Some of Air Force’s grounded B-1B Lancers lo­cated at Tin­ker

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - BY DARLA SLIPKE Dig Team dslipke@ok­la­homan.com

Part of the B-1B bomber fleet re­cently grounded by the U.S. Air Force is cur­rently un­der­go­ing main­te­nance at Tin­ker Air Force Base.

Last week, the com­man­der of the Air Force Global Strike Com­mand or­dered a "safety stand down" of all B-1B Lancers af­ter an emer­gency land­ing in Mid­land, Texas, in May prompted an in­ves­ti­ga­tion

that re­vealed prob­lems with the long-range bomber's ejec­tion seats.

Linda Frost, deputy of me­dia oper­a­tions for Air Force Global Strike Com­mand Pub­lic Af­fairs, said in an email Wed­nes­day that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is still on­go­ing and it's too soon to de­ter­mine a de­fin­i­tive time­line for how long the stand­down will last. How­ever, she said, re­turn­ing B-1s to flight is a top pri­or­ity within the com­mand.

"As the is­sues are re­solved, air­craft will re­turn to flight," Frost wrote.

In 2016, af­ter spend­ing more than a decade prowl­ing the skies above south­west Asia, the Air Force an­nounced it was pulling its fleet of more than 60 B-1s off the front

lines and send­ing them to Tin­ker for much-needed up­grades.

The Oklahoma City Air Lo­gis­tics Com­plex will con­tinue the pro­grammed de­pot main­te­nance and mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the B-1, Jerry Bryza, me­dia re­la­tions chief for the 72nd Air Base Wing Pub­lic Af­fairs, wrote in an email Wed­nes­day.

"We will com­ply with the safety stand-down re­quire­ments and en­sure each air­craft is in­spected and deemed safe to re­turn to flight," Bryza stated.

He re­ferred all other in­quiries about the stand­down to Air Force Global Strike Com­mand.

Nick­named "The Bone," the B-1B Lancer is a highly ver­sa­tile weapon sys­tem with a wing­span of 137 feet that can hit speeds of 900-plus miles per hour, ac­cord­ing to the Air Force.

There are 62 B-1Bs in the fleet, Frost said. In

ad­di­tion to Tin­ker, they are lo­cated at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, Nel­lis Air Force Base in Ne­vada, Edwards Air Force Base in Cal­i­for­nia as well as over­seas, she said.

The num­ber of planes at each site is not dis­closed for se­cu­rity rea­sons, Frost said.

Not all B-1s are af­fected by the ejec­tion seat is­sue, and of­fi­cials are still work­ing to de­ter­mine the air­craft that are af­fected based on spe­cific lot num­bers, Frost said.

The week be­fore the stand-down was an­nounced, a B-1B Lancer as­signed to Dyess Air Force Base in Texas ex­pe­ri­enced a "mi­nor in­flight emer­gency" shortly af­ter tak­ing off on June 1 from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. How­ever, Frost said that in­ci­dent was not re­lated to the stand-down. The crew

re­turned safely to the base and the is­sue was re­solved, Frost said. She said she could not re­lease fur­ther de­tails about that in­ci­dent.

The B-1A was ini­tially de­vel­oped in the 1970s as a re­place­ment for the B-52. Four pro­to­types were de­vel­oped and tested in the mid-'70s, but the pro­gram was can­celed be­fore go­ing into pro­duc­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Air Force. In 1981, the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion au­tho­rized the im­proved B-1B.

The B-1B Lancer has served the Air Force since 1985. It was first used in com­bat dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Desert Fox in 1998 and has been used in other oper­a­tions since. Dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom, B-1s flew less than 1 per­cent of the com­bat mis­sions but de­liv­ered 43 per­cent of the Joint Direct At­tack Mu­ni­tions used, ac­cord­ing to the Air Force.

FORCE PHOTO BY AIR­MAN 1ST CLASS JAMES L. MILLER] [U.S. AIR

A 28th Bomb Wing B-1 taxis down the run­way at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., in Jan­uary af­ter re­turn­ing from de­ploy­ment in South­west Asia. Part of the B-1 fleet re­cently grounded by the U.S. Air Force is cur­rently un­der­go­ing main­te­nance at Tin­ker Air Force Base.

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