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Restoring B-1 readiness: Egress works around the clock

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class River Bruce
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

For the past 17 years, the B-1B Lancer has seen combat and has been referred to as a work horse.

Subsequently, years of deployed operations, alongside recent maintenance findings, led the Air Force to decide on a safety stand-down for the aircraft.

The stand-down is a temporary pause on flying operations for each aircraft in the B-1B fleet, allowing for in-depth maintenance. After the B-1Bs pass inspection, they resume flying immediately.

“This has been a great opportunity for us to reset from almost 18 years of continuous combat operations to work on sustaining the B-1 for the future,” said Col. Jose Sumangil, 7th Bomb Wing commander. “Not only have our maintainers been able to inspect and work on the aircraft from top to bottom, they’ve been able to perform preventative maintenance, which will lead to the B-1B’s continued readiness.” 

A key component of the stand-down has been an out-of-cycle inspection on the egress system, which is made up of four ejection seats: pilot, co-pilot and two weapon systems officers.

Members of the 7th Component Maintenance Squadron egress shop have been conducting 24-hour operations for the past 90 days performing these inspections.

“The inspection is a 100 percent system validation on the egress system,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Dlugiewicz, 7th CMS accessories flight chief.  “We’re functionally checking everything on the four seats. The only thing we can’t function check is the actual ejection from the aircraft, as it is a one-time function.”

This extensive review is normally only done in depot maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, every 60 months.

Twenty-four hour operations are normally a worst-case scenario, but have been necessary, according to Dlugiewicz.

“Each seat takes about two days to take apart, inspect and put back together,” said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Wilson, 7th CMS aircrew egress systems craftsman. “It takes us about one week per aircraft, and we’ve pushed through close to a dozen B-1Bs so far.”

The ejection explosive, the parachute systems, the ejection hatches and many other components are reviewed in-depth, Wilson said.

Any B-1B currently flying has egress systems that have gone through this process, Dlugiewicz added. Many changes have been made to the egress system following the May 2018 in-flight emergency of a B-1B in Midland, Texas. The egress shop’s mission has been to assess these changes as well.

“One of our motivations has been instilling confidence in the egress system to our aircrew,” said Senior Airman Sheldon Morrison, 7th CMS aircrew egress systems apprentice. “The safety of our aircrew is paramount to us; we don’t want them questioning the egress system. We're motivated every day to provide peace of mind for the aircrew and their families.”

 “The amount of growth I’ve seen in egress Airmen over this process has been tremendous,” said Wilson. “The egress systems are better off now, and these Airmen are better for it.”

The shop will continue this process on all B-1Bs in the fleet still needing inspection.

“In my 20 years in service, I don’t think I’ve been more proud of a group of Airmen,” said Dlugiewicz. “We’ve asked a lot of them, and they’ve worked around the clock without complaining… too much,” he said jokingly. “They have come in every shift and surged, and they’ve been happy to do it. It’s inspiring.”