A “crimped” part prevented an ejection seat from a stricken B-1B Lancer bomber from firing in May during an in-flight emergency, forcing the aircrew to land the bomber rather than abandon a stranded crew member, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters on Tuesday.
- “What we’ve learned from the investigation is there are actually two pathways to fire the seat and there was one particular part that had gotten crimped, so that when he pulled the handles the signal to the ejection seat didn’t flow,” Goldfein explained.
- The part likely deformed over time, and that is a common issue with older aircraft that have components that are not easily replaced anymore, Goldfein said. Eventually, the Air Force determined another way to fire the B-1’s ejection seats in sequenced intervals, so that the crew does not all bail out at the same time.
- “There’s actually a secondary pathway that allows them to initiate ejection,” Goldfein said. “So when we went through that process, that’s why we allowed them [B-1 bombers] to get back in the air and continue flying. Now we’re going through the technical change orders to make sure that we’re changing all those parts to make sure they’re full up.”
- “What essentially happened was one of the crew members when they pulled the handles to go, it didn’t function,” Goldfein explained on Tuesday. “Within a few seconds, the aircraft commander made a decision to stop the ejection sequence. Now, they actually were on fire and that’s never a good thing – to have a fire in an aircraft full of fuel.”
- The four airmen aboard the bomber were recently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroically landing the B-1B at Midland, Texas, while the plane was on fire. The Air Force temporarily grounded all B-1 bombers after the May 1 incident.
It's worth noting that Goldfein ejected from an F-16 when he was shot down over Serbia in May 1999, and his experience apparently gave him an appreciation of the severity of the emergency the bomber’s aircrew found themselves in.
“That young man was sitting on a live ejection seat,” Goldfein said. “Having ridden one out of an airplane, I’m here to tell you: You’ve got to think about what was in that crew’s mind – never knowing if a gust or something was going to fire them out of the aircraft. They made this decision to all stay together.”