The Air Force has temporarily grounded its fleet of B-1B bombers in a precautionary move after an incident Monday in which an internal fuel tank on one of the bombers was punctured, the Pentagon said today.
The incident occurred at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas during a routine pre-flight check before a B-1B training flight, said Dan Howard, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.
The fuel tank appears to have been punctured when the mechanism that sweeps the bomber’s wings back and forth malfunctioned, he said.
The spokesman, disclosing the grounding during a regular Pentagon news briefing, said the bomber’s crew was sweeping the wings forward and backward before takeoff and discovered the wings were not moving evenly together.
“It was noted that they were out of sync,” Howard said.
“The third time that they swept the wings forward, a clunking noise was heard; they shut down the aircraft, and they observed the fuel leak. They’re currently conducting an investigation to see what caused the problem.”
Howard said it appeared that the left wing, in being swept to a full forward position, “exceeded its normal limits and subsequently fuel was noticed in the wing root area.”
The Strategic Air Command has suspended training flights on its B-1B aircraft until further notice, Howard said.
The spokesman said there was “no current indication” that the incident was related to last November’s crash of a B-1B bomber at Dyess “or any other previous incident.”
Blame for the November crash has been placed on a wing fire, the precise cause of which remains unknown.
The Air Force has lost three of its 100 B-1B bombers to crashes. Besides the Nov. 8 crash, one was lost in 1987 when it ran into pelicans on a low-level training flight, and the third was lost last Nov. 17 during a landing attempt at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.
Howard said the grounding order affected only training flights and was not being applied to the bombers now standing nuclear alert.
“The B-1Bs’ alert status is not affected by this stand-down and the aircraft remains capable of meeting its wartime requirements,” he said.