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Another Near-Accident Aboard US B-1B, But Pentagon Chief Plays Down Problem

© REUTERS / Yuri GripasU.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis gestures during a press briefing on the campaign to defeat ISIS at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., May 19, 2017
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis gestures during a press briefing on the campaign to defeat ISIS at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., May 19, 2017 - Sputnik International
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US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday that he is unconcerned about the issue affecting the ejection seats in the Air Force’s B-1B Lancers that caused the grounding of the fleet last week. Meanwhile, news is emerging of a separate emergency B-1B landing unrelated to ejection seats.

The issue with the B-1Bs' ejection seats was first discovered May 1, Sputnik News reported, when a B-1B that took off from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas experienced a highly dangerous engine fire while in flight, but one of the four crewmen's ejection seats malfunctioned. All the airmen remained on board and made an emergency landing at the Midland International Air and Space Port in Texas. None were injured and fire crews sprayed down the plane with foam fire retardant. 

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"I'm not concerned about it. Whatever it is, it will be fixed very quickly," Mattis said, according to the Military Times. "There are times where we find a problem with some aspect of an airplane so we'll shut 'em down, we'll check it, and they come back up very quickly."

"We'll just have to watch and see how this goes," the military chief added.

Meanwhile, a month later on June 1, another B-1B had to make an emergency landing in Hawaii. That incident occurred after the May 1 emergency but prior to the US Air Force's Global Strike Command's order to ground the entire fleet.

The crew that experienced the problem in June, who are also from the Dyess Air Force Base, were returning from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii when they experienced an issue only minutes after taking off, 7th Bomb Wing spokesperson 2nd Lt. Kali L Gradishar told Military.com. The crew was able to make an emergency landing back at Hickam. The issue was not elaborated on, but Gradishar said it was minor and was fixed in short order after the plane came back.

Gradishar was less optimistic than Mattis about the B-1B groundings, saying "It is still too soon to determine a definitive timeline for repair completion across the B-1 fleet." Not all B-1Bs are experiencing the issues, however, so the military is trying to determine which ones, and how many are, making those that are stationed overseas their top priority. 

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"While parts do exist to fix the system, an inventory is in the process to determine the specific types and number of parts needed," Gradishar said.

B-1Bs are currently stationed in the Middle East for strikes against US enemies, and in Europe to participate in summer drills.

The aviation safety leaders of the US military's five branches will go to Congress Wednesday to testify over a drastic uptick — to the tune of 40 percent — in aviation accidents since 2013. Also Wednesday, the Pentagon will hold a separate meeting led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Stranahan on readiness issues currently facing the military. "This is probably ‘the thing' in terms of priorities for the department," Mattis said, according to the Military Times.

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