Flightless Bird No Longer: US B-1B Bomber Fleet Cleared to Resume Flights

© REUTERS / U.S. Air ForceA B-1B Lancer strategic bomber takes off from Ellsworth Air Force Base, in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, in this U.S. Air Force file handout photo dated March 27, 2011
A B-1B Lancer strategic bomber takes off from Ellsworth Air Force Base, in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, in this U.S. Air Force file handout photo dated March 27, 2011 - Sputnik International
The first of the US Air Force's B-1B Lancer bombers were cleared to resume flights recently after the entire fleet had its wings clipped over concerns regarding the aircraft's drogue chute, part of the system that ejects airmen's seats in the event of an emergency.

The Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) announced Tuesday that the first bombers of the fleet were allowed to resume flights earlier this week following the completion of the safety inspection stand-down that was initially ordered on March 28.

According to a statement from the AFGSC, maintainers and Aircrew Flight Equipment technicians conducted a "holistic inspection of the entire egress system" before the go-ahead was handed down. Part of that egress system is the drogue chute system, which corrects the angle at which a seat is ejected from an aircraft.

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber assigned to 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, takes off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to fly a mission with two Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) F-15s, Sept. 9, 2017 - Sputnik International
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"We are proud of the tremendous efforts of our maintainers and Aircrew Flight Equipment technicians in identifying, inspecting, and remediating any potential issues with the B-1B egress system," Maj. Gen. James Dawkins Jr., 8th Air Force commander, who is responsible for the branch's bomber force, said in a release.

"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 halt in operations was ordered by Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of the AFGSC, after airmen discovered during a routine inspection that a bomber's drogue chute system was incorrectly installed.

Prior to the announcement, Ray told reporters last week that he was shocked by the misconfigurations in the seat ejection system.

"My immediate concern was for the safety of the crews," Ray said. "I reached out to them directly through command channels and… emails… and said basically, ‘I don't care how bad the readiness is, your personal safeties are more important.'"

US Air Force B-1B bomber. (File) - Sputnik International
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He added that inspections took between seven and 10 days. It's presently unclear what day the bombers returned to the skies or how many were cleared.

This, however, is not the first time that the bomber has experienced some setbacks. The service previously issued a fleet-wide grounding after problems related to the seat ejection system arose on May 1, 2018. At the time, a bomber with Texas' Dyess Air Force Base was forced to make an emergency landing after the seat failed to eject for the pilot during an earlier in-flight issue.

According to Military.com, the service has a total of 62 Lancer bombers in its fleet, all of which are set to retire some time in 2036. The supersonic heavy bombers are assigned to the Dyess AFB and South Dakota's Ellsworth AFB, according to the Air Force Times, which reported that depot maintenance is conducted at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma.

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