Bombers return to US from Fairford after safety issue

Ejection seat issues grounded entire B1 fleet

Rockwell B1-B Bomber at RAF Fairford (Image: P. Harrison)
Rockwell B1-B Bomber at RAF Fairford (Image: P. Harrison)

On 1st May 2018 the United States Airforce command grounded the entire B1-B “Lancer” bomber fleet over safety concerns. This grounding was related to the ejection seats and resulted from an incident at Midland Airport in Texas, USA, where a Dyess Air Force Base B1-B had to make an emergency landing.

Yesterday 19th June, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson confirmed Speculation that the Dyess bases B1-B had to make an emergency landing after an ejection seat didn’t blow. During the speech at the Defense Communities Summit in Washington, USA, Wilson stated the crew, an instructor pilot and a brand new crew were on a training flight. She said “And the indicator light goes off that they have a fire, They go through their checklist of everything they’re supposed to do. The next thing on the checklist is to eject….they start the ejection sequence.” But only “the cover comes off, and nothing else happens,” referring to the weapons systems officer’s ejection hatch. “The seat doesn’t fire. Within two seconds of knowing that that had happened, the aircraft commander says, ‘Cease ejection, we’ll try to land.'”

A few Weeks later, Photos from The Associated Press showed the B-1B, tail number 86-0109, was missing a ceiling hatch, leading to speculation an in-flight ejection was attempted. The rear ceiling hatch, which is over the weapons systems officer, was open, although all four crew members were shown sitting on the ground at Midland airport

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 ejection seat failed to fire, leading the crew to make an emergency landing instead.

Rockwell B1-B Lancer flying past RAF Fairford (The Aviation Media Co.)
Rockwell B1-B Lancer flying past RAF Fairford (Image: Nick Harding/The Aviation Media Co.)

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson praised the aircrew for their attempts to land while the back-seat airman was sitting on a seat that could still blow with just one bit of turbulence from the aircraft. “The courage it took and the values represented by that aircraft commander who decided we’re going to try for all of us to make it rather than sacrifice the one guy who can’t get out. Those are the men and women who choose to wear the uniform of the U.S. Air Force,” said Heather Wilson.

The grounding of the fleet gave officials time to “thoroughly evaluate the egress components and determine potential risks before returning to flight,” the Air Force Defense secretary stated. The investigation into the incident is still ongoing.

In a statement Maj. Thomas Bussiere, 8th Air Force Commander, said: “We have high confidence that the fleet’s egress systems are capable and the fleet is ready to return to normal flight operations”. Yesterday June 19th 2018, The B1-B Lancer fleet was cleared to return to flight. For the US Airforce in the UK, That meant that three of the four B1-B’s that were stranded here at RAF Fairford in Gloucs could return to their Home base at Dyess, At the time of writing this, one aircraft is still on the ground at Fairford for reasons yet unknown. There are also B1-B’s currently deployed to the Middle East and Guam in the Pacific.

About Pete Harrison 6 Articles
Pete is an aviation photographer and regular contributor who is keen especially keen on military and airshows. Based in Wales, he is usually found with a lens pointed skyward.