ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. — The Air Force is beginning to return B-1B bombers to the air after grounding the entire fleet last month to investigate a fuel system issue.
Some Lancers resumed flight operations Monday, about two weeks after Air Force Global Strike Command ordered the fleet of 57 aircraft to stand down for safety inspections. The service declined to say how many were cleared for flight, citing operational sensitivities.
According to a report from the website The War Zone, on April 8, a B-1B experienced a ground emergency relating to an augmenter fuel pump filter housing after landing at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Air Force Global Strike Command’s Public Affairs Office confirmed that subsequent inspections carried out on all B-1B aircraft produced concerning enough results that more invasive inspections were ordered. Following those inspections, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, Gen. Tim Ray, ordered a safety stand-down of the entire B-1B Lancer fleet April 20.
During the safety stand-down, maintenance depot personnel disassembled the Augmenter Fuel Filter Housing and performed a series of robust inspections using the latest techniques. After each unit was determined to be free of defects, it was reassembled, pressure checked, and returned to service.
“We are proud of the tremendous efforts of our maintainers and B-1 partners in identifying, inspecting, and remediating any potential issues with the B-1B fuel filter housing,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Weatherington, 8th Air Force commander, who is responsible for the Air Force bomber force. “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.”
Global Strike spokesperson Lt. Col. Will Russell declined to say how many aircraft were found to have the fuel filter issue so far. With the B-1s temporarily unable to fly, and six B-52s assigned to provide air cover for American troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, that leaves the B-2 fleet and the remaining B-52s available for missions.
In addition to Ellsworth, B-1Bs are based at Dyess AFB, Texas, with a major maintenance shop at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. They no longer have a permanent presence in the Middle East, but still regularly fly to Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. Lancers carry non-nuclear weapons.