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The US Air Force B-1 Bomber Crash–Crew Eject Safely

The USAF lost one of their B-1B Lancer bombers during a landing on Thursday in dense freezing foggy conditions. The crew from the 28th Bomber Wing were returning after a routine training mission when something went wrong and resulted in a massive explosion and active fire.

Three of the four crew members were subsequently treated at the base for minor injuries, while a fourth was hospitalized due allegedly to a back injury—a common occurrence when ejecting.

The air force base released a statement reading: "An Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to Ellsworth Air Force Base crashed at approximately 5:50 p.m. today while attempting to land on the installation. At the time of the accident, it was on a training mission. There were four aircrew on board. All four ejected safely. A board of officers will investigate the accident."

The Air Force has just 45 B-1B bombers left of the 100 built in the 1980s. It recently retired 17 B-1Bs, of which four were required to be stored in good quality condition to make back any casualties. One of these aircraft will likely be returned to service to replace the one that crashed.

The B-1B fleet has had a rough few years. A 7th Bomb Wing Lancer was laid up in Norway for weeks after an engine fire allegedly caused by ingestion of a computer tablet. Another B-1B caught dramatically on fire on the ground on 20 April 2022.

The B-1B uses a lightly customized variant of the Collins Aerospace ACES II ejection seat system, which either automatically fires off the crew (after popping off canopy panels in rapid succession over 2 seconds to reduce odds of collision), or allows the individual crew to manually pull a handle on the right side of their seat to trigger an ejection.

Each 58kg aluminium alloy seat is designed to account for the weight of the seated crew member and adjust thrust from the CKU-5/A rocket catapult accordingly. At low speed and altitude conditions, the parachute would pop out in less than two seconds, allowing the crew to safely eject even at zero altitude, zero speed conditions—ie. while on the ground.

Given that the B-1 in the photo appears to have crash-landed, it’s technically possible that the crew ejected after impact. However, it seems more likely that they ejected during the final approaching upon realizing they were unlikely to execute a safe landing.

The incident is now being investigated and no further details are currently available. At the time of writing, the latest NOTAM, with validity expiring on Monday, reports Ellsworth’s runway is still closed. This is to allow the evidence collection for the official investigation and the removal of the mishap aircraft.



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