The $400 million B-1B Lancer is described by Boeing as a long-range, multi-mission, supersonic conventional bomber. It’s been a key part of the Air Force fleet since 1985, and despite running over 12,000 successful combat missions, sometimes things go wrong.
That was the case this May. When an engine fire hit a B-1B out of Dyess Air Force Base, the pilots ran through their entire checklist of procedures before executing the final step – ejecting from the plane.
The problem was that the ejection seat didn’t fire. Not only did this lead to a highly publicized emergency landing and grounding of these planes for two weeks, but a collection of finger pointing as the Air Force and its suppliers tried to determine the source of the ejection seat flaw.
UTC Aerospace Systems is the manufacturer of the actual ejection seat, but claims the seat itself is not the problem. These seats are, not surprisingly, more than just a release lever. They’re part of a complicated system that relies on an electronic sequencing system, and the varying parts of that system originate from different suppliers.
UTC believes this sequencing system is the source of the problem. In order for the seat to propel the crew to safety, the plane’s hatch or canopy needs to blow. If it doesn’t, no signal is sent to the seat. UTC says this is where the issue resides.
However, photos of the plane that had to perform the emergency landing were taken by the AP and Midland Reporter-Telegram. They show missing hatches on the plane, but only on two of the four hatches. The plan carries a crew of four.
Thankfully, no one was injured and the Air Force has stated that the issue has not effected operations. Additionally, maintenance crews have enacted “prioritized fixes” to ensure the seats are working properly.