The Air Force on Wednesday grounded the nation’s fleet of B-1B long-range bombers for a precautionary safety inspection after a crash of one of the new planes in Texas.
The Strategic Air Command, which is responsible for land-based nuclear bomber and missile forces, said the order to suspend flying was a “normal precaution” in the wake of a major accident.
The flight suspension order will be followed within the next day or two by specific instructions to B-1B mechanics on what aircraft systems they must inspect, said Lt. Col. George H. Peck, a spokesman at SAC headquarters in Omaha.
Those instructions will probably reflect the suspicions of the official board of inquiry that is investigating Tuesday’s crash of a B-1B near Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.
Peck said he did not know which systems will be checked, and he would not speculate on the cause of the crash.
At Dyess, training flights continued throughout the day Wednesday. Officials there said the planes had passed the inspection ordered by the air command.
Eyewitnesses to Tuesday’s crash have said they saw smoke and fire trailing an engine on the plane. All four crewmen ejected safely from the bomber, which then crashed in a field outside Abilene, Tex.
The Air Force has said that before he ejected, the plane’s pilot, Capt. Michael E. Waters, remained with the bomber to ensure that the plane came down in an unpopulated area.
The crash was the second involving a production-model B-1B in 14 months, leaving the Air Force with 98 of its original 100 planes.