U.S. Air Force grounds all B-1B Lancer bombers in “safety stand-down”

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A B-1B Lancer, tail number 86-0094, is moved across Douglas Blvd. to the Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Technology Center (MROTC) to receive an initial portion of Gate 1 of programmed depot maintenance April 21. 567th AMXS personnel will perform three days of maintenance which include single system checks on 40 individual actuators validating voltage outputs as well as interrogating each actuator for hydraulic leaks. After single systems are completed, the horizontal stabilizers will be removed from the aircraft. This is the first time that horizontal stabilizers have ever been removed at the MROTC. Once complete, the aircraft and horizontal stabilizers will be brought back across Douglas to the 569th AMXS strip facility for plastic media blasting. Once stripped, the horizontal stabilizers will be routed to the 76th Commodities Maintenance Group for overhaul and repairs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kelly White)


Nathan Thompson

Rapid City Journal, S.D.

The U.S. Air Force has grounded all B-1B bombers following an April 8 emergency with one of the aircraft at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, the Air Force Global Strike Command confirmed Friday.

According to a statement, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, Gen. Tim Ray, ordered a “safety stand-down” of the B-1B Lancer fleet April 20.

“During the inspection process following a B-1B ground emergency on April 8 at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, a discrepancy with an Augmenter Fuel Pump Filter Housing was discovered,” the statement said. “As a precautionary measure, the commander directed one-time inspections on all B-1B aircraft to resolve this issue.”

According to a website called The War Zone, which first reported the B-1B’s latest grounding, the filter is on the outside of the aircraft’s engines. The incident at Ellsworth reportedly occurred when a B-1B was observed trailing unburned fuel when it landed.

The War Zone reported that a “massive hole” was found on the filter’s housing. Air Force Global Strike Command did not confirm the report.

In the statement from Global Strike Command, during the inspections, it was determined “a more invasive inspection was needed,” prompting Ray to order a stand-down of the entire B-1B fleet to ensure the safety of aircrews.

“Individual aircraft will return to flight when they are deemed safe to fly by Air Force officials. The Air Force takes all incidents seriously and works diligently to identify and correct potential causes. More details may be released when available.” the statement said.

The Air Force Global Strike Command’s other bombers, the B-2 and B-52, will continue supporting combatant commands across the globe, the statement said.

The B-1B bombers date back to the 1980s. They can reach speeds beyond 900 mph, carry a payload of 75,000 pounds, and tote 24 cruise missiles. The aircraft are based at Ellsworth and at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. The major maintenance base is at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

According to Air Force Times, the service began retiring 17 of its 62 B-1Bs in February after two decades of wear and tear from combat missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The entire B-1 fleet was temporarily grounded in June 2018 and again in March 2019 because of ejection-seat problems, the Journal reported.

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R- S.D., serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. During a 2019 confirmation hearing, Rounds was critical of Department of Defense aircraft fleet readiness.

He told the Journal Friday that improvements have been made in defense funding and maintenance of aircraft over the last four years, but the latest grounding of the B-1B is a telling sign of the bomber’s age, demand on usage, and the need for replacement.

“The B-1B is still in such high demand around the world that we’re still pushing it to its limit,” Rounds said. “In the last couple of years, the number of aircraft operated by the Department of Defense — the percentage has gone up, but we’re still behind and we’re not where we want to be. That includes the B1-B.”

The U.S. Air Force plans to phase out the B-1s with the new B-21 stealth bomber, currently under development by the service and Northrop Grumman. The Secretary of the Air Force has announced the preferred strategic basing alternative for the first location would be Ellsworth AFB, with Dyess AFB as a reasonable alternative. Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri would be a third location.

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