globe.

"I got an update here recently on the delivery schedule for the last lot to make sure those seats are healthy," Gen. Timothy Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, told reporters at the annual Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber conference outside Washington, D.C., last month.

"What you'll do is you'll use the good airplanes a lot more," he said then. "And we give the commanders some latitude as to what they will fly and what they will and won't fly in terms of risk. But in the end, we're not going to put anyone in a position where they're not safe."

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

 

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