Category Archives: Aviation Safety / Air Crashes

Heroism: How a Young U.S. Air Force B-1B Bomber Crew Saved an Aircraft and Crew Lives

New Bomber Crew Stayed with Aircraft After Ejection Seat Failed.

In a stunning story of split-second decision-making under pressure, heroic, selfless action and remarkable airmanship, the drama of what really happened in a burning B-1B bomber over Texas on May 1, 2018 has finally been revealed.

Earlier this week in Washington, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson finally told reporters and Air Force personnel what has been secretly talked about on back-channels since the incident occurred, Air Force Times Tara Copp reported.

A B-1B supersonic heavy bomber from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas was returning from a routine training sortie on May 1. The aircraft’s young crew of four, the senior aircraft commander- likely the instructor, the copilot, an offensive systems operator, and the defensive systems operator are on board. The names of the crew have not yet been released.

A fire warning light illuminated in the cockpit. According to credible reports, it was likely the number three engine on the aircraft’s right wing located closest to the fuselage. The number two and number three engines are the closest to the complex apparatus that moves the B-1B’s variable geometry swept wings. They are also close to the aircraft fuel tanks.

The crew initiated the emergency checklist procedures for extinguishing a fire in an engine. It was likely calm but businesslike in the cockpit.

The fire continued. The final item on the emergency checklist is: “Eject”.

The early B-1A prototypes were originally designed with a crew escape capsule that rocketed off the fuselage as one unit. The escape capsule was not engineered into production B-1B bombers when the program was renewed in 1982 by the Reagan administration. As a result, four lighter weight individual Weber Aircraft ACES II (Advanced Crew Ejection Seat II) ejection seats were installed in production B-1Bs. The ACES II is a proven and effective ejection seat with well over 600 successful crew escapes and the lowest frequency of user injuries of any ejection seat in history.

Original test B-1As were equipped with a crew escape capsule. Individual ejection seats were used on the operational B-1B. (Photos: The Ejection Site)

When the aircraft commander ordered the ejection of the crew from the burning aircraft over Texas the first crewmember to actuate their ejection seat was the right/rear seat on the aircraft, the Offensive Systems Operator.

When the crewmember pulled the ejection seat handles the hatch above the OSO’s ejection seat exploded off the aircraft. But the Offensive Systems Operator ejection seat did not fire. The Offensive Systems Operator was trapped under an open hatch on an armed ejection seat in a burning aircraft. Other than having a fire in the cockpit, this was a worse-case scenario.

Dr. Wilson told reporters that, “Within two seconds of knowing that had happened the aircraft commander says, ‘Cease ejection. We’ll try to land.”

Secretary Wilson told reporters on Monday that after the ejection sequence was initiated in the B-1B, “That did two things. First the airman who’s sitting on an ejection seat where he’s pulled the fire pins ― and sits there for the next 25 minutes. Wondering whether ― it’s like pulling out the pin on a grenade and holding it as you come in to land. And not knowing whether the next piece of turbulence is going to cause you to launch.”

Having cancelled the ejection of the crew from the burning bomber, the aircraft commander declared an emergency and diverted to Midland International Air and Space Port between Midland and Odessa, Texas, over 150 miles from their original base at Dyess AFB.

The pilot and flight crew flew the B-1B the entire way to Midland while it was on fire with a missing hatch, had no cockpit pressurization and an armed ejection seat that could fire at any moment without warning. Even the impact of a normal landing could have triggered the ejection seat to ignite its rockets and leave the aircraft.

The crew recovered the aircraft to Midland without injury or further damage to the aircraft, saving every member on board and the 400 million-dollar B-1B.

Composite image made from FB/Time Fischer/Midland Reporter photographs that show the missing hatch.

Dr. Heather Wilson concluded her recounting of the heroic B-1B crew’s actions by acknowledging, “The courage it took and the valor represented by that aircraft commander who decided, ‘We are going to try for all of us to make it, rather than sacrifice the one guy who can’t get out.’ Those are the men and women who choose to wear the uniform of the United States Air Force.”

The B-1 incident led to a temporary stand-down of the whole B-1 fleet as all ejection seats were inspected. The grounding was lifted on Jun. 19.

Top image: the B-1B from Dyess AFB after the May 1, 2018 emergency landing in Texas. Notice the missing hatch on top of the aircraft. (Photo: Time Fischer/Midland Reporter-Telegram)

 

Here’s the High Speed Test Track The U.S. Air Force Uses To Perform Simulated Ejections Of Anthropomorphic Test Devices

The 10-mile long Holloman High Speed Test Track (HHSTT) is a United States Air Force aerospace ground test facility used to perform a various variety of tests, including simulated ejections.

Located at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and operated by the 846th Test Squadron, the HHSTT is one of the world’s longest tracks, used to perfom tests in a realistic scenario, where a special sled can be launched at speeds in excess of 9,000 feet per second, that is around Mach 8.6 calculating for altitude!

A recent article published by Airman, the official magazine of the United States Air Force, shed some light on the activities carried out at the HHSTT whose mission is “to provide a cost-effective, realistic, dynamic test environment for the entire acquisition community, including the DoD, and contractors. As a ground-based test facility, the HHSTT provides a cost-effective, controlled test environment for high-speed weapons, systems, and components.”

Ejection seat tests are no longer carried out with humans. The last pilot to ride a rocket-propelled sled was Col. John Paul Stapp, who earned the title “the fastest man on Earth” at Holloman on December 10, 1954, to a land speed record of 632 mph in five seconds: during the test, Stapp decelerated in 1.4 seconds, which equaled 46.2 Gs, the greatest g-load ever sustained by a man. His eyes were flooded with blood and although he ragained most of his normal vision on the next day, he lost his eyesight forever.

Nowadays, tests are carried out with full-scale hi-tech mannequins, dubbed ATDs (Anthropomorphic Test Devices) that simulate the dimensions, weight proportions and articulation of the human body, and embed sensors that record data about the dynamic behavior of the ATD in simulated ejections. The collected data is then analysed and complemented with high-speed imagery and footage (like the one below) so that scientists can assess the outcome of the test.

“With a human you’re going to have to conduct a post-testing examination and then look at variables from human to human, where if you can put all the instrumentation on board a mannequin you can get all that data,” said. Lt. Col. Jason Vap, commander of the 846th Test Squadron at Holloman AFB, to Airman’s Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson for the article titled “Staying on track“. “You can take that one step further and figure out what you need to do to your seat design, or perhaps a helmet design, or your flight gear to mitigate problems. Those are things that you are only going to get from a highly instrumented mannequin. Not from post-test examination of an individual or examining what kind of pains that they suffered from that.”

Take some time to watch the following video for more details on the activities at HHSTT. By the way, the goal speed is Mach 10, not surprising, considered the U.S. Air Force is working on hypersonic missiles and aircraft

USAF F-15C Eagle Down Off Kadena, Japan: Pilot Rescued.

Condition of Pilot Unknown Following Rescue. It’s the sixth USAF crash since the beginning of 2018.

A USAF F-15C Eagle belonging to the 18th Wing at Kadena AB, Okinawa has crashed into the ocean off Okinawa, Japan, at approximately 0640 Hrs. Monday morning, June 11, 2018 Okinawa local time. According to the Japan Times the aircraft went down about 80 km south of Naha, capital of the Okinawa prefecture.

Reports indicate the pilot ejected from the aircraft prior to impact. The pilot was rescued at sea following his ejection by a Japanese Self-Defense Force helicopter. The condition of the single aircrew onboard the F-15C Eagle has not been released.

The 18th Wing at Kadena AFB is home to two F-15C/D Eagle fighter squadrons, the 44th Fighter Squadron, the “Vampire Bats” and the 67th Fighter Squadron, the “Fighting Cocks”. It is unclear which squadron the F-15C involved in Monday’s crash came from.

In an earlier incident five years ago on May 28, 2013, another USAF F-15C Eagle crashed off Kadena. In that crash, an investigation revealed that;

“The cause of the accident was the aircraft failing to respond to the pilot’s flight control inputs due to a failure in the aircraft’s hydro-mechanical flight control system. Additionally, the Pitch Roll Channel Assembly provided inputs to the flight control surfaces not commanded by the aircraft pilot. The investigation also found by a preponderance of evidence that the pilot had limited time for malfunction analysis and a lack of simulator emergency procedure training for the malfunction in the hydro-mechanical flight control system also substantially contributed to the accident.”

In the 2013 accident the pilot also ejected from the aircraft and survived. Obviously there is currently no evidence that the two crashes are related. The cause of the accident Monday morning in Okinawa is unknown pending an official USAF investigation.

In November of 2007, all USAF F-15 aircraft were grounded after a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C came apart in flight and crashed on November 2, 2007. The 2007 accident was found to be a result of a defect in the aircraft’s upper right longeron. The upper right longeron is a structural component in the fuselage that provides strength to the area where the cockpit and the fuselage meet. Following the November, 2007 crash, a January 10, 2008 report indicated that nine additional F-15s were found to have similar structural problems. The failure of the upper right fuselage longeron originated from a defect in manufacturing according to the official report.

At the time of the 2007 incident, a story filed by USAF Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski quoted USAF (then) Col. William Wignall, head of the accident investigation as saying that, “We’ve had great involvement from Boeing during the investigation. In fact, they’re the ones who determined the longeron was the problem. This was then confirmed by the Air Force Research Laboratory.”

But USAF General John D.W. Corley, then-commander of Air Combat Command, went on to report in 2007 that, “The difficulty is that issues have been found with F-15s built between 1978 and 1985, across A through D models at several bases, so no one source of the problem can be isolated. This isn’t just about one pilot in one aircraft with one bad part. I have a fleet that is 100 percent fatigued, and 40 percent of that has bad parts. The long-term future of the F-15 is in question.”

In April of 2018, Boeing was awarded a modification to an existing contract for F-15 modernization that includes an upgrade to the Raytheon AN/APG-82(V) radar. According to a Defense Industry Daily report the contract called for, “Work on 29 Group A and Group B kits, spares, fuel tanks and other equipment and services.” The upgrade contract was valued at $187M USD. It is unclear if any part of the new contract applies to structural elements of the F-15 Eagle.

The McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing F-15C Eagle is a twin-engine, single seat air superiority fighter first flown in 1972. The aircraft is in service with several air forces including the U.S., Japan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The F-15C Eagle and the two-seat variants including the F-15E Strike Eagle, have been extremely successful combat aircraft with an impressive record in operational use.

The F-15C crash on Jun. 11 is the sixth U.S. Air Force (eleventh U.S. military aviation) since the beginning of th year. The most recent ones involved a WC-130H from the 156th Airlift Wing from Puerto Rico ANG that crashed near Chatham City, Georgia on May 2, 2018, causing 9 deaths and a T-38 that crashed 9 miles north of the city of Columbus on May 23, 2018. In the latter event, the pilots managed to eject.

Top image: File Photo of an F-15C Eagle as it releases flares. (Credit: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

 

Video Shows Ukrainian Air Force Su-24MR Fencer Buzzing The Flight Line At An Airbase in Ukraine

Here’s yet another ultra-low pass of a Ukrainian combat aircraft.

The following footage was reportedly filmed in 2014. It shows a Su-24MR Fencer-E performing a low pass over the flight line at an airbase in Ukraine, most probably Starokostiantyniv (or “Staro”) where the Fencers of the 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade are based.

The Su-24MR is a tactical reconnaissance aircraft that can conduct all-weather “recce” missions up to 400 km from the front line. The Soviet-era jet is equipped with sideways looking radar, allowing tracking ground targets, including enemy fortifications and equipment, using sensitive high-resolution cameras, radio detection systems and infrared sensors to detect camouflaged objects. The Ukrainian Su-24MR are being upgraded to be equipped with ICAO- and NATO-compatible communication and navigation equipment along with other more modern systems. Seven aircraft are believed to be currently operational at “Staro”.

Low passes and flybys are pretty common in Ukraine. Here’s a list of videos we have posted on this subject here at The Aviationist: a Ukrainian Mig-29 overflying pro-Russia separatist blocking rails; an Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s (and the Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower); here’s an Mi-17 helicopter flying among the cars on a highway and another fully armed Mig-29 Fulcrum in the livery of the Ukrainian Falcons aerobatic display team flying over an apron at an airbase in Ukraine; here’s a Su-25 flying low over the heads of a group of female soldiers posing for a photograph and then performing an aileron roll; and here you can see a Su-27 performing a low pass after take off. More recently, we posted a video of a Su-25 flying low and fast over the Sea of Azov, off Kirillovka, a resort town on the Sea of Azov, in southeastern Ukraine, some 65 km from the border with Russia in Crimea in the southwest, and about 140 km southwest of the breakaway Donetsk region. That footage was pulled from Youtube shortly after it was uploaded and went viral.

Report: USAF Grounds B-1B Lancer Bomber Fleet Pending Safety Investigation

Global Strike Command Issues Safety Stand-Down Following Texas In-Flight Emergency And Ejection Seat Issue.

The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command has issued a “safety stand-down” of its B-1B Lancer bomber fleet late Thursday.

The safety stand-down, official language for the grounding of an aircraft type, was ordered after a B-1B Lancer made an emergency landing following an “engine failure” at Midland International Air and Space Port between Midland and Odessa, Texas, on May 1, 2018.

According to the Global Strike Command release, dated June 7, 2018, the reason for the safety stand-down is, “An issue with ejection seat components was discovered that necessitated the stand-down.” The statement goes on to read, “As these issues are resolved, these aircraft will return to flight.”

A copy of the Air Force release from June 7, 2018 grounding B-1Bs.

This type-specific safety stand-down of the B-1B heavy bomber follows a one-day operational safety review ordered by USAF Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein directed to all Air Force wings with flying and maintenance functions to be completed by May 21, 2018.

The May 1, 2018 incident over Texas involved B-1B Lancer 86-0109/DY, “Spectre”, built in 1986 according to sources. The aircraft was part of a two-ship B-1B flight that originated from Dyess AFB. Sources claim that the crew experienced, “An over wing fairing (OWF) fire indication on the fire warning panel climbing out of low level, followed by a #3 engine fire indication.”

According to the unofficial source who spoke to TheAviationist.com on condition of anonymity, “The aircraft commander called for manual ejection.” The source told TheAviationist.com that the B-1B’s offensive systems operator was the first to attempt ejection from the aircraft. Photos of the aircraft on the ground support this information since the escape hatch over the offensive systems operator station is missing from the aircraft. The source goes on to report, “The [ejection] seat did not go up the rails.”, meaning the escape system did not function normally.

While no official report has been issued surrounding the cause and specific events of the May 1, 2018 incident, sources close to the investigation have hailed the B-1B flight pilot in command and crew as “heroic” for saving the aircraft and the lives of all on board.

“Two US Air Force officials told CNN that although B-1s are currently deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan would not be impacted.”

Two B-1s from Dyess AFB are also deployed to RAF Fairford to take part in BALTOPS 2018 exercise. It’s still not clear whether the grounding involves these two Lancers as well.

Two B-1Bs from @DyessAFBase, Texas, dropped 12 inert Mark 62 Quickstrike mines in support of in #BALTOPS2018. Including bombers in the #BALTOPS allows crews to integrate and train with other @US_EUCOM components, while exercising the U.S.’s key bomber capabilities.

The B-1B Lancer, nicknamed the “Bone”, is a four-engine, supersonic, variable-geometry swept wing heavy bomber capable of Mach 1.2. The aircraft first flew in December 1974 but the program was plagued by politics and budget concerns until it was eventually cancelled in 1977 during the Carter administration. The program was later restored under the Reagan administration in 1981.

Top image: composite image made of photos appeared on various social media from the May 1, 2018 B-1B emergency landing in Texas.