After a near four-week grounding period, the US Air Force has cleared its B-1B Lancer strategic bomber fleet to return to flying operations. A safety stand-down was ordered after another discovery of defects in the bomber’s emergency escape system, this time related to drogue chutes in the aircraft’s ACES II ejection seats.
Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) said on April 23 that inspections and maintenance are completed, and that the aircraft would return to flying status. AFGSC chief Gen Timothy Ray ordered a Time Compliance Technical Order for inspections of all B-1 egress systems following the discovery of three issues over the past year.
AFGSC ordered a previous grounding on June 7, 2018, after the discovery of problems with ejection seat components during inspections following an incident on May 1 when a B-1B serial 86-0109 of the 7th Bomb Wing from Dyess AFB, Texas, made a cautionary diversion to Midland International Air and Space Port. The diversion was made following an engine flameout on a routine sortie. Photographs on the ground at Midland showed fire damage around one of the engine compartments, while the escape hatch above the weapon systems officer’s position was missing.
Commenting on the latest grounding, Maj Gen Jim Dawkins, commander of the 8th Air Force, said: ‘The aircraft are still safe to fly and we are confident that this stand-down has resulted in increased safety within the B-1B fleet.’ The latest grounding appears to have been related to the rigging of the drogue chute and was said to be a ‘procedural’ issue rather than a problem with the seat itself, which triggered the 2018 grounding.