The Air Force Global Strike Command commander has ordered a safety stand-down of the B-1B Lancer fleet at Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota and other bases, according to a press release from the Global Strike Headquarters sent Friday morning.
The order was issued Thursday after an issue with ejection-seat components was discovered during a B1-B emergency landing in Midland, Texas, in May. The airplanes will be grounded until the issue is resolved.
The Safety Investigation Board is conducting the investigation. It is made up of experts who investigate the incident and recommend corrective actions. The board's purpose is to prevent future mishaps or losses, according to the release.
In a phone interview, Linda Frost, a spokesperson at Headquarters Air Force Global Strike Command Office of Public Affairs, said it is too soon to tell how long the B1s will be grounded.
Frost noted the safety of the airmen is a top priority, but at the same time the Air Force wants to get the bombers flying as soon as possible. She said that not every B1-B is expected to have this safety issue, but each aircraft will be thoroughly inspected before it is able to fly again.
“The safety of our airmen is a priority, and the Air Force is taking this precautionary step to make sure it addresses the faulty seat components before it resumes flight operations," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said in an email to the Rapid City Journal on Friday. "The B-1 is an integral component of our national security, especially those from Ellsworth that are deployed around the world, so I hope they’re cleared to fly again soon.”
Local Air Force officials echoed that statement in an emailed press release.
“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. “The safety of our aircrew is paramount as we resolve this issue.”
The Journal requested a phone interview with local officials to talk more about the safety issue, but that request was not returned.
Air Force spokesman Maj. Ethan Stoker says there are 62 B-1Bs in the fleet stationed at bases including Ellsworth Air Force Base, Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Edwards Air Force Base in California, Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
A B-1B bomber that caused the grounding was from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas that made an emergency landing at Midland International Airport in western Texas on May 1 after an in-flight emergency. Emergency responders made it to the runway before the plane landed, and none of the four crew members on board were injured. It was not clear what caused the emergency, though fire crews that responded used foam on the plane, according to local news reports.
Photos of the plane in Texas showed that at least one of its four cockpit escape hatches had been blown, but the ejection seat did not deploy.
The B-1's four-man crew includes a pilot, copilot, and two weapons officers seated behind them. All four sit in ejection seats and each seat has an escape hatch above it, according to Air Force Times.
Ellsworth Air Force base is in line for the next-generation bomber to replace the B1-B Lancer.