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AFMC helps return damaged B-1B to friendly environment

by John Scaggs
Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

10/29/2007 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN)  -- When a $283-million aircraft that's a segment of America's long-range bomber force loses one of its four engines - over the skies of Afghanistan - Airmen kick their fix-it instincts into high gear.

Thanks to a unified effort led by Air Force Materiel Command, a maintenance team repaired a damaged B-1B Lancer enough to allow aircrews to safely fly it to a location more suitable for extensive repairs.

Events were set into motion in mid-August when a fire warning alerted the aircrew of a problem in the number four engine.

The crew shut down the engine and applied emergency procedures but the fire light remained illuminated. The aircrew successfully accomplished a three-engine landing at an undisclosed location within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, at which time the fire department notified the crew there were flames coming from the number-four engine. The crew shut down the aircraft and followed emergency procedures to exit the aircraft while the fire department extinguished the fire.

While safety officials continue to investigate the cause of the fire, their findings are pending, the immediate concern was determining the best way to transport a crippled bomber out of a "hot" zone and into a safe environment. 

The units
A host of units were called for their expertise in developing and implementing a solution. They included: 

419th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where aircrews had guidance on flying the B-1 with three engines. Additionally, aircrews had experience flying the B-1 under a variety of test conditions. 

10th Flight Test Squadron at Tinker AFB, Okla., which conducts functional check flights on B-1s following depot level maintenance. The squadron also has operational risk management experts. 

555th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron at Tinker AFB, where engineers provided technical analysis needed for damage assessment and repair. 

654th Combat Logistics Support Squadron at Tinker AFB, composed of military personnel in selected maintenance, supply, transportation, and logistician Air Force specialties. Together, they possess the expertise in aircraft battle damage repair for the B-1.

Ultimately, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB is the Air Force agency responsible for repairing damaged B-1s and also provides depot maintenance for the bomber.

Unique aspect of AFMC mission
Since becoming a major command on July 1, 1992, AFMC has served as the Air Force agency that conducts research, development, test and evaluation, and provides the acquisition management services and logistics support necessary to keep Air Force weapon systems ready for war.

When it comes to damaged aircraft, another facet of the command's responsibilities is to approve one-time flight movement proposals.

A team in the Headquarters AFMC Directorate of Air, Space and Information Operations, reviewed past cases involving B-1 flights with three engines and evaluated the operational risk management assessment submitted by the 10th FLTS.

"We discussed potential hazards and mitigating conditions with Tinker engineers and aircrews from the 10th FLTS and 419th FLTS, before approving the recommendation for a one-time flight movement for this B-1," said Dr. Dave Jerome, AFMC's Air, Space and Information Operations deputy director.

B-1 journey
That approval occurred in mid-September. Eight enlisted maintenance members from the 654th CLSS traveled to the site of the crippled B-1. Maintenance personnel from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing had removed the engine. The 654th CLSS team capped and plugged all connections and made additional repairs for the one time flight.

Flying a B-1 with three engines is a dicey proposition, especially when viewing a map of the U.S. Central Command Air Forces area of responsibility, or AOR, which includes: Afghanistan, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and Iran. Air Force officials explained that flying a B-1 over this region is one thing, landing a U.S. Air Force long-range, high-payload, multi-task bomber aircraft in the AOR could have political and diplomatic consequences worldwide.

To prepare for the flight, 10th FLTS aircrew members traveled to Dyess AFB, Texas. There they used the B-1 flight simulator to practice a variety of scenarios involving reduced thrust capability, weight ratios created by the absence of one engine, and air refueling.

After a few days in the AOR, a joint aircrew composed of Air Force Reservists from the 10th FLTS and members from Air Combat Command began the journey to a safer environment on Oct. 2.

"Under normal circumstances involving the B-1, the entire aircrew would have been from the 10th FLTS, since responsibility for all depot flying converted to Air Force Reserve Command units," said Bob Wood, chief, flight operations and standardization and evaluation division, Headquarters AFMC/A3.

"However, since the departure point occurred in a hostile zone and operational aircrews already were in theater, a joint aircrew made sense in case tactical maneuvers were required on takeoff."

In order to assess how the B-1 handled the first leg of the journey, the 654th CLSS team followed the B-1 from point A to point B within the AOR.

The second leg involved an eight-hour flight to Royal Air Force Fairford, England, and included two air refuelings. It is currently classified as a standby airfield. It served as a base for B-52s during the 2003 Iraq invasion, Operation Allied Force in 1999, and the first Gulf War in 1991.

One engineer from the 555th ACSS and two of the eight members from the 654th CLSS are at RAF Fairford. They continue to assess the B-1, along with available resources, to determine if the B-1 can be fully repaired at RAF Fairford. Officials say they're hopeful it will return to operational status within six months.

"World events make it imperative that we provide our warfighting commands with operationally ready weapon systems as quickly as possible," said Gen. Bruce Carlson, AFMC commander. "The combined efforts over the past two months to get this B-1 to a location where AFMC can fix it highlight the importance of this goal.

"It also reinforces that we exist to fight and win our nation's wars," General Carlson said. "Be assured, your Air Force is a vital part of the interdependent fight, and the work done in AFMC makes it possible."

"This was a great team success story on so many levels," said Lt. Gen. Gary North, CENTAF commander and Combined Air Forces Component commander.

"It demonstrates the professionalism of our aircrews: the ones that landed it safely in a hostile environment and the ones who flew it out of the AOR with three engines. And obviously it demonstrates the dedication and professionalism of our maintainers and logisticians -- from the flight line to the major command -- and their determination to get one of the most valuable assets I have in theater back in working order to fly and fight another day."

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